Kicking off the 2023 campaign with P7 in Qualifying wasn’t how Ayumu Iwasa envisaged his first Qualifying of the year unfolding. The DAMS driver admitted that the team had been feeling optimistic of its chances following Practice, but that a tough Qualifying had been down to his driving on the night.

Iwasa ended the session 0.039s ahead of new teammate Arthur Leclerc, with DAMS being one of only three teams to get both drivers inside the top 10. The duo were subsequently promoted up the order following a grid penalty for Frederik Vesti. Regardless, he says that there is a lot of work to do overnight to recover the performance he feels was lost between Practice and Qualifying.

“It was very hard session for me because I was struggling so much. After the first run, I was so far away from P1 and it was coming by my mistakes, my driving and the car as well, but my driving was the biggest thing. When I started to push, I did what I could do but it was not enough, it was really difficult for me. In Free Practice, we were not so far away from people. Now it's quite far, so I think we need to analyse everything to make sure we’ll be able to do a better job tomorrow.”

While many predicted track evolution would play a critical role in the session, the track didn’t evolve quite how Iwasa and company had expected. That paired with an encounter with traffic on his final attempt meant that a top 10 start was the best he could do rather than any fight for the front row.

QUALIFYING: Pourchaire in class of one in Sakhir

Looking ahead to the Sprint Race however, Iwasa expects he and DAMS will take a step forward in the competitive order. The Japanese driver believes that the team has shown itself to be better on the longer runs, and believes a fight for victory isn’t out of the question come lights out.

“It wasn’t so difficult in terms of the conditions. It was cooler than in Practice but for me, I had the potential on the last lap but I hit traffic so unfortunately I couldn’t improve. Tomorrow, our performance should improve, the car is quite good on the tyres.

“Tomorrow is the Sprint, first race of the season and weekend so our target has to be to finish the race. The Feature Race is the bigger race for us but I need to push to see the potential on the long run. I’m P5, so I’ll try to get a podium or victory, I think it will be possible.”

With the race taking place under the floodlights like Qualifying, Iwasa says that a change to his driving might be the answer to unlocking the potential speed he feels was lost.

“For sure, it will be a difficult race for everyone. The strategy will be quite difficult but the main thing will be to manage the tyres. Even if the car is really good, it will be quite different in terms of my driving. We’ll see tomorrow but last year it was much cooler.”