When Lance Stroll pulled out of F1 2023 pre-season testing with Aston Martin because of an injury caused by a cycling accident, questions were asked as to who would replace the Canadian, and one of the names in the picture was Felipe Drugovich.
There was talk of Stoffel Vandoorne being a contender, but Formula E commitments ruled him out, so Drugovich stepped forward, and got some time behind the wheel of Aston Martin’s AMR23.
The Brazilian, the 2022 Formula 2 champion, proved he was worthy of a seat with two solid test sessions, and although he didn’t get the nod for Bahrain, he eventually did replace Stroll for FP1 session at the 2023 Italian Grand Prix.
And in an exclusive interview with Total-Motorsport.com, Drugovich admitted that sitting on the sidelines at Aston Martin has been mentally tough.
“It’s quite tough mentally,” Drugovich said. “I have raced since I was nine years old, every year.
“I’ve gone through Christmas and New Year just getting that feeling of, I’m going to start racing again but this year, not having that is a bit weird.
“I see other drivers that raced with me in F1 and wish I was there too, but I’m working towards that. So hopefully I’ll get a seat.”
But how did Drugovich go from the sunny southern Brazilian city of Maringa to lining up with the best in the sport after a long and chequered feeder series career?
Who is Felipe Drugovich?
Felipe Drugovich was born on the May 23, 2000 and has both Italian- Brazilian passports. He started karting in Brazil before moving to Europe at 14.
In 2016, Drugovich moved to cars, and by 2018, he was both EuroFormula Open and Spanish Formula 3 champion, securing graduation to the F3 championship for the following year.
The 2019 season was a disappointing year as Drugovich only scored eight points, but in 2020, he graduated to F2 with MP Motorsport, enjoying a breakout year, winning three races and finishing ninth in the standings.
Drugovich returned to MP Motorsport in 2022 after a mediocre campaign with UNI-Virtuosi in 2021, and the Brazilian dominated the championship, winning five times and wrapping up the title at Monza.
Following his success in F2, Drugovich was signed to Aston Martin‘s driver development programme, replacing the Haas-bound Nico Hulkenberg and is also included in McLaren‘s pool of reserve drivers.
Competing on snow despite never seeing it before
At the start of 2023, Drugovich flew to Sweden to compete in the Race Of Champions, teaming up with Belgian WRC driver Thierry Neuville to form Team All-Stars.
Drugovich came into the event with no rallying experience and had never driven on snow before, putting him at a significant disadvantage compared to his rivals.
However, despite the odds being stacked against him, Drugovich helped team all-stars progress to the Nations Cup final, where they were beaten by Petter and Oliver Solberg, representing team Norway.
In the individual Race of Champions, Drugovich continued to impress, defeating double F1 world champion Mika Hakkinen 2-0 in the round of 16 before bowing out in the quarter-finals to Mick Schumacher.
Brazil’s rich history in F1 carries extra pressure
Although yet to make a Grand Prix start, Drugovich carries the hopes of a country mad, albeit for the sport, with Brazil not having a permanent presence on the F1 grid for some time.
Although Pietro Fittipaldi made a two-race cameo for Haas in 2020, Brazil hasn’t had a full-time driver on the grid since Felipe Massa retired from F1 for a second time in 2017.
Massa was also the country’s last F1 race winner when he took victory in the 2008 Brazil GP, a win which was overshadowed after he lost the Drivers Championship to Lewis Hamilton.
Three world champions have come from Brazil, with Emerson Fittipaldi becoming the nation’s first in 1972 before taking a second crown in 1974.
Nelson Piquet took over Fittipaldi’s mantle, becoming world champion in 1981,1983, and 1987, then Ayrton Senna, the nation’s darling, taking the title in 1988,1990 and 1991.
Drugovich has plenty of talent and a number of fellow countrymen to potentially emulate.