Juri Vips was, not for the first time, supposed to be making his Super Formula return this coming weekend. However he’s been in England rather than Japan, but was still working on finding a way into Formula 1
Red Bull started a policy of sending its top junior drivers to Japan in 2017 with reigning GP2 champion Pierre Gasly, and his title near-miss with Team Mugen – by half a point – was enough to convince the energy drink brand to do the same in 2018.
Honda junior and Red Bull athlete Nirei Fukuzumi saddled his rookie Formula 2 season with a part-time SF campaign, and Red Bull’s official Formula 1 junior driver Dan Ticktum stood in for him twice when F2 took priority.
Ticktum’s failure to get the FIA superlicence points needed to race in F1 in his FIA European Formula 3 campaign that year meant he returned to SF in 2019. After a trying three races he was dropped by Mugen and then Red Bull, with IndyCar racer and new junior signing Patricio O’Ward drafted in to replace him and only fairing slightly better.
He skipped the final round as Red Bull released him to pursue a return to IndyCar with McLaren Schmidt Peterson, and the next junior in line made his debut at the season finale in his place: Juri Vips.
The Estonian was also retained by Mugen for a full 2020 campaign after he followed Ticktum in not getting the superlicence points he needed from F3.
That 2019 appearance has stood as Vips’ sole SF start so far though, after the coronavirus pandemic ravaged through his racing plans. Here’s the full story of his, now successful, superlicence pursuit…
Sunday, September 29 2019
Vips wins the final race of the FIA F3 season in Sochi, but his final championship position of fourth means he is eight points short of the tally required to successfully apply for a FIA superlicence to race in F1 with AlphaTauri in 2020.
Friday, October 18 2019
It is announced that Vips will replace O’Ward in Mugen’s #15 car for the SF season finale at Suzuka. Red Bull is already committed to supporting two cars in the series in 2020, and Vips is rumoured to be filling one of those.
Saturday, October 26 2019
Vips’ first day in the Dallara SF 2019. He is 2.193 seconds off the pace in free practice one, and is 1.094s off first place in his qualifying group. However being slowest in his group puts him 19th on the grid for Sunday’s race.
Sunday, October 27 2019
In morning free practice Vips halves the gap to the front again, going fourth fastest in the session and 0.548s behind pacesetter Alex Palou. He makes up four spots in the opening laps before drivers ahead on the medium compound tyre made their pitstops, and Vips – who chose to start on soft tyres following his lowly qualifying result – rises up to fifth.
He remains there until lap 28 of 43, when he makes his own mandatory stop for the mediums. As he goes to exit his box the car stalls, leaving him stationary for an additional 26s. Mugen team-mate Tomoki Nojiri wins the race, and Vips comes home 18th despite having the pace to finish in the top 10.
Sunday, November 17 2019
There is one more opportunity in the year to close on the 40 superlicence points mark, with five up for grabs in the FIA F3 World Cup. To get those five points Vips needs to win the Macau Grand Prix, and the Estonian looks set to do just that after breaking the track record in qualifying and then controlling the qualification race from the front.
The main race follows the same pattern until a safety car period brings Richard Verschoor onto his tail, and the Dutchman passes him on the restart. Vips blames, among other things, failure of the Drag Reduction System in being unable to reclaim the lead and finishes with mixed emotions in second place.
Thursday, December 5 2019
With no hope of racing in F1 in 2020, Vips returns to Japan to contest SF’s two-day post-season rookie test at Suzuka. Now he is only 0.152s off the pace and is third fastest behind Fukuzumi and two-time champion Naoki Yamamoto – another SF driver courted by Red Bull for F1.
Friday, January 10 2020
Honda reveals its line-ups for the upcoming SF season and Vips is named alongside Nojiri at Mugen. He now needs 20 superlicence points to race in F1 in 2021, with the points earned for winning the 2017 ADAC Formula 4 title now no longer applicable, meaning he needs a top-two finish in SF to complete that aim.
Monday, March 2 2020
Suzuka cancels the first pre-season test and round of the SF season as the coronavirus pandemic hits Japan.
