Home Featured Why Paul Aron remains relaxed about his unlikely rookie F2 title bid

Why Paul Aron remains relaxed about his unlikely rookie F2 title bid

by Ida Wood

Photo: Formula Motorsport Ltd

F2’s points leader seven rounds in is yet to win a race, only won once in F3 and had never led a car racing series prior to this year. But he seems very calm about becoming champion of F1’s primary feeder series

Formula 2 drivers having breakout seasons that lead to title success is not a rarity, with Felipe Drugovich one of the most remarkable and dominant examples in 2022. That was during the Dallara F2 2019’s fifth year of use, and it was Drugovich’s third season. But even winning the title by 101 points wasn’t enough to take him into Formula 1.

The significance of a highly impactful rookie season in F2 cannot be understated, as it not only sets expectations for follow-up campaigns but is what brings drivers to the attention of the wider motorsport media and more importantly to F1 teams. Ollie Bearman is having a nightmare sophomore campaign as his Prema team struggles with the new Dallara F2 2024 car, but already has an F1 future lined up thank to race-winning form as an F2 rookie and eye-catching performances in F1 cars since.

Theo Pourchaire was expected to conquer F2 after he made history as its youngest ever race-winner in 2021, but Drugovich’s domination meant three wins and the championship runner-up spot in 2022 didn’t enhance his reputation and after only winning once en-route to the 2023 title he joined Drugovich on F1’s sidelines this year. Some think the pair’s title-winning years reflect their abilities, others make judgements (that then do not shift) about F2 talents based on individual weekends that stick in the mind. For Bearman it’s his brilliant Baku double last year, for Pourchaire it’s his historic Monaco win.

Can anyone name a standout race from Paul Aron’s 16-race F2 career so far?

Aron made his debut in last year’s season finale with Trident and turned 21st on the grid into 16th and a lapped 18th in the two races. A day later he confirmed his exit from the Mercedes-AMG F1 Junior Team after two years and four months in its ranks.

If there was any career momentum lost by that, then Aron was quick to move on from it as just three days on he was announced as joining Hitech GP for the 2024 F2 season.

Cordeel & Aron

While it looks to be an inspired move now, after pre-season testing at Bahrain that was not the case as Aron was 18th fastest and 19th on race pace, slower than less-established team-mate Amaury Cordeel on both counts. He was notably late to leave the pits on the first two days of testing, but that strategy was no reflection on Hitech’s productivity as Cordeel set the most laps over the week and Aron the seventh most. However the pace shown still left the pair outside the top 10 in Formula Scout’s predictions for the 2024 championship order.

Aron qualified 12th for the season opener at the same track, but then charged to fifth and third in the two races to sit third in the standings and exceed his own expectations for the weekend. He followed that up in Jeddah with 10th in qualifying, which put him on reversed-grid pole for the sprint race. He converted it into second place, then finished 10th in the feature race to slip to fourth in the points table.

The next three rounds were similar but with gains in qualifying and race pace, although he never made it into the top three in the former. However he did add three more podiums, and assumed the points lead at the end of that run by finishing third in Monaco’s feature race. Afterwards, he was asked about the consistency that had carried him to the top of the table.

“I am very happy. If we look back at my year in Formula 3, I was also the most consistent driver if we looked at the qualifying position and race finish position,” he pointed out. “That has been my approach this year. As a rookie with a new team, we didn’t know where we would end up. All I tried to do was to put myself in the mix and go from there. I never tried to really go 100% to get the pole position or the win because in the beginning, with a new car and being a rookie, it is easy to make mistakes.”

By being one of only two drivers to always qualify in the top 12, Aron was on average the fastest driver in the 2023 FIA F3 Championship season despite never claiming pole. The standard deviation in his qualifying form amounted to 2.7 places, far lower than anyone else who was near the front. So far in F2 this year it’s 3.7, slightly worse than main title rival Isack Hadjar.

“[A win] is something me and Hitech are looking for. I don’t think there is any point in pushing it, it is just a matter of time until it comes,” he added, before being asked if he felt he should be getting more recognition for his winless podium spree.

“I always don’t know what’s happening in the F1 paddock, so I don’t know how much recognition I’m getting. But that’s why I have my brother, Ralf, who’s managing me. And I’m sure he’s doing his best to have some talks around there.”

Aron basically had “not really thought about it”, and keeping F1 out of his mind – unlike Pourchaire when he first emerged as a regular F2 frontrunner – was helping him “really enjoy racing in F2″.

“This year I probably enjoyed racing the most, I’m just really happy to be at the track, really happy to race. And I think that’s how I should move forward. In the end, thinking about F1, it doesn’t give me any benefit, does it? If anything, it just adds pressure.

