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Formula Scout predicts the 2022 Formula 2 season

by Formula Scout

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

Formula 2 can be notoriously unpredictable, and with several race winners staying on to be joined by some very talented rookies, it’s not easy to pick a likely champion for 2022…

Oscar Piastri and Prema really started to dominate Formula 2 – and impressively so – towards the end of 2021, but the championship remains difficult to predict and 2022 promises to be no different. With more races over more race weekends than ever before, a lot could happen between now and Abu Dhabi in November.

Of the 22 drivers lining up on the grid, half of them are officially part of Formula 1 junior programmes, and a similar number – if not more – look capable of winning races. The number of title protagonists will probably be somewhat smaller but, considering the driver’s previous records and the expected pace from their teams, there are clearly multiple potential contenders rather than an overwhelming favourite.

That said, several of the Formula Scout writers who’ve put forward their predictions have converged on the same driver at number one…

Contributions from Alejandro Alonso (AA), Bethonie Waring (BW), Craig Woollard (CW), Peter Allen (PA), Roger Gascoigne (RG).

10. Marcus Armstrong Hitech GP
Test pace 22nd (102.218%)   long run 19th (102.317%)   2021: 13th in F2

Photos: Formula Motorsport Limited

PA (7th): I’m really looking forward to seeing former Formula 4 rivals and team-mates Marcus Armstrong and Juri Vips reunited at Hitech and working together towards a common goal. In Armstrong’s case, he’s looked a shadow of his former self in his two seasons in F2 so far, and splitting from the Ferrari Driver Academy and linking up with former mentor Oliver Oakes at Hitech could bring out the best in him. For that, the team needs to rediscover its form from Baku last year and in that respect, the data from the Bahrain test is alarming but hopefully not indicative of the year to come.

BW (9th): It’s arguably a make or break year for Armstrong after a tough couple of seasons. He went from being Ferrari’s next big thing to finishing 13th in the championship standings two years in a row. Arguably luck had as much a role to play in that as talent but Armstrong seems to have lost what made him such an exciting prospect in Formula 3. It’s possible he can find that again with Hitech but based on past performances the tail end of the top 10 seems like a likely finishing position. A few victories may be possible but with such a competitive field it will take more than that for him to get towards the top of the championship standings.

9. Frederik Vesti ART Grand Prix
Test pace 7th (100.542%)   long run 4th (100.501%)   2021: 4th in FIA F3

CW (6th): Sixth would be a very solid return for Vesti as a rookie, and the lessons learned at the end of 2021 should put the Mercedes junior in a good position to build on what he’s learned and put it to good effect in ’22. There are still a few reservations to be had over the strength of ART’s package in this championship, but Vesti is a smart, handy driver who is going to likely be problematic for the frontrunners on a number of occasions this year. He could be a contender to be the ‘sprint race specialist’ this year, all things considered.

RG (9th): As the only Mercedes-AMG Junior in the F1-supporting junior categories, Vesti can count on plenty of backing from the F1 constructors’ champions. ART GP’s second car in F2 has suffered some appalling misfortune in recent years, and Vesti’s compatriot Christian Lundgaard was surely relieved to head for the US after a disheartening year in 2021. However, Vesti is under little pressure as the focus of the team and the public will undoubtedly be team-mate Pourchaire. Vesti put in the most laps of any driver in Bahrain, running consistently near the front, and should be strong from the off once the lights go out.

8. Juri Vips Hitech GP
Test pace 13th (100.927%)   long run 14th (101.687%)   2021: 6th in F2

AA (8th): Vips’ end to the 2021 season was all but easy, and things don’t seem to have improved much in the beginning of the new year. The Hitech GP suffered several mechanical issues during Bahrain pre-season testing, which puts both driver and team on the back foot for the early races of 2022. Gaining reliability is a must for them if they want to aim at more than occasionally featuring in points positions. Considering where the team seems to be right now, sprint races might be Vips’ best chance to score a good amount points and some podiums, something he already did last year.

CW (9th): Last year was a case of plenty of pace, plenty of racecraft and almost none of the luck for Vips and for Hitech and it’s honestly difficult to see how this year is going to be any different for them at this stage. It’s a shame, because he’s a good, quick driver and a decent chap and certainly deserves better. He’s great at hitting the ground running, something that can be important in this championship, and he’s one of the quietly impressive racers out there. I would quite like to be proven wrong with this prediction. I do, at least, expect him to have the upper hand over his team-mate Armstrong either way.

7. Felipe Drugovich MP Motorsport
Test pace 9th (100.640%)   long run 16th (102.095%)   2021: 8th in F2

CW (3rd): For me, Drugovich is one of the drivers with the biggest question mark beside him coming into this year. Is he able to recapture the dazzling form that he had with MP back in 2020? Is the team itself able to build on what was believed to be a better package than was being made out last year? If they can, and there is no reason to believe that they cannot, then this combination absolutely can be a force to be reckoned with. Drugovich’s experience should also come in really handy but, while I feel he can challenge for the title, there is a sense that he might come up slightly short.

