One round and two races remain of the 2022 FIA Formula 2 season and MP Motorsport could potentially make it a Championship clean sweep at Yas Marina Circuit.
The Dutch outfit currently leads the way in the Standings though the team is tied on points with ART Grand Prix, 281 apiece. However, the momentum is arguably behind the team in orange after Felipe Drugovich wrapped up the Drivers’ title back in Monza. So how has MP done in 2022 and can it finish the season on a high in Abu Dhabi?
STREAKING CLEAR AT THE START
The team experienced a somewhat inauspicious start in Sakhir. Collecting only 12 points across both races, the likes of Carlin, Hitech Grand Prix and chief rivals ART each earned more than double that tally immediately. Fifth and sixth-place finishes for Drugovich and non-points-scoring results for teammate Clément Novalak was a disappointing opening to the team’s ’22 accounts, though they quickly rectified that next time out in Jeddah.
Two podiums in Saudi Arabia for Drugovich rocketed the team back up the order. Pole for the Brazilian was converted into victory in the Feature Race, after a dominating performance set the tone for his season. His efforts in the Sprint Race were equally impressive, rising up from 10th on the grid to take a podium in third. That 21-point deficit to the top was quickly squashed to just three by the time Formula 2 left the Middle East and headed back to Europe for Round 3.
“He can come through the field and bring his car home cleanly, and he can defend from the front. He had the full package at the weekend.” – Sander Dorsman on Drugovich’s Jeddah weekend
Around Imola, the team didn’t record the same headline-grabbing results, but instead achieved solid scores across the weekend. Having Qualified a disappointing 12th, Drugovich rallied in the Sprint to climb up to fifth by the chequered flag, and there were more points on offer in the Feature. From row seven on the grid, Novalak fought to his best result of the season up to that point, keeping his nose clean and taking a well-deserved P4 finish in a race littered with mistakes from rivals. An unfortunately-timed Safety Car right at the end denied Drugovich a chance at a stronger points finish, but he escaped with 10th to add to the team’s total as it took the top spot in the Championship for the first time in 2022.
On Spanish soil, Drugovich stamped his authority on the season, taking the only Sprint/Feature sweep of the year, having fought back from a grid penalty. It was a domineering display by the Brazilian and once again, Novalak was there in the Feature to claim more vital points with a fifth-place finish as MP comfortably out-scored everyone else, extending the points advantage to 23.
A Monaco misfire for the team resulted in a double DNF in the Sprint after a Lap 1 puncture for Drugovich all but ended his hopes and Novalak hit trouble and Armco later in the race. Despite the disappointment, Sunday presented a rebound of epic proportions as Drugovich denied title rival Théo Pourchaire a Monaco victory, holding off the ART man despite a sizeable tyre disadvantage. MP left the Principality with their advantage in the Teams’ Standings increased to 29 points despite the double retirement on Saturday.
“I'm really thankful to the team, they did an amazing job. After the problem we had in Qualifying, to come back and win both races is just something I could not imagine.” – Drugovich in his Barcelona weekend
While the results in Baku benefitted Drugovich as he extended his points advantage in the Drivers’ Championship to 49, MP’s lead fell by a handful of points as PREMA Racing leapt up to second following Dennis Hauger’s Feature Race win. P5 and P3 for the Brazilian represented another solid points haul, while Novalak endured a tough weekend that marked the beginning of a slip in form that would last until Le Castellet.
Though Drugovich extended his points-scoring streak to five consecutive races inside the top five with P5 and P4 at Silverstone, MP suffered a major blow in the standings. ART’s Frederik Vesti and Pourchaire combined to score 36 points compared to just 16 for MP. Another tough weekend at the Red Bull Ring followed and the points deficit was cut to just one, this time Carlin surged to second in the table on 175 points to MP’s 176. ART was in close company, third on 170.
DIP IN FORM AND LATE FIGHTBACK
Le Castellet was the first weekend since Jeddah, all the way back in Round 2, in which MP left without the lead of the Teams’ Standings. Cheered on by a raucous French crowd, ART and Pourchaire capitalised on the home race advantage to take over the lead from MP. P3 and P4 in the Sprint and Feature Races for Drugovich along with Novalak’s return to the points at his home event with P8 in the Feature wasn’t enough for the team, and Carlin lurked just two points behind on 197 leaving France.
“I’m happy with the progress we made from the last three weekends. We really kicked into gear compared to the last couple of races.” – Clément Novalak after his home points-scoring drive
As momentum began to shift in the Drivers’ Championship fight, so too did fortunes on the Teams’ front too. Pourchaire departed into the summer break with a crucial victory in the Budapest Feature Race to keep his title hopes alive. Drugovich ended up a lowly ninth, disappointing in light of the lofty standards he’d set earlier in the campaign. MP had the summer break to rebound after falling to third in the table, a point behind Carlin and 44 off ART’s total of 250.
Returning after having time to reflect and regroup, MP capitalised on ART’s misfortune at Spa-Francorchamps. While Carlin dominated the weekend, Drugovich and Novalak were in the points when it counted in the Feature Race. As Pourchaire fell by the wayside and was forced to retire and Vesti failed to make it into the top 10 in either race, the MP duo combined for 33 points, halving the gap to the top spot.
“Coming back from the summer break, there was a bit of pressure. The break came at the right time for us, we regrouped and came back a lot stronger.” – Drugovich on regrouping following the summer break
The mid-point in what was a pivotal triple-header, Zandvoort was flooded in orange and MP didn’t disappoint on home turf. With Novalak P10 in Qualifying and Drugovich on pole, MP headed the field in both the Sprint and Feature Races. The Frenchman couldn’t quite hold onto the top spot on Saturday, but he clinched his best finish of the season in P2. Drugovich followed that up with victory on Sunday to elevate the team back to the top of the Teams’ Standings for the first time since Spielberg.
A momentous weekend at Monza for Drugovich brought with it the 2022 Drivers’ Championship crown, albeit in unusual circumstances. As the team celebrated on the pit wall following the Sprint Race following the result that confirmed Drugovich’s title, Vesti took an under-the-radar P2 finish for ART. The Dane repeated the feat on Sunday while Drugovich and Novalak ended sixth and eight respectively. Single-handedly, that pulled ART back level with MP heading into the final round of the season.
ALL SQUARE IN ABU DHABI
Level on points with a title on the line heading to Yas Marina, where have we heard that before? While there is plenty of scope for drama, MP Motorsport will be hoping that form reverts to the mean and puts the team back on top in what has been a hugely impressive season for the Dutch team.
Prior to this year, the team’s best finish was sixth in the Teams’ Championship (2017, 2020, 2021) and it has smashed its previous best points total in a single season, surpassing the previous benchmark (167pts, 2020) all the way back at Silverstone in Round 7.
A best finish of P8 (2017, 2021) is the team’s current best result at Yas Marina, though 2022 has hardly been like any MP has put together in the past. Last season, Drugovich secured two podium finishes with second and third. He’ll be hoping to go one better this time around to cap off what has been his and his team’s finest Formula 2 campaign to date.