Hailed as the surprise package of a 2020 campaign that contained quite a few shocks, Felipe Drugovich’s underdog tag was really little more than a misnomer.
The Brazilian certainly wasn’t shocked and neither were those around him. After all, he was arriving with as many single-seater titles as Mick Schumacher, Callum Ilott, Robert Shwartzman and Guanyu Zhou combined – all of whom were labelled as title favourites.
What they really meant, to some extent at least, is that he wasn’t linked to a Formula 1 team – a fact highlighted by Ferrari-backed Ilott after Drugovich’s Round 11 Feature Race win in Sakhir when he said that F1 teams “should look at” the Brazilian.
Entering his second season at this level, the 20-year-old remains unaffiliated, but seems to have shaken the underdog tag. Lining up for Ilott’s former outfit, UNI-Virtuosi, he’s now amongst the favourites for the title.
The difference a year can make…
Not one to get caught up in other people’s opinions of him, Drugovich – whose name translates to ‘son of a dragon’ - still has his thoughts on why fans were so surprised by his 2020 campaign. “In motorsport, you’re only as good as your last race,” he says.
And in the leadup to his F2 debut, his last race was a 24th place finish in the Macau Grand Prix. He had also taken just one points’ finish in the entire 2019 Formula 3 season, classifying P6 in the Budapest Sprint Race.
For a driver so used to winning, it was a bit of a struggle.
“Not a little bit... Quite a lot,” he corrects with a smile. “It was a pretty bad year. As a team, we just weren’t good enough. I didn’t learn too much on track that season, but off it, I learned a lot mentally. I think that everything has a purpose.”
The year prior was a much better illustration of what Drugovich is all about. The Brazilian ran riot on the junior motorsport scene, clinching three separate titles: MRF Challenge Formula 2000, Euroformula Open and Spanish Formula 3.
“It could have been four titles,” he continues. “I finished third in ADAC F4. It was really close, but we had a few issues with the car. That was good, but I am for sure a better driver now than I was then.
“People didn’t really seem to remember the 2017 and 2018 seasons much. They only remember your last season, so when I joined (F2) I wanted to show people that I was fast. I wanted to show what I could do if I was in the right team, with the right car.”
With MP Motorsport, he did that and more. He put it on the front row on his debut, qualifying second to Guanyu Zhou. It was an impressive start, even if he dropped down to eighth at the flag.
I wanted to show people that I was fast. I wanted to show what I could do if I was in the right team, with the right car.
He didn’t have to wait particularly long for a maiden podium either as he ran to victory in the Sprint Race the very next day. By the end of the season, he had three wins in his pocket – the joint second highest.
It caught a few people out.
“I liked the car to drive,” he says. “If you are not fast in a car, like the year prior, then you don’t like it. I just felt more confident and felt that I could push more with the car compared to the F3 year.
“As soon as I jumped in the F2 car in testing, I saw that I was much closer to the pace, and that the potential was much better than in F3. So, it is logical that you feel more comfortable because of that. I say this to everybody, last year was the best year of my career so far. I really enjoyed it and I really enjoyed the people that I was working with. We got some really good results.
“For sure, I thought that I had to (prove people wrong), and of course I wanted to show that I had potential, but honestly, I wasn’t really thinking about it because I was focused on doing the best job that I could.”
That type of attitude works both ways. Not only did it allow him to shut out the negativity that came from the difficult 2019 campaign, but it also means the pressure of joining last year’s vice-champions won’t play too heavily on his mind.
After two years of finishing second, Virtuosi want to finally get their hands on the title. They signed Drugovich to that aim, the Brazilian the one change in an otherwise constant environment. Retaining Zhou for a third season, as well as the vast majority of their staff, the team felt that stability would provide the greatest chance of success, and Drugovich agrees.
“At MP last year, you had quite a lot of people who were new, and I was one of them, so everyone was getting used to each other,” he explained. “This year, it is only me who is new to the team. Not even my teammate is new. It has been really good so far and the energy of the team feels good. Everyone has been working together for so long now that they automatically know what to do.
“Virtuosi were the quickest team last year and just missed out on the Championship with Callum, so I think they were the team to go to and I am really happy with the opportunity that they gave me.
“There is a little bit of pressure of course, but normally I can handle that pretty well. I know that the team is good enough and I know that I got good results last year, so I think if we work together everything can fall into place.”
I think they were the team to go to and I am really happy with the opportunity that they gave me.
What would class as everything falling into place for Drugovich?
“One of my targets for this year is to get a Super Licence,” he says. “Of course, my objective is to get to F1, but there are a million other things that would have to happen to make that a reality.”
Could one of those “million other things,” be a place in a driver academy? It hasn’t hampered him so far. The 20-year-old says that while there wasn’t really any interest over the off-season, it wasn’t an area he was at all focused on.
“We have had some conversation of course, but nothing has come of anything at the moment,” he explains. “I think if I get results, then the opportunities may come. The only thing I can do is be consistent and do my own job.
“I am just focusing on myself and enjoying what I am doing. As I’ve said, I try not to think about what people say about me. It is about how I feel inside of the team and how motivated I feel to do a good job. I am really enjoying what I am doing at the moment.
“With a year like last year and moving over to Virtuosi, my aim is to win the championship of course.”