Identifying the Baku City Circuit as a potential chink in his armour this season, Felipe Drugovich admits he was stunned by his pace around the demanding track.
Sitting as high as third after his opening runs, missing out on a second attempt in the final moments of the session combined with a flood of personal best laps around him pushed the MP Motorsport driver down to P5. Despite this, Drugovich maintained he was content with the result.
“I’m feeling very well actually. I was a little bit surprised with our performance - I wasn’t expecting much from us. I was quite good on the first set of tyres, then the second set was messy for everyone. I didn’t manage to do my second lap which got compromised, but I think P5 is good enough.
“We knew our weakness – the slow street circuits were the ones I wasn’t so confident with, like Monaco and here. In Monaco, we managed to show very good pace and here it’s turned out to be okay too. I’m happy with this, we just have to keep scoring.”
The 6.003km circuit is a tricky one for both the drivers and engineers to master. The contrast between long straights and twisty corners creates a dilemma when trying to find the optimal setup. For Drugovich, he says his main focus is going to be on braking efficiently without compromising his pace.
“It’s a lot of time braking. For that, we need a lot of time and straight-line speed, but in the parts where we’re not doing much, we’re just waiting for the braking. We’re really focusing on setup and braking at slow speed, whilst being very precise and close to the walls.”
Contrasting fortunes for our title contenders has provided Drugovich with the perfect opportunity to strengthen his lead at the top of the Drivers’ Championship beyond 32 points. His closest rival Théo Pourchaire could only manage to secure P12 in Qualifying.
Heading into the sixth round off the back of three consecutive victories in a row has filled the Brazilian driver with confidence. Yet Drugovich refuses to let his head to run away with thoughts of Formula 2 glory at this early stage of the 2022 campaign.
“I didn’t even realise it was that many! It gives me a lot of confidence but at the same time I need to be focused. We’ve done a lot of races already – if you consider the amount of Feature Races we’ve had compared to last year, we would be at the end of the year. Now we’re not even halfway through so it’s quite good but it’s really early. I just have to keep doing the same and try to improve.
“To be fair, I’ve looked at it. Obviously, it’s very nice, it makes you feel a little bit more relaxed. At the same time, it doesn’t mean much now. If you see how many points are available throughout the year, it’s not a lot.”
However, that doesn’t mean that Drugovich has entirely taken his eye off of the title fight. Starting P6 for tomorrow’s Sprint Race places him into the thick of the action and the Brazilian says he’s hoping to balance the risk versus reward in his attempts to move up the order in both races.
“I need to think about the Championship now. I need to score points and I need to be aggressive but safe at the same time. There’s a compromise for everything and I’ve been doing that the whole year and it’s working.”
“The plan is to win the Feature Race from P5, but it’s not an easy task. We’ll try to do it. Normally, the races here are quite chaotic, so we need to focus on the points and not risk too much. I’m confident we can go forward.”