Wednesday, March 18 2020
The same fate falls round two of the season at Fuji Speedway, but it confirms it is already looking for a replacement date and assures that its two-day pre-season test the next week will still go ahead.
Wednesday, March 25 2020
Pre-season testing at Fuji takes place and Vips is seventh fastest. He struggles with tyre warm-up, which impacts his single-lap pace, but it close to his team-mate’s pace and overall looks competitive.
Tuesday, March 31 2020
Autopolis announces its SF round will be postponed, and with no replacement dates yet found for Suzuka and Fuji it provisionally leaves the calendar at four races. To administer superlicence points, a series must usually have five rounds minimum.
Tuesday, April 7 2020
SF prevents a departure of entries as the cancelled Suzuka race reappears on the calendar as a double-header with the originally single-race Suzuka season finale. However the Japanese government announces a State of Emergency that puts the country into lockdown.
Friday, April 24 2020
As the COVID-19 pandemic only worsens in Japan, Sportsland SUGO postpones its round and SF is back down to four races. Japan’s borders are now closed to foreign nationals, putting Vips’ participation into further question.
Tuesday, June 9 2020
A heavily revised SF calendar is released which features all seven originally scheduled races. The season has a start date of August 30 at Twin Ring Motegi. Estonia remains on Japan’s prohibited entry list, and Vips is now back in Europe after previously being stuck in Japan during the onset of the pandemic.
Thursday, June 25 2020
A surprise appearance in Formula Regional European Championship testing with KIC Motorsport at Imola, where he goes fastest, builds speculation around Vips’ plans.
Two days later KIC reveals he will join FREC, which offers the same number of superlicence points as SF. Vips’ manager Marko Asmer clarifies that his planned SF campaign remains his priority unless entry to Japan proves absolutely impossible.
Saturday, August 1 2020
A spin into the gravel ends Vips’ first FREC race at Misano, and despite the promise from testing, his first weekend back in F3 has a best finish of fourth.
Wednesday, August 19 2020
An attempt to travel to Japan fails due to the strict immigration controls, and Asian F3 champion Ukyo Sasahara – a Red Bull athlete – replaces Vips at Mugen for the SF season opener.
Friday, August 21 2020
During FREC round two at Paul Ricard, which includes two podiums despite engine issues and a permanently-locked brake, Vips gets the call up to substitute for the injured Sean Gelael at DAMS in F2 for three rounds. Only contesting a part-season means he will still be reliant on FREC or SF for superlicence points.
Sunday, September 13 2020
Vips claims his first podium in F2 in the Mugello sprint race, but at the cost of missing FREC’s Red Bull Ring round and leaving him a very distant sixth in the points there. He says he will likely stay in F2 for the next round in Sochi, as travel restrictions make it unlikely he can secure a work visa for the SF race that same weekend.
Tuesday, October 13 2020
A return to FREC at Mugello starts with a podium and ends with a retirement. Vips then heads to Japan to serve a mandatory two-week quarantine before he is allowed to race. Sasahara stays at Mugen for Vips’ Sochi clash and for round three at Sugo while Vips isolates.
Monday, November 9 2020
Vips has served his quarantine, but Mugen announces it will retain Sasahara’s services for the remainding four SF rounds. Formula Scout learns that Vips has returned to Europe and tested with Red Bull Racing in its 2012 F1 title-winning RB8 car at Silverstone, with the mileage accrued believed to bring him closer to a superlicence after the FIA makes adjustments to the system in wake of the effect the coronavirus pandemic has had on racing schedules.
Missing two FREC rounds while quarantining leaves him unable of earning a superlicence through that series.
Thursday, November 12 2020
Red Bull Racing reveals Vips will act as its and AlphaTauri’s reserve driver for the weekend’s Turkish Grand Prix, after the FIA accepted his superlicence application upon completion of over 300 kilometres in his F1 test. He is now back in contention for a 2021 F1 seat, going up against Red Bull’s existing drivers Alex Albon and Daniil Kvyat, and title-contending Honda-supported F2 rookie Yuki Tsunoda, who still needs to secure his full superlicence.