Whilst making the step up to Formula 1 is the dream for every young driver, Isack Hadjar knows that his performances this season could pave the way to making that dream a reality.
One of six Red Bull backed juniors in Formula 2 for the 2023 campaign – the most any F1 academy has fielded at the same time in the Championship – he faces stiff competition to stand out amongst returnees Dennis Hauger, Enzo Fittipaldi and Ayumu Iwasa and fellow rookies Zane Maloney and his Hitech Grand Prix teammate Jak Crawford.
Nevertheless, Hadjar remains unfazed by the pressure, insisting that it fuels him even more as he sets himself the bold target to do enough to earn a fourth graduation in as many seasons, and join the F1 grid in 2024.
“My goal is to just have a really strong season and step up to F1," he remarked. “It would be great to just spend one year in F2, that would be ideal and then go to F1. That’s the main goal, so we’ll give it everything.
“I’m just really happy to be part of Red Bull, it’s great! I’m happy to have great drivers in the same academy as me, it pushes me to be even better. It’s great to have six Red Bull guys on track with me - I just hope to beat them all, that’s the target. It doesn’t bother me so much; I’m just focused on performing.”
A key part of smoothing Hadjar’s transition to F2 has been remaining with the Hitech team, off the back of his fourth-place finish in the Formula 3 Standings last year. Thriving in the British squad’s familiar environment, the Frenchman believes that it has given him the upper hand in his pre-season preparations.
“I’m really excited, even if I knew I was stepping up since last year already. I’m excited to start the season with the same team. I know the team very well, I’ve done Asian F3 and Formula 3 with them, so I’ve put hours of work in with the guys.
“Now stepping up to F2, it feels quite familiar. To work with the same team, it feels quite normal and I’m happy to not move anywhere else – it feels like I have an advantage with that, so that’s great.”
Although he’s eagerly anticipating getting stuck in at the opening round in Bahrain next month, Hadjar is realistic about how difficult adapting to the Championship will be. Taking lessons from both his experiences at post-season testing at Yas Marina last November and from other drivers’ challenging rookie seasons previously, the 18-year-old recognises that it won’t be a straightforward task.
“F2 is really tough, even really good drivers take a few rounds to get their head into it. I think it’s a tough car to understand and the pit stops that are being introduced, and the also the strategies, whereas in F3 it was just about pushing from the start to the end. Now, I think tyre degradation is the main limiting factor. Obviously, I won’t be 100% ready for the first round because there’s not enough testing, but I hope to understand everything quite quickly to be fighting for race wins.
“In testing, the first two days were quite tricky, I was a bit far off. Then on the third day for some reason I was quite competitive. I found the car in the end to be quite similar to the F3 car in some ways, so I was feeling quite comfortable and felt great in the F2 car, so I think we’ll be quite competitive straight away.”
He added: “The first time I tested in Abu Dhabi was quite tiring for me after three days of testing and a lot of race simulations, so it was tough. Physically that’s the main area I was working on during the winter, so I hope it pays off for the season.”
To add to that, Hadjar faces the obstacle of three unfamiliar circuits within the first four rounds. Whilst his lack of experience in Jeddah and Baku will be a weakness compared to several of the returning drivers, Hadjar reckons that F2’s first trip to the southern hemisphere will benefit him by equalising the playing field.
“I’m really excited to go to Melbourne, and I don’t have any disadvantage going there because no one knows the track yet, but going to Jeddah or Baku where you have drivers like Théo (Pourchaire), Jack (Doohan) or Ayumu (Iwasa) who already know the track, I think they have a pretty big advantage.
“They are some really tough tracks and I think that’s obviously a disadvantage, but I’ll be giving my maximum to catch them, and we’ll see how it goes. With Melbourne, I’ve been waiting so long to drive on this track and really happy to go that far away from Paris to race, so really looking forward to it.”