PA (4th): The Drugovich we saw for most of last year was nothing like what we were expecting, or what we saw during his rookie season in 2020. But as soon as he rejoined MP Motorsport in the Abu Dhabi test in December, the old Drugovich seemed to be back. That was followed by a far quieter pre-season test in Bahrain, but he was already very strong there with MP at the end of 2020 – winning the feature race on the grand prix layout – so it’s hard to imagine he won’t be among those setting the pace during round one. How Drugovich can make use of such pace over the course of the season is a bit more of an unknown, just because we haven’t seen him in a title fight at this sort of level.

6. Logan Sargeant Carlin
Test pace 5th (100.502%)   long run 7th (100.706%)   2021: 29th in F2, 7th in FIA F3

CW (4th): Sargeant is my pick for top rookie this year, and a combination of being with a team he’s familiar with (and had success with back in British F4), his varied experiences from FIA F3 over the last three years, his new partnership with Williams opening up access to F1-level equipment and his raw speed forms the basis of this. Sargeant can be devastating over one lap on his day, and his performances with Charouz Racing System in F3 last year showcased outstanding leadership ability that will put him in good stead in F2. He and his new team-mate Liam Lawson should be a straightforward, no-nonsense pairing and I expect them to work well, but I expect Lawson’s outstanding racecraft and enhanced experience to allow him to come out on top.

PA (10th): Very quickly, Sargeant went from looking at a possible end of his career in ‘European’ single-seater racing to being picked up by Williams and dropped into a competitive F2 seat with Carlin. Based upon the Bahrain test he’s already well up to speed, but Carlin was obviously going well and there’s no guarantee that will be the case all season long. While undoubtedly fast, Sargeant’s F3 near-miss in 2020 left question marks over his ability in races. If he’s to thrive in F2 he needs to prove that his 2021 campaign, as well as dragging Charouz forwards, was also well-spent improving that side of his game.

5. Jehan Daruvala Prema
Test pace 2nd (100.444%)   long run 5th (100.550%)   2021: 7th in F2, 3rd in FRAC

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

RG (4th): Daruvala moves from Carlin to reigning champions Prema for what is probably his last chance to prove himself in F2. Two sprint race wins and a single feature race podium represented a disappointing return on his second season. On results alone, and in view of the herd of Red Bulls congregating in the F1 antechamber, he can perhaps consider himself fortunate to retain his place on the F1 team’s junior programme for 2022. Mounting a successful title challenge in F2 is often more about consistency and cunning than pure pace. And Daruvala’s experience, allied to the team’s collective expertise, should give him an outside shot at the title. His position in the team will depend on how long Hauger needs to settle at the higher level and, as with Zhou in 2021, a strong set of results early in the season may establish him as the driver to beat.

AA (5th): This is Daruvala’s third season in Formula 2. The Indian is now moving away from Carlin after two seasons where he definitely showed good speed and achieved three sprint-race wins. However, he isn’t going into unexplored territory, as he is being reunited with Prema, the team he was with when he finished third in the 2019 FIA Formula 3 season. Despite not being clearly dominant in 2022, the Italians are still the team to beat and, therefore, a very good option for a driver who wants to shine in Formula 1’s main feeder series. If he is to finish in the top five in such a competitive championship, he will definitely have to achieve a couple of wins and several podiums, so you can expect to see him fighting at the front of the field.

4. Jack Doohan Virtuosi Racing
Test pace 6th (100.513%)   long run 20th (102.641%)   2021: 19th in F2, 2nd in FIA F3

BW (3rd): Doohan pushed Hauger hard last year, but in the end he wasn’t able to come close to the title. It seems likely Doohan will be on track for some strong results again this season. When he made two F2 appearances at the end of the last year, he almost stole the show from champion-in-waiting Oscar Piastri in Abu Dhabi qualifying. Virtuosi will no doubt be able to give Doohan what he needs to be in a position to win races, but the team is yet to break through enough to put a driver on top at the end of the year. It doesn’t seem like that will change this year, but Doohan will likely get close.

CW (7th): Doohan dazzled in F3 last year with Trident, a team he became incredibly fond of, as well as his cameo with MP at the end of last year, but I have a few reservations coming into this year. Firstly, Virtuosi has lost some of the momentum it was carrying through 2020 and at the start of ’21, and whether it’s able to rediscover that form is a bit of an unknown at this stage. Secondly is how well Doohan adapts to this team. He has either thrived or struggled at teams in the past couple of years, so whether this is the former or the latter and the questions surrounding that prompts a fairly reserved placement on my prediction list.

3. Theo Pourchaire ART Grand Prix
Test pace 3rd (100.465%)   long run 2nd (100.425%)   2021: 5th in F2

PA (1st): Pourchaire starts as an obvious favourite as the highest-placed driver from last year to return, but it won’t be remotely as easy as that. I have no doubts the precociously fast Frenchman will retain the seemingly critical number one status within the ART line-up, but there do have to be doubts over whether ART can provide a car to win the championship with – especially given just how strong Prema looked on all fronts at the close of 2021. Despite that – and maybe this is heart ruling over head – I’m going to be optimistic and believe that drivers as good as Pourchaire and Lawson can make the difference. Pourchaire still has a bit of maturity to find off track and, like Lawson, in picking his battles on track. But this will be his first time spending a second season in the same championship and a sizeable step forward should be possible if he can cope with the pressure of expectation.

