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Is Jack Doohan deserving of the 2025 F1 seat he aims for?

by Alejandro Alonso Lopez

Photo: Renault

Jack Doohan is set to spend 2024 on the sidelines, committed to being Alpine’s F1 reserve driver as he aims for a spot on the 2025 grid. Will that plan work, and does he deserve a chance to race at the top level?

Having previously combined Formula 1 work with racing in Formula 2, Jack Doohan will redouble his involvement within Alpine’s F1 structure for 2024. He will support the development of the A524 car in the team’s Enstone simulator, will travel to race weekends and have an extensive testing programme in the A522 car from 2022. All is to be ready to make an eventual step to racing in F1 the following year, but is Doohan deserving of the seat he has his sights set on?

The Australian endured a troubled sophomore F2 campaign with Virtuosi Racing in 2023, failing to meet expectations results-wise. He had been aiming for the crown, but came third in the standings and was never really in the title fight. Nonetheless, that is not a reason for discredit when details are examined for the driver who won three of the last five feature races.

Last year’s F2 season featured the closest title battle in F1’s primary support series since the 2016 GP2 season. ART Grand Prix’s Theo Pourchaire and Prema’s Frederik Vesti took it to the season finale at Yas Marina Circuit, where the former triumphed. In addition, their respective rookie team-mates Victor Martins and Ollie Bearman also starred with blistering pace from early in the season. As a consequence, the achievements of others flew under the radar at times.

Alpine junior Doohan was one of those drivers who shone despite not driving for one of the two fastest teams, and he did so overcoming adversity. His plan for 2023 was clear: build on an already successful rookie season and take the title. However, it was all turned upside down during pre-season testing at Bahrain. The car was not behaving as it should, with pace to be found but seemingly not in reach.

Although he never went into much detail about what the issue was, Doohan repeatedly described it as a “fundamental” one. In fact, his car was not slowing down properly, and that heavily impacted how Doohan performed in the first four rounds.

Photos: Formula Motorsport Ltd

In 2022 he qualified on pole at Bahrain and fought for the feature race win in what was his third weekend in F2. When the 2023 season began at the same track he qualified down in 17th. His race pace was stronger, but not by enough to bring him up into the points when starting so far down the order.

Second place in the Jeddah feature race two weeks later, helped by other drivers’ mistakes, masked the seriousness of the situation. That was one of the highlights of his season, and trouble arose again on home soil in Melbourne and then in Baku.

It took a lot of time, analysis and the replacement of several parts of the car until everything was back in place. The Barcelona in-season test was a turning point. The car felt good again, and it could be pushed to the limit. With a 41-point deficit to championship leader Pourchaire eight races into what would be a 25-race campaign, there was no time to be lost. Therefore, crashing out from fourth place in the Monaco feature race the following round was a tough one to swallow. The accident led to a chassis change, but that would not undermine Doohan and Virtuosi’s confidence.

From there on, the team started scoring points consistently, and Doohan stormed to feature race victory at the Hungaroring, Spa-Francorchamps and Abu Dhabi. The first and third of those were wins were taken in almost dominant fashion from pole, but Spa was definitely his finest performance of the year. Rain early in qualifying left him 11th on the grid, but he stormed to first place with pace and a great strategy helped by a perfectly timed safety car period. It all came together for Doohan that Sunday at a venue where in previous years he had already had his best showings in the FIA Formula 3 Championship and F2.

Doohan ended up being the top scorer over the last five rounds with 96 points to his name. In comparison, Pourchaire scored 74. The haul was enough for Doohan to come third in the standings by three points over DAMS’ Ayumu Iwasa.

But there were lows in those five weekends. Doohan followed up his first two wins with a mistake on a slippery Zandvoort track surface that put him out of the feature race before it had even started. It was extremely painful for the Australian, who had dreamt of a late title charge. Then a lack of top speed at Monza hindered him and made it a survival battle just to score.

Photo: Formula Motorsport Ltd

Third in the standings, particularly given the gap to the top two, is definitely not what was expected from Doohan in his sophomore season. In 2022 he had blistering speed, some brilliant performances and was wanting to make his case to be in F1. Not being a title contender in 2023 killed that. However, there is much more to it than just the end result, and it is there that his value exponentially increases.

Doohan has made significant progress since first joining the F1 support paddock in 2020. He went from not scoring points that year in FIA F3 with the mildly competitive HWA Racelab team, resulting in him losing his long-held Red Bull Junior Team membership and being demoted to the status of an RBJT-supported driver, to being 2021 championship runner-up with Trident. Two months later he showed promising speed in his F2 debut with MP Motorsport in Jeddah, finishing fifth on his second start, then at Yas Marina Circuit he scored more points and was “a little bit disappointed” to qualify second.

A few days later he was snapped up by Virtuosi for the 2022 F2 season, and then in February of that year it was announced he was now a member of the Alpine Academy. Doohan developed on track and off the track under the eye of a new F1 team.

In 2023, he stayed calm and collected through adversity in the early stages of the season despite knowing that not winning the F2 title could diminish substantially his chances of becoming an F1 driver one day. He pulled his Virtuosi team together and was protective of it in the media sessions amid questions about the lack of performance, as he understood the car issues were not his team’s fault.

He is professional, mature and a hard worker. He analyses the situation and then acts in consequence. He is the kind of person who works tirelessly pursuing his goals. Those attributes are highly valued by racing teams in the process of deciding who are the best drivers to fill their seats. In addition, he has already a good sum of F1 car mileage under his belt, having completed private tests in Alpine’s A521 car on a third of the circuits that make up the current F1 calendar.

Furthermore, he also has experience driving the current generation of ground effect F1 cars as he has participated in four free practice sessions and two rookie tests in the past two seasons.

Alpine’s F1 drivers at its 2024 car launch

His on-track performances in recent years, work ethic and preparation undoubtedly make Doohan a driver deserving of a chance in F1. However, F1 is first a business, then a motor racing competition, and being talented is often not enough to become part of the grid. In fact, history is full of deserving drivers who never started an F1 grand prix.

In order not to follow that same destiny, Doohan decided not to race in 2024 and fully immerse himself in the F1 world, benefiting from his role at Alpine. He will serve as reserve driver, help with car development and gain further F1 mileage. The A522 he will be testing is of the current generation of F1 cars, unlike the A521 he has been driving in until now.

The Australian felt this plan boosts his chances of being on the F1 grid in 2025, but it is undeniably a risky bet. Although one year off is unlikely to kill the career of a race-winning driver, it could have detrimental effects. For example, fellow Alpine junior Martins is embarking on his second F2 season with ART GP this year, and is clear that he is aiming for the title.

Should he become champion, he could well overtake Doohan in the queue to land an F1 seat with Alpine when a vacancy emerges, especially considering how much the French manufacturer has invested in his career. Race drivers belong on racetracks and it is there where they can impress best. Not competing and, therefore, not being able to counterbalance Martins with his own results could eventually harm him, but his on-track record from 2023 is already a clear statement of performance.

Time will tell whether Doohan succeeds in his pursuit of a F1 career. Notwithstanding, it is worrying that drivers that have already proven themselves worth of a F1 race seat on-track have to spend time off-track after that doing so as well. There have been a few of those recently, and unfortunately not all have raced at the top echelon of motorsport.