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Who was fastest in Formula 2 in 2023?

by Ida Wood

Photo: Formula Motorsport Ltd

The points table never tells the whole story, but laptimes alone don’t either. What can be read in 2023’s data?

One of the reasons many point to for why none of this year’s Formula 2 title contenders landed Formula 1 seats for 2024 is that they did not make big enough steps up in their performances compared to 2022.

Third-year driver Theo Pourchaire won the title by 11 points after being championship runner-up and 101 points behind Felipe Drugovich (another driver yet to make it to F1) last year, Frederik Vesti climbed from ninth to second in the standings from his first season to his second, Jack Doohan went from sixth to third and scored 40 more points with two fewer races to do it in, and Ayumu Iwasa only moved up one place in the championship but was in title contention until the final round.

However other comparisons to 2022 (and to 2021 for Pourchaire) are even more telling about which drivers have become more competitive and who has got better at bringing home strong results even if their pace does not put them at the top.

Pourchaire was the second fastest driver over one lap in F2 during his rookie season, only behind Oscar Piastri. That year he was on average 0.407% off the absolute pace, but he only qualified on the front row twice in 2022 and slipped to being 12th fastest, on average 0.836% off the pace. And despite lacking consistency and strong starting positions, he still scored more feature race points than anyone but the champion.

The long-time Sauber junior mentally fumbled during that campaign, scoring just two points in the last seven races. He had shown enough to be considered the title favourite for 2023 despite that, but the question was whether he was going to build a title attack on searing qualifying pace like he relied on as a rookie, or top tyre management (he was on average the third fastest full-timer on long-run pace) as he did in 2022.

And now the season is done, we can see the answer was somewhere inbetween. Which doesn’t look impressive, but is what consistent points-scoring is built on. Pourchaire was truly outshone by his rookie team-mate Victor Martins in qualifying, with the latter taking three poles to Pourchaire’s two and being the fastest driver on average.

Qualifying ‘supertimes’

Pos Driver Team Pace Pos Driver Team Pace
1 V Martins ART GP 100.326% 14 I Hadjar Hitech 100.965%
2 J Doohan Virtuosi 100.389% 15 J Daruvala MP 101.015%
3 T Pourchaire ART GP 100.422% 16 A Leclerc DAMS 101.069%
4 F Vesti Prema 100.506% 17 J M Correa VAR 101.230%
5 A Iwasa DAMS 100.672% 18 R Stanek Trident 101.357%
6 O Bearman Prema 100.691% 19 C Novalak Trident 101.427%
7 E Fittipaldi Carlin 100.694% 20 A Cordeel Virtuosi 101.471%
8 K Maini Campos 100.750% 21 R Nissany PHM 101.527%
9 R Verschoor VAR 100.855% 22 F Colapinto MP 101.741%
10 Z Maloney Carlin 100.865% 23 P Aron Trident 101.909%
11 D Hauger MP 100.915% 24 B Benavides PHM 102.047%
12 J Crawford Hitech 100.919% 25 J Mason PHM 102.843%
13 R Boschung Campos 100.922%

But Martins wasn’t the benchmark in the same way that Piastri and Drugovich were, and Pourchaire was on average third fastest and only 0.096% off matching Martins for his closeness to the absolute pace on any given weekend. Pourchaire’s average start position for feature races was 5.2, only bettered by Martins on 3.5, and he gained places in four of those, held position in three and lost places in six of them. That equated to on average gaining less than a position in each, while Martins only gained places once and held position twice, on average losing more than seven spots each feature race.

Yet when long-run pace is analysed, Martins is the lead ART GP driver again and only behind Prema’s Vesti. Another measure by which the more experienced, and higher-scoring, drivers start to look even less impressive.

Race run data, calculated using a rolling average of 10 consecutive laps set at a representative pace, avoids deleted laptimes where possible so as not to include laps where drivers unfairly gain time. This season featured fewer deleted laps impacting calculations than in 2022, but only 20 races could be used (with the shortened Zandvoort sprint race being an obvious omission for relevant race data) compared to 23 last season.

Vesti’s long-run pace was on average 0.476% off the fastest in each race this year, a consistent closeness to the pace that nobody else could match but would have only made him the third fastest driver in races in 2021 and fourth fastest in 2022.

Piastri won the title as a rookie in 2021 as the fourth fastest driver in races, and Martins has been closer to the pace than Piastri was despite his knack of losing positions. F2’s fastest rookie in many years, but with no title challenge to show for it.

Pourchaire being fourth fastest in races is underwhelming enough on its own since it matches his positioning of last year, but this year he was 0.195% further away from the average race pace and only doing slightly better than when he was ninth fastest in 2021 (100.739% to 100.762%). The same can be said of other second and third-year drivers on the grid, several of whom stayed with the same teams they were with last year but started this year off being less competitive.

For example, Virtuosi Racing’s Doohan won three of the last four feature races he started this season but scored in only four of the first 10 races. His race pace average was worse than 2022 when you combined all that together, but still almost reflected the battle in the points table since he was sixth fastest and went into the final round fighting to be title runner-up but also at risk of dropping to eighth in the standings.

Iwasa took his three wins in the first nine races, and picked up three second places in the remaining 17. He dropped from third to fifth in the race table over the season’s second half, and had the DAMS driver’s average pace not worsened after the Red Bull Ring – which hosted round seven of 13 – then he would have topped the table. Aside from a point-free weekend at Zandvoort and some acts of desperation on a tricky weekend at Spa-Francorchamps, you can’t really point to him becoming less competitive in the season’s second half – it just seemed he had to work harder to keep himself towards the front.

