It's a Monday like any other – until the phone rings. It's Aston Martin F1, and you're asked to drive the brand-new AMR23 car at the Bahrain pre-season test in less than 72 hours.
It's the stuff of dreams, but for Felipe Drugovich, it's a reality – and goes with the territory of being an F1 test and reserve driver. With Lance Stroll recovering from an injury sustained when training on a bicycle in Spain ahead of the season, the 22-year-old was parachuted in to share testing duties with double World Champion Fernando Alonso.
Moments after stepping out of the cockpit after testing, we caught up with the boy from Brazil for the latest instalment of our exclusive interview series, UNDERCUT.
Be honest, Felipe. Did you feel ready to drive the car?
Yeah. 100 per cent. Totally ready.
It's been a rollercoaster few days. Have you caught your breath yet?
It's been a crazy few days, quite rushed, but my mindset has been to enjoy the experience as much as I can. It's important to stay in the moment and enjoy it.
"There are some 700 people in the team who did their job well. In that moment I'm just the next link in the chain, the 701st person who needs to do their job well and remain focused on what they need to do."
You're sat in the cockpit, the visor comes down and you're about to take to the track in a brand-new F1 car, the product of months of hard work from hundreds of people. How nervous are you at that moment?
At the end of the day, it's just one steering wheel and four wheels. As a driver, you need to stay calm, focused and do your job.
There are some 700 people in the team who did their job well. At that moment, I'm just the next link in the chain – the 701st person who needs to do their job well and remain focused on what they need to do.
You've now driven the AMR21, AMR22 and AMR23. How do they compare?
The AMR21 is quite different – it was built to a very different set of regulations. It's a lot softer compared to the AMR22 and AMR23, which are much stiffer in terms of suspension.
The AMR23 is performing really well. The car feels good. It's really nice to drive – more enjoyable than last year, with less porpoising and bouncing. We need to wait to see where we are compared to the others – in testing it's difficult to understand what your competitors are doing – but the AMR23 feels like a big step forward.
You're working with a double World Champion in the form of Fernando Alonso – he's a good benchmark. Are you hoping that his feedback and comments about the AMR23 are similar to yours?
This is something I'm curious to see. You hope it's the same because then it means we have a very clear direction to go in with the car.
"Respect is something you need to earn. Fernando has earned that respect through everything he's achieved, and I hope to do the same."
It's testing, so it's very hard to compare laptimes, but surely there must be part of you that wants to see how you've fared against Fernando and the other drivers?
You're always having a look at the times but it's very difficult to know what the other teams are doing. It's important to stay focused on yourself.
Inside the team, it's easier to compare yourself with whoever else is driving the car but there are variables to consider like track conditions and temperature. I can always learn from Fernando, so it's good to be able to compare myself against him.
Emerson Fittipaldi, Carlos Pace, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Rubens Barrichello, Felipe Massa. No Brazilian driver has won a Grand Prix since 2009. What do you need to do to add the name Felipe Drugovich to this group of Brazilian F1 winners?
Get a race seat! Apart from that, I just need to keep doing what I'm doing – try to keep improving and be a better driver every day. You also need a bit of luck to be in the right place at the right time to get a good opportunity. But I will do whatever is in my power, in my hands, to get there.
"The most important thing is to stay calm and be prepared. One day the opportunity might come, so I need to be ready to do the best job that I can."
When you walk around the paddock, what kind of reception do you get from those drivers already on the F1 grid? As one of the sport's most exciting young talents, you're gunning for a race seat – and it could be theirs.
There is a difference between the young drivers and the older drivers. Someone like Fernando is very experienced and has all this respect from the other drivers. For me, that respect is something you need to earn. Fernando has earned that respect through everything he's achieved, and I hope to do the same.
Being a test and reserve driver, you must always be ready – you never know exactly when you will be called up to drive the car. How do you deal with that psychologically?
It's quite difficult to maintain the focus throughout the year. I need to be ready all the time and have the mentality that, at any point, I could be racing – even though I might never race. It is difficult, but the most important thing is to stay calm and be prepared. One day the opportunity might come, so I need to be ready to do the best job that I can.
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