Exclusive: Marcus Armstrong on his F1 dream: ‘I’m not going to just give up’

Marcus Armstrong is heading into his third season in Formula 2, a make-or-break year for the Kiwi. Speaking to F1 Feeder Series in an exclusive interview, Armstrong told us about his hopes for F2 in 2022 and his goals for the future. This is the second of two articles based on our interview with Armstrong; the first article discussed his recent exit from the Ferrari Driver Academy (FDA) and is available to read here.

By Tyler Foster

Despite parting ways with the FDA at the start of the year, it wasn’t all bad news for the 21-year-old from Christchurch. He announced just a week later that he would be racing with Hitech GP in F2 for 2022, alongside his old Prema Formula 4 teammate Jüri Vips, who resigned with the team.

This will be Armstrong’s third different team at this level, after starting with ART in 2020, before moving to DAMS for last year. While both ART GP and DAMS are big names in the feeder series world, Armstrong didn’t manage to truly settle in either environment and finished thirteenth in both seasons. 

“At times last year I felt like I was a bit blind,” Armstrong says, when asked why he underperformed with DAMS in 2021. “I was just driving by feeling and didn’t really have data to push forward on.”

Despite suffering from numerous mechanical problems that have cost him over the last two seasons, Armstrong certainly hasn’t met the expectations that were placed upon him after finishing runner-up in Formula 3 in 2019. However, it’s now with Hitech that the Kiwi may finally have found the right environment to allow him to thrive in this series. 

“I think the environment is very important. Especially being with people that I know. The team owner of Hitech actually brought me to Europe when I was about thirteen years old to race for Tony Kart. We got along really well and he invited me to live with him whilst I was doing karting.”

“He’s really taken Hitech to the next level since I met him so it feels like I’m coming home in a way. It’s more of a family environment than what I’m used to.”

IndyCar or F1?

While he confirmed very early on in January that he would remain in F2 for another year, there was plenty of speculation linking him to the other side of the Atlantic and IndyCar, after he visited the Nashville race in August. We asked Armstrong whether the IndyCar interest was at any point serious and whether his focus for the future was on Europe or America.

“My ultimate feeling going into 2022 was to do another year in F2. I’ve done so many years in motorsport since I was eight years old. What’s one more year in order to change the narrative? F1 has been my dream since I was seven so I’m not going to just give up. I’ve always had an interest in IndyCar, I’m not going to lie, ever since I was young. Scott Dixon is obviously a massive character in America and he’s a Kiwi so I’ve always followed him and had an interest in it, but Formula 1 is the goal.”

While every driver hopes of one day jumping in an F1 car with their name on it, there are only currently 20 spots available. With so much more talent than seats, we asked Armstrong whether he worried about proving himself in F2 but being unable to muscle his way into an F1 seat.

“It’s one of those things where you just have to prove that you’re better than the next guy. Callum [Ilott] is a really good example. In my opinion Callum should be in Formula 1 and he’s not, but he’s also landed on his feet elsewhere. Despite not having made F1, his career is fairly set.”

Credit: marcusarmstrong.com

Armstrong vs Vips

The new Hitech lineup of New Zealander Armstrong and Estonian Jüri Vips is one of the strongest pairings on the F2 grid for 2022. With Hitech finishing fourth in the constructors’ standings both years since joining the series in 2020, Armstrong certainly will be confident from the outset. 

His ‘new’ teammate is actually not that new to the Kiwi. The pair were teammates together in ADAC F4, where they battled it out for the championship until the final race, with Vips winning by 4.5 points. As Armstrong says himself, the two are very good mates; in fact, they went on holiday together last summer to the Dominican Republic.

But while the two are friends, they’re ultimately ultra-competitive, driving each other forward with the aim of beating the other. 

“We both know that we can’t take the piss in terms of team environments because we’re there to win and that’s no joke. I understand that we’re going to be pushing each other hard. That’s exactly what we need in order to succeed. You can’t just have one good driver and the other one miles off. You need to be continuously pushing each other and busting each other’s balls.”

“The way Prema used to work is you’d have four or five drivers that were capable of winning the championship and you just raise each other’s levels to the point where no one was really close. That’s really important. I’ve gotten along with teammates before and also have not. I think it’s just important to have a guy that you can learn from firstly and also push each other.”

Credit: Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Mental toughness

For Armstrong, his first two years in F2 were extremely tough, seemingly only learning lessons the hard way. Whether it was a DNF out of his control or a driver error, those things take a repeated toll on your confidence. But Armstrong shows an extreme level of mental toughness.

“I’ve never doubted myself. I have a lot of faith that things will turn out the way they should. My Formula 4 engineer once told me that once you get a bit of ketchup out of the bottle the whole lot comes out. It’s a metaphor that I’ll keep for the rest of my life.”

With that metaphor in mind, we asked Armstrong whether his maiden F2 victory with DAMS last year in Jeddah could act as the ketchup or if it was something more basic that could give him a breakthrough. 

“It’s as simple as having a good day of testing. Obviously, it’s nice to have a trophy and all that jazz but for the win in Jeddah I honestly wasn’t surprised, I was more relieved. I have a few mates in F2 who took the piss out of me saying I still hadn’t won a race yet so it’s nice to get the monkey off my back. The ultimate target wasn’t really winning races but having a consistent season and fighting for the championship.”

Off-season

After last year’s hectic F2 schedule and calendar, there was certainly some well-earned rest for the drivers and teams. For Armstrong, this meant returning home to New Zealand for the first time in over eighteen months.

“I was very lucky to get an isolation spot here [in New Zealand]. There’s nothing more valuable than being able to clear my head and stay with my own family. It makes a difference being able to switch off. I’ve been living alone since I was fourteen so it’s not like I’m homesick but when things aren’t going well like they have the past couple of years, I think it’s important to take a break.”

“When I’m in holiday mode, I think I’m a lot more relaxed. New Zealanders generally are quite chilled and it’s a real refreshment being around my school friends because you can almost be as silly as you want and be rewarded for it. I could bring that more to the racing paddock but for some reason I don’t really do that.”

While Armstrong is now back in the UK, beginning his training for pre-season with Hitech, he took part in a couple of karting races back home. In terms of staying fit as a driver, he believes there’s nothing more natural than karting and having fun. With his off-season officially over however, he will now be back to focusing on his upcoming F2 campaign.

Championship aspirations

His goal this year is to compete for the title. He has a strong team and now is one of the more experienced drivers on the grid. At the age of 21, however, he still has time on his side. Asked him whether his age and experience are an advantage coming into this year, he pauses, then says: “I’ve never actually considered it before, so thanks for bringing it to my attention. It’s a positive thing I think.”

After the disruptive and disliked format that was introduced last year was dropped by the FIA, this year’s newer format and calendar seem to have the approval of the Kiwi. He says Imola, Baku and Zandvoort are the races to look out for this year in F2.

“I’m very much looking forward to this year, because it’s a new format, there are a lot of cool tracks. If you have a bad weekend you can bounce back straightaway as opposed to last year, where you had a bad weekend and had to wait two months to get another shot.”

This year is make-or-break for Armstrong. With the window of opportunity for F1 very narrow in general and this year’s F2 title battle seemingly wide open, Armstrong is trying not to get caught up in the fervour of it all. He certainly has a point to prove however after his last two seasons.

“I want to be performing well enough to win the championship. I remember as soon as I finished the F3 season I said I’m going to win F2 next year. It’s more complicated than that. I just want to take it day-by-day and make the right decisions at each moment.”

Header photo credit: Formula Motorsport Ltd

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