If there’s one key lesson Frederik Vesti would be taking away from his maiden Formula 2 season, it would be that it isn’t how you start, but how you finish that matters. After a challenging opening handful of rounds, the ART Grand Prix ace has built the foundations to go from strength to strength in the Championship and carve out a place for himself in the fight to take the honours as 2022’s top rookie.

With one win, five podiums and one pole position, the Dane sits eighth in the Drivers’ Standings on 117 points – a position which he couldn’t have foreseen given his unsteady start. Unable to score during the first five races, Vesti finally got points on the board during the Imola Feature Race and from there, focused his attentions forward to climbing into the top 10 on a regular basis.

“I had a slow start in F2, but during Imola and Barcelona, we really started to find the pace in the car,” he said. “Since then, it’s been really good. The pace has been strong, both my teammate and I have been fast and I’m improving every weekend, which is such a good feeling.”

After two Formula 3 campaigns, both of which he finished in fourth, it was time for Vesti to graduate up to the second tier. While the jump from F3 to F2 was to some extent what he expected, he admitted that there were certain obstacles that only time and a greater understanding would help him overcome. Remaining with ART did make the transition between the two smoother – allowing him to immediately turn his attentions to extracting the best out of his performances.

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“It’s a lot more difficult. Obviously, the car is a lot bigger and it’s faster, but you get used to that pretty quickly. The most difficult part is that the carbon brakes are really sensitive, the tyres are incredibly sensitive and it’s difficult to manage everything. At some points, experience plays a big role here and I think that’s why I’ve started to become much better.

“I think it’s made the transition a bit easier. My engineer is the same from F3 last year and he came to F2 with me, so there’s no doubt that’s a help. Of course, he has new things to learn as well, but at the same time, it’s very helpful that we learnt about each other last year and took those lessons with us so that this year we can focus on the performance.”

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One of the biggest challenges he faced was Qualifying, with the session proving to be make-or-break for a driver’s fortune across the weekend. Unable to crack in to the top 15 during the first three rounds, he admitted that the frustration took its toll on him mentally and left him dealing with self-doubt early on.

“To get a good Qualifying lap was the main difficulty for me. I was starting from the mid-pack, even like P17, and it was frustrating because I knew I was a lot faster than P17 and I wanted to be fighting for at least the top 10 from the beginning. On a good day we had the potential to do that, but we were just not able to put it all together in Qualifying and that made it really difficult to accept. It’s like a bad spiral, you feel bad, not confident and then, it all turned around.

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“It’s good to know that you’re fast and have that confidence in yourself, which helped me through my tough start in F2. But at the same time, it’s also really difficult because we’re racing drivers, we don’t have time to have a slow start like that. It’s really frustrating, so I needed to work closely with ART and my personal team, who I have around me to understand what I needed to do better so I could improve.

“I’ve always had a mental coach and I couldn’t see myself racing at this level without having someone I could talk to, someone I trusted to be able to unload all the difficult thoughts and pressure that there is. That’s key for my performance and there’s no doubt that I have more work to do to be ready hopefully for Formula 1 one day.”

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Vesti’s season swiftly began to turn on its head, taking many, including himself, by surprise in Qualifying in Barcelona. Netting P3 on Friday gave him the perfect foundation to secure points in the Sprint Race on Saturday, before he brought home an unexpected maiden podium finish in Sunday’s Feature Race.

“My engineer and I would have been smiling a lot on Friday in Barcelona if we had reached the top 10, so to be in the top three was surreal and we didn’t even expect to be close to that,” Vesti admitted.

“I feel better, more relaxed at the front because I know the job is halfway done when you’re starting at the front. Last year and the year before that in F3, I was fighting for victories, so fighting at the front isn’t adding more pressure – it makes it easier for me because you know that you’re only there because you are fast, and you’ve done the job well prior to the race. It’s a lot simpler than putting a good Qualifying together for me.

“It’s really important because the earlier you find the confidence and have the knowledge that you’re good enough to get podiums and wins in F2, that just changes your mindset completely because when you start as a rookie and it’s going quite slowly with not the best results, it’s easy for the mind to think that it can take a long time. I would have liked the podium to be earlier; I was hoping for Bahrain, but it didn’t happen and now we’re in a completely different situation.

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“I’ve been working very hard on not trying to drive for pole position but drive the best I can and then at the end of the lap, get a good Quali result. It’s so easy to be very result-focused and forget about the process. As soon as I started to just focus on my driving and accept that maybe a podium wouldn’t be there for me right now and started to put the top 10 as the goal, we started to move forward.”

That upwards momentum carried him through to the top step of the podium in the Baku Sprint Race. A monumental moment for any young driver, the win was especially poignant for him as it was not long after the passing of one of his long-time sponsors and Vesti dedicated his victory in tribute to him and the role he had played in getting him to the position he’s in today.

“That win meant so much to me. One of my sponsors, a good friend of mine, passed away a few months ago and he’d played a main role in my career in recent years. That win was for him and for our project together. It felt so good afterwards because the race had been so difficult, it wasn’t an easy race in any way."

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From there, both he and teammate Théo Pourchaire continued to push the French team forward, including bringing home a memorable double podium at ART’s home event in Le Castellet and his return to the rostrum with back-to-back podium finishes in Monza. While Vesti believes their healthy competitive friendship has helped drive them both, as well as giving him an experienced benchmark to learn from, he’s also benefitted from the support he receives as a Mercedes junior to further his development on and off the track.

“Being part of the Mercedes junior team is amazing. So few people in the world get to be a part of that and receive the support that I do, and to have that trust from some of the greatest engineers in the world is amazing. It’s the ideal position to be in. Junior drivers all do the same thing – we all try to win; we all try to learn the most from our F2 team but having a Formula 1 team link is just an extra boost to my career. Being a part of Mercedes means we can really show that the right people believe in me.”

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Looking back on his journey as a driver over the past seven months, Vesti acknowledged that the time it’s taken for him to find his feet has spurred him on even more in his desire to be fighting at the front. And as the season finale in Yas Island draws ever closer, he’s steadfast in his determination to close the chapter of his rookie campaign on a high.

“At the end of the year, I want to have done the best possible job, but at the same time, I won’t drive cautiously just to score points, I’ll drive as aggressively as I can in order to get wins and poles. Consistency is important, but mistakes happen – you just need to go flat out and make it work.

“If I knew a few months ago where I would be now, then I would have been more patient. The steps I’ve made have been massive and the frustration to get here has also been very big. It’s taken a lot of time, but I think what has built me up the most is all the bad results and the eager feeling to not have one more bad weekend. It helped to push me in the right direction.”