Alpine’s Jack Doohan chats reserve drivers, famous owners, and more with SB Nation

MIAMI — It was supposed to be an innocent question.

But the answer was anything but.

On a hot and humid Friday afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium, I was thankful to be sitting inside Alpine’s hospitality space at the Miami Grand Prix. The reason? A media lunch with reserve driver Jack Doohan, which I was somehow lucky enough to be invited to. Over the course of an hour with the Alpine reserve driver we covered a ton of ground, from his motorsport journey, the excitement about Alpine moving forward, and even some magical surfing spots.

In the midst of that discussion, I asked Doohan about which of Alpine’s new investors he was most excited to meet. The team has been in the news for a number of reasons these past two seasons, partially due to the A-list names that have joined the team as investors. Names like Ryan Reynolds, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Mahomes, and Travis Kelce. So I asked what I thought would be light-hearted question.

I did not receive a light-hearted answer, but rather a stark reminder of what is at stake in Formula 1.

“[Former heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua] is also in a position where, you know, your life is on the line,” said Doohan to me. “You’re getting hit in the head, or hitting your opponent in the head, to win a fight. And it can be life or death. So he’s in a similar position where he’s putting all his eggs in the basket.

“So great to speak with him and understand his mentality, because there’s a lot that goes into that for sure.”

I needed a moment to collect my thoughts before asking the next question.

F1 Grand Prix of Miami - Previews

Photo by Qian Jun/MB Media/Getty Images

Doohan is a racer’s racer. His father, Mick, made his name in the motorcycle world, having won five-straight world titles in MotoGP. As for the younger Doohan, he got his start in the karting world before he turned ten, getting his first kart from none other than Michael Schumacher.

To that point, during our discussion none other than Mick Schumacher came by to say hello, driving home the point that in a world filled with racers, Doohan is in a different class.

But despite growing up on the Australian Gold Coast, Doohan’s first international win came here in the States, in Florida. That gives the young driver a lot of connections — and memories — to the area.

“My first international win was in Palm Beach, Florida,” said Doohan. “I did the Florida Winter Series and I raced following a couple of weeks later at Homestead here in Miami, and also in Ocala. So that was back when I was 12 years old. So quite a long time ago. Very early memories and a lot of family, friends from those karting days that I’ve kept in contact with, and also some friends from Australia actually moved over here.”

But while you might expect that would lead Doohan to spend some time following the Miami Grand Prix in the area to visit with those family and friends, the work of a reserve driver is a constant process, and his attention will be needed elsewhere.

“So I’ll fly back on Sunday night and then I have some upcoming test days in the 2022 F1 car and also a heavy simulator program,” said Doohan.

Reserve drivers fill multiple roles for a Formula 1 team. They are heavily involved in the marketing, media, and fan appreciation parts of the sport — to the latter point Doohan arrived with three bracelets on his right wrist, all gifts from fans earlier in the week — but they also play a huge role in the development of the car, both pre-season and mid-season.

And they also have to be ready to slide into the cockpit at a moment’s notice and perform at the highest level of motorsport.

So ultimately, the job of a reserve driver is to stay ready.

“Staying ready to hop in the car,” said Doohan when I asked him what his job entails. “What comes along with that is participating in all media briefings, engineering briefings, pre-session meetings, post-session meetings as well as being utilized for marketing activation, marketing meetings, spending time with [communications teams and social media teams]. I’m trying to maximize myself and my time here to make sure that I’m as ready as I can be.”

That need can come at a moment’s notice. Take Ferrari reserve driver Ollie Bearman, who was pressed into action at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix earlier this season when Carlos Sainz Jr. underwent an emergency appendectomy. I asked Doohan about Bearman’s debut, and how difficult it can be to switch things on at the drop of a hat.

“I think that’s just what we’re [here to do]. You have to be switched on and firing on all cylinders. And that’s what’s great. I mean, I was in this role since the end of 2022,” explained Doohan. “So I’m very well acclimatized to it and I’ll be very, very ready when the time comes when I have to juggle driving commitments as well with the marketing.”

Another item on the to-do list for a reserve driver? Helping with mid-season development of the car. While that is critical for any F1 team, it is crucial for Alpine this season. Coming out of pre-season testing the team knew the start of the season would be a challenge, giving some issues with the A524. As the team races against the clock — and the rest of the grid — to provide critical upgrades, Doohan is a key part of the process.

“I get to spend in season as much and as many races as I can [to be] on the simulator, on the Friday, [and during] the race [for] sim support. So it’s a great opportunity to be able to test further components, [that we aren’t] able to test on the track due to the limitations of time,” described Doohan. “So I’m able to be in the simulator from the sun up until midnight running through every possible thing that we’d like to in the conditions.

“So it’s very important and very crucial to making sure we maximize each and every weekend, which helps also development [of the car].”

Another aspect of the job that might go unnoticed by the cameras, but can be critical during a grand prix? Helping during pit stop practice. Following the first free practice session on Friday, I took a lengthy stroll down pit lane. I watched teams from Ferrari to Williams and yes Alpine practice pit stops over and over again. Rolling their cars onto their marks, as the frenzy of wheel guns roared to life.

As a reserve driver, it is Doohan behind the wheel as the A524 gets rolled in for each practice rep, and he is anything but a passive participant.

And he is learning along the way.

“It’s also great for me,” said Doohan when asked about the pit stop practice sessions. “Because pit stops are essential for us. You can, excuse me, bust your arse on track, you know, for one-tenth or two-tenths a lap and then lose five seconds in the pit stop if you go slightly too deep or if you’re out of position or something happens.

“So at the end of the day, that pit stop is super important.

“And so [I’m] myself making sure that I’m coming in and stopping on the marks perfectly and preparing myself as much as I can for when I’m coming in and doing it for the real deal.

“It’s a great opportunity for myself, but also for the team to have a driver in the car, stopping exactly how they want them to.”

And what if Doohan does not hit the marks quite right during those practice sessions?

You best believe he will hear about it.

“If I come in there while they [practice] pit stops and I’m a centimeter too long or a centimeter too far to the left, they will hassle me like crazy … No, you need to make sure you’re stopping on the exact position.”

And in a sport where every millisecond matters, every centimeter matters as well.

“Because, you know, ten centimeters is [huge]. [It] is the slight movement of that guy who’s holding that wheel gun [who then] has to then move off and that wheel gun has to go on perfectly straight on a side angle,” said Doohan, gesturing with his hands to complete the picture.

“Then it’ll jam, you have a second-plus in the pit stop.”

Every millisecond, as well as every centimeter, adds up in this sport.

Alpine introduced a new floor for Esteban Ocon at the Chinese Grand Prix, which did offer promise of brighter days ahead. The team has brought that new floor to Miami for Pierre Gasly’s A