Written by Juan Arroyo, Edited by Sharifah Zaqreeztrina
It hasn’t been a particularly easy season for Jack Doohan. That much can be said of his sophomore year in Formula 2. Standing 10th after six rounds, however, the young Australian had run into bad form at the worst of times.
Nevertheless, his spark, reignited seemingly since June, shows Doohan isn’t just back; he’s better.
The cruciality of this season for his career was not lost on Doohan coming into it; expectations were high, and with good reason. Having finished sixth in his rookie season the previous year—backed up by a runner-up campaign in FIA F3 in 2021—neither he nor Virtuosi would have predicted their early struggles to open the season.
Qualifying had been one of the 20-year-old’s strong suits in his first season, yet it seemed as if it had mysteriously turned into one of his weak points over the winter. The season opener in Bahrain, for which he qualified 17th, yielded a sour zero points over the weekend. While Jeddah provided relief in the form of a podium, whatever progress had been made was almost as quickly undone when visits to Melbourne and Baku produced a combined four (4) championship points.
Just as Doohan and the car clicked in the Monaco feature race, the Virtuosi driver crashed in the run-up to Massenet while running in fourth. A fiery scene emerged from the car, almost descriptive of his season up to that point.
The inconsistency plaguing him was obvious. The solution? On one hand, it relied on Doohan keeping out of trouble; on the other, an in-season test in Barcelona earlier in May showed the team had the pace for good results.
“It was a confidence building day,” Doohan told Formula 2 at the time. “I’m not trying to get my hopes up too much as it’s only testing and unfortunately, this performance hasn’t come on a race weekend, but it’s a step in the right direction. We’ve focused on fixing what was wrong this week 100%.
“We’re getting there slowly but surely. I’m slowly getting the feeling back and feeling more comfortable. We’re trying to really eliminate these underlying issues that are causing us to not be where we should be. So, I’m happy with today but we need to keep pushing to go further and make sure we can really eliminate what was going on.”
It was a cautiously optimistic view from the Virtuosi driver, who ended the said day of testing on top of the timesheets. Monaco, despite the accident, confirmed they could fight for the top spots.
Doohan qualified third the following race weekend in Barcelona—setting him up for his most successful weekend since March with fifth and sixth-placed finishes in each race. It hadn’t been the weekend he was hoping for. Still, it was a welcome shift in results at Virtuosi. Another breakthrough came at Silverstone, where the Aussie earned a podium in wet conditions. This was a performance the 20-year-old described as helping gain his confidence back, despite it coming “quite late” in the season.
His teammate Amaury Cordeel, meanwhile, was yet to score a single point. Virtuosi’s hopes of not languishing in the latter places of the teams’ standings relied solely on Doohan picking up the pace.
Said confidence couldn’t have come at a better time: Hungary and Spa-Francorchamps, Doohan’s happy hunting grounds, were next on the calendar. Pole, win, and fastest lap ensued in the Hungaroring feature race for Doohan.
“I'm confident that I can maintain this level of performance, but winning last year honestly means nothing. I love the place, we had a great car, but things evolve, times change and we need to push even harder to try and make sure we can replicate something like that. I just want to keep this consistency up, keep this pace that I believe I've had all year. I'm very excited going into the remaining four rounds,” said prior to the Spa weekend.
Yes, his career may have evolved and so have the drivers and teams around him, but Belgium remains as happy a hunting ground for the Virtuosi driver as ever; a second consecutive feature race win took him to fourth in the standings. To have jumped there from so far back in a matter of a few races was proof that the pace was in fact there. Now 38 points behind points leader Théo Pourchaire, some wonder whether there is still a title to fight for.
When asked by Formula 2 if it would be difficult to close said gap, Doohan said: “Yeah I think so for sure and I’m not in a pressure situation either. There are some things unfortunately out of my control this year but we’re resilient and we’ve been able to fight our way back after five rounds going from 18th in the Championship. It’s still an almighty gap. Theo’s still an awesome driver and doing an excellent job and so is Enzo, but I’ll continue to fight and if we can do it then I’d love to.”
For the Alpine F1 Team junior, the 2023 season carries a lot of weight. It is his second in the F2 championship—a time when academy drivers are usually expected to thrive if they are in the running for a Formula 1 seat.
Some excel under the pressure early on; others require more time to develop. Ultimately, it is the results on paper that most frequently define them. If his most recent results are anything to go by, Doohan’s end of season—and coming career—is one to watch.