“And previous years, I’ve always had these goals and expectations. These have just added this little bit of pressure that every qualifying, I’ve had to take a step back. Every race I had to take a step back. This year Hitech has given me a great car. They’ve given me a great environment, also made me feel really comfortable. And I just really enjoy it. And that’s why these results are coming.”

In the next round at Barcelona, Aron claimed his first pole by 0.002 seconds. That was turned into a fourth place in the feature race, having gone off in pursuit of eventual winner Jak Crawford,  but he did finish third from ninth on the grid the previous day.

At the Red Bull Ring the week after he made it seven podiums from seven rounds, and the 20-year-old reflected once more on his form, his F1 prospects and specifically the races where he had come short of victory and whether that really mattered.

“I think in Barcelona I was a bit too greedy in the feature race. I tried to make good my mistakes here, so I played the long game. Whenever I had the chance, I tried to make the move and then saved my tyres for the rest of the race,” he said after the sprint race, admitting he had started tyre-saving from lap two of 28.

“When [Gabriel Bortoleto] was behind me and I didn’t have DRS I tried to save my tyres in the middle sector where he couldn’t overtake me. Then I pushed flatout basically in the first and third sector because that was the place where he could have made the moves. I think the pace would’ve been maybe better than it looked at the end of the race if I didn’t have to do that. But when I saw that there was no chance to catch these guys and fight for higher steps on the podium I just went into ‘saving the podium’ mode and just tried to keep him behind.”

While F1 – and even breaking his F2 victory duck – is not on Aron’s mind, the title now is for him and Hitech as they go into the season’s second half with an 11-point lead.

“The strategy we had for example in Barcelona was not to win the race, it was just to play the safest game in order to get the most points. I think both of us are thinking about how to take the least amount of risk and score the most points. I think that could be one of the reasons why I still don’t have a race win because we are not going all out at every race.”

He added: “I’m always learning and getting more comfortable with the car. And then I think also the team is understanding the car better. So we are constantly making steps forward, and I think Barcelona was a clear sign of that.”

Aron has also cameoed in Formula E this year, and he spoke to Formula Scout about the lessons learned from that paddock. The fact that he got called up to not only test but also race in the championship shows how his results as a rookie have made an impression in professional racing series, even if the lack of a win still leaves Aron without a standout F2 race to his name.

While committed to “never” let his focus on F2 waiver, Aron does say that he thinks rookies “doing a good job in F2” deserve interest from F1 teams. “And I’m not saying that because I’m up here. I’m saying that because I think that’s how it should be.”

Aron’s tally of 117 points is the sixth highest in GP2/F2 history for a driver 14 races into their rookie season. Charles Leclerc (208), George Russell (170), Lando Norris (133), Robert Shwartzman (132) and Oscar Piastri (120, from four feature races and 10 sprints) are the names above him in that list.

Aron in FE (Photo: Simon Galloway)

The consistency is even more impressive given last year Aron was the 11th best on long-run pace in the FIA F3 paddock. He had the second highest sprint race points tally in the field, but averaged only scored two more points in feature races than sprints. Now he is the benchmark driver for long-run pace in F2, with the most sprint race points by some margin and only behind two-time race-winner Hadjar, by 14 points, in his feature race tally. So did Aron expect his stunning season?

“I mean… yeah. It’s a difficult question to answer because I need to pick my words, obviously. If I say yes, then I sound very arrogant. And if I say no, then it sounds like I don’t believe in myself,” is the answer.

“In car racing so far I haven’t had that breakthrough season where you win everything. But I’ve always been fighting up there, and I’ve always been fighting for titles, and I’ve always been fighting for race wins. So in that sense, I’ve always been up there and there was never a question of ability. But in motorsport there’s a lot that goes into a season, and there’s a lot of things that need to fall in place, to have that winning season. And it seems like this year with Hitech and with this new car we have been getting it right.

“It doesn’t mean that this is the season we are going to win the championship, but we are certainly in a good place and the important thing is to keep going. I’ve never doubted myself as a rookie, because I’ve always felt like I adapt to new things quickly. And I knew coming into F2 that this championship will play to my strengths because I’m a driver who approaches a season with a structured kind of learning approach and kind of a wise approach, which definitely plays off in a long and difficult championship.”

Aron was third in Italian Formula 4 (2018), Formula Regional Europe (2021 & ’22) and the FIA F3 Championship (2023), and at no point was he the chased rather than the chaser in any of those. So far he’s adapted to that change of status perfectly in F2.