He already knows what it takes to win around the demanding streets of Baku, but Jüri Vips is refusing to get ahead of himself this weekend. The Hitech Grand Prix racer says he’s firmly fixed on ending a string of misfortune in the Feature Races that has clouded his 2022 campaign.
Last year the Azerbaijan capital played host to a moment of Formula 2 history, as the Estonian driver claimed his maiden F2 win in the Championship’s 100th race. Victory in the second Sprint Race was matched by a return to the top step of the podium in the following day’s Feature Race.
“Baku treated us very well last year. We were fast all weekend, but we can’t go into this weekend thinking that ‘oh yeah, we’re going to dominate’,” Vips noted. “It’s F2 and I’m sure everyone’s taken a step forward from last year. We start from zero again.”
Currently sitting fifth in the Drivers’ Championship, he trails Felipe Drugovich by 64 points heading into the sixth round. Despite three podiums already, the start to the season hasn’t gone the way he would’ve wished – being dogged by four non-points scoring finishes in 10 races, before a third place in Monte Carlo last time out.
“It was hard, I'm not going to lie, especially after Barcelona because it's four Feature Races in a row where we have had a great opportunity for good points and at three of them, we had the pace to be on the podium. We've thrown away big points.
“In Monaco I said to everyone ‘I don’t care what it is, I just want to finish and have a clean race’. It wasn’t an amazing result, but it wasn’t bad either. I think my team and I both really needed that after the start we’ve had,” he added.
After the run of bad luck and costly mistakes, Vips admits he found it tough to reset and instead of adopting a win at all costs approach, he’s shifted his mentality to focus on consistency to bring himself back into the title fight.
“I don't think it's one tiny thing, I think that the first four Feature Races have had separate incidents that have cost us a lot of points. That’s why we’re not where we should be with the pace we’ve had. Now our only focus is to have clean weekends from both my side and the team to make sure everything is working well and that there’s no issues at all.
“Every race – Bahrain, Jeddah, Imola and Barcelona have been complete disasters. I think (Felipe) Drugovich is quite far ahead in the Championship, but it’s F2, he’s still catchable.
With the pace we have, everything is possible until the end of the year.
“If you look at (Théo) Pourchaire – he’s only really been fast in Monaco and he’s won the Feature Races in Bahrain and Imola, whilst maybe being the seventh or eighth fastest on pure pace. It’s just about survival, avoiding all the incidents and having a clean pit stop. That’s where you make the difference in this Championship.”
Known for its frantic races, the Baku City Circuit will be a stark contrast to Monaco – with overtaking being the name of the game. The Hitech racer says the change should prove to be a test for the drivers’ stamina, endurance and most importantly, concentration.
“We don’t really know what to expect, but Qualifying’s fun, doing one lap here going all out. It’s probably not as crazy as Monaco because you have the time to rest on the straights, so the intensity is probably a little bit lower.
“But it’s really cool in the race, because in Monaco the races are actually really relaxing – you’re not doing much because you know no one’s going to overtake you. Whereas here, if you’re fast, you’re moving forward and if you’re slow, you’re going backwards, so you have to be on it in the races the whole time. It’s a very, very different challenge to the previous events and it’s definitely the easiest track to overtake at on the calendar.”
Fortunately for Vips, if he does finish on the podium, he’ll be able to enjoy it this time. An incorrect measurement left him without a spare suit last year, forcing him to make a speedy getaway to avoid getting it soaked in champagne.
“I have two overalls! Obviously got new ones for this year that were all with the correct measurements so no issues. Let’s see, if I am on the podium for both races, I’m not going to be running away!”