Drivers having to raise their game to maintain their place at the front, or fall behind their rivals if not, shows how competitive F2 was this year and ultimately why nobody had a starting advantage large enough to stand-out weekend after weekend and put themselves in contention for an F1 seat.

Iwasa is already confirmed as racing in Super Formula next year and Pourchaire is reported to be following him there, while several drivers have struck up Formula E connections for 2024. As for Vesti, Mercedes may have plans for him but it is not saying anything yet.

His six wins led to him leading 146 laps this year, double more than all but his Prema team-mate Ollie Bearman, and his split of two feature race wins and four sprint race wins made him the 16th driver to get multiple of each in a season in GP2/F2’s 19-year history. He is the seventh non-champion to do so, and follows only Sergio Perez in that list in having more sprint than feature race wins. A six-win season is a feat only achieved six times, first by Pastor Maldonado in 2010. Piastri matched him in 2021, and Stoffel Vandoorne, Charles Leclerc and George Russell each took seven wins in the years inbetween.

The rolling race pace average

Pos Driver Pace Pos Driver Pace Pos Driver Pace
1 Vesti 100.476% 10 Daruvala 101.094% 19 Stanek 101.413%
2 Martins 100.529% 11 Crawford 101.108% 20 Benavides 101.506%
3 Hauger 100.634% 12 Bearman 101.131% 21 Aron 101.560%
4 Pourchaire 100.739% 13 Maloney 101.186% 22 Boschung 101.680%
5 Iwasa 100.739% 14 Maini 101.220% 23 Mason 101.899%
6 Doohan 100.880% 15 Nissany 101.289% 24 Cordeel 101.902%
7 Fittipaldi 100.910% 16 Hadjar 101.308% 25 Colapinto 102.160%
8 Leclerc 100.943% 17 Novalak 101.329%
9 Verschoor 101.032% 18 Correa 101.355%

Pourchaire’s one-win route to the title is something even more rarely achieved at this level of single-seater racing, particularly with the length of calendars now (look out later this month on Formulascout.com for more on this).

He was super consistent without winning, since he scored 16 more points than anyone else in feature races and was only 12 short of Vesti’s benchmark sprint race tally of 56 points with three second places to Vesti’s four wins. In two of those instances, Pourchaire was the driver chasing Vesti for the win.

Pourchaire spent 36 of the season’s 653 laps (or 5.51% of them) at the front of the field, and was championship leader at the end of nine of the 26 races. Vesti had been points leader for 10 races before Pourchaire took over at the top, and Iwasa led the way nine races into the campaign.

One of the remarkable downfalls was that of Ralph Boschung, which reflected how on the edge his F2 career can be. The seventh-year driver began the year by qualifying 10th, but converted reversed-grid pole into a long awaited first win in the season-opening sprint race then charged up to second in the feature race. He was points leader for five races until Iwasa won the Melbourne feature race to move ahead, but went 14 races without scoring (with a best finish of 14th in that time) and slumped to 16th in the standings.

Scoring four points from three of the last eight races did nothing to improve his championship position, leaving his opening weekend as a huge outlier (and only the fourth time in his F2 career he had finished in the top seven in both races of a weekend). Boschung’s Bahrain double podium was matched by Pourchaire (Silverstone), Vesti (Yas Marina), Martins (Barcelona), Bearman (Baku), Enzo Fittipaldi (Spa) and Jehan Daruvala (Jeddah).

The laptimes and the comments from Boschung and Pourchaire at round one were fascinating insights into not only if they and others thought they had raised their game for 2023, but if they actually had. And the way their seasons then played out made their Bahrain confidence all the more interesting respectively.

Boschung’s Campos Racing team-mate Kush Maini was a strong qualifier, but after putting himself third on the grid for the season finale he was downplaying any chance of being able to convert that into a podium as his team struggled for race pace.

The data supports his point, with Maini having the sixth highest feature race starting position on average but coupled with the 14th fastest long-run pace. Boschung’s numbers were even worse at season-end, being 16th best on the first metric and 22nd on the latter. It is intriguing that Red Bull has chosen to place juniors Isack Hadjar and Pepe Marti at Campos for 2024.

Martins and Bearman are set to be the two highest-placed returnees to the F2 grid next year, and the rookies were already two of the fastest drivers this year. Bearman’s Baku double helped him translate that into a lot of laps led, but he has already said he does not expect to be able to repeat that next season, while Martins had a lot of frustrations about where things went wrong both outside of his hands and in his own driving. Yet he scored in 12 consecutive races, something last achieved by Robert Shwartzman in 2021 and last surpassed by Mick Schumacher’s 15-race scoring streak in 2020.

Both Bearman and Martins’ development may be stunted by having rookie team-mates for their sophomore campaigns, so they had better spend winter analysing what Pourchaire and Vesti got right if they want to replicate their title-fighting exploits.

Laps led

1 Vesti 146   2 Bearman 84   3 Hauger 68   4 Iwasa 62   5 Doohan 41   6 Pourchaire 36   7 Hadjar 33   8 Martins 31   9 Crawford 30   10 Novalak 30   11 Boschung 26   12 Fittipaldi 23   13 Leclerc 21   14 Verschoor 16   15 Daruvala 5   16 Cordeel 1