RG (3rd): As the highest-placed returning driver from 2021, expectations of the Sauber junior are vertiginous. If we believe the rumours, then, barring mishaps, a seat in F1 for 2023 seems assured. Pourchaire’s raw talent has never been in doubt; his masterclass in Monaco last year providing ample evidence of his speed, precision and artistry. But the rest of the season brought only one other feature race podium. Question marks remain over whether ART GP can regain its drivers’ title winning form from 2018 and 2019 – fifth in last year’s standings being its worst placing since 2013. Pourchaire should, however, enjoy being the main focus of the team’s efforts. With the right equipment and a bit more luck, he is sure to be in the fight for the title, as long as he does not allow himself to get too distracted by the tantalising call of F1.

2. Dennis Hauger Prema
Test pace 15th (100.963%)   long run 3rd (100.436%)   2021: FIA F3 champion

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

RG (1st): Charles Leclerc, George Russell and, most recently, Oscar Piastri have proved that rookies can indeed win the F2 championship. Hauger steps up from the third tier of the FIA’s ladder as champion and stays with Prema, undoubtedly F2’s premier team in recent seasons. Whilst the Italian squad hasn’t been the absolute pacesetters in testing, only a fool would bet against them being at the front when the real action starts. This year’s lengthy calendar will help Hauger acclimatise to F2 and most of the tracks will already be familiar to him. His scintillating F3 title-winning campaign allowed him to demonstrate his qualifying speed as well as an ability to work his way through traffic from lower grid slots. Unlike some of his rivals, Hauger can even afford not to win the title, although he will want to establish himself at the front of the queue of Red Bull F1 hopefuls.

BW (1st): Hauger has to be favourite going into the season. He may be a rookie, but he proved to be lightning quick in F3 and has what it takes to put a championship challenge together. In a series where we talk so much about consistency, it’s not necessarily always about being on the top step, but making the most of those races where that’s not possible, and that’s what put Hauger ahead of the rest last year. This year will be slightly different, with only half as many reversed-grid races making up the season, but his championship year in F3 showed he had all the skills needed to excel this season. It won’t come easy, but we know talented rookies working with strong teams can get the crown.

PA (3rd): I see no reason why Hauger can’t ‘do a Piastri’ in his first season in F2. His run to the F3 title was as similarly composed as his predecessor’s, with excellent racecraft at its core, and arguably showed a greater turn of outright speed. But it did come in his second season, and Hauger certainly needs to avoid a repeat of his lacklustre rookie year in F3. He has been fairly low-key in testing and his first challenge might be establishing himself against Daruvala as Prema’s leading hope, but 14 weekends will provide greater opportunities for rookies to improve as the year goes on. His biggest strength though might be that Prema package that appeared utterly dominant in both qualifying and race trim at the end of 2021.

1. Liam Lawson Carlin
Test pace 1st (100.000%)   long run 1st (100.000%)   2021: 9th in F2, 2nd in DTM

AA (1st): After a promising maiden season in the series with Hitech GP, Lawson is moving to Carlin with whom he has shown a very strong pace both in last year’s post-season testing and in pre-season this year. This definitely places the New Zealander as one of the drivers tipped to challenge for the 2022 Formula 2 crown. Last year, the Carlin machine proved to be fast on almost every kind of track, which is key considering this season’s number of different venues. Lawson’s undeniable talent completes an exciting driver-team combination that will most likely result in a very successful one. Its outcome will probably mark this Red Bull junior driver’s future, as being crowned as a champion could potentially mean a seat in F1.

CW (1st): Lawson comes in without DTM as a distraction, he’s searingly quick when things are right and he’s with a team that so often gets it right in this championship (even if the results elude them sometimes). Carlin has often been there or thereabouts at the majority of F2’s circuits in the past, and Lawson is a very quick, very aggressive driver. It’s a mouth-watering combination, and it’s easy to see why Trevor Carlin is very happy to have him onboard. He’s pretty much the complete product if he’s able to hit the ground running a bit more regularly on race weekends and if he reigns in some of his aggression, I think he can deliver Carlin’s first title at this level in its 12th season. With that, Yuki Tsunoda, Pierre Gasly and Sergio Perez should really watch out as the Red Bull junior absolutely will justify a F1 promotion.

PA (2nd): Lawson was brilliant at his best during his rookie campaign, especially in the early rounds. There were some rough edges which cost him some points, with too many needless scrapes in races, but his off-season team switch could help him to smooth those out under the guidance of Trevor Carlin. It should also provide him with a more consistent car underneath him. It was clearly a very quick car over both short and long runs in the Bahrain test, but the team has been very strong there before and it’s difficult to see that sort of advantage being maintained over 14 rounds. The other question is how well Lawson can make use of his and his car’s speed with the consistency that’s required in F2, and avoid tripping over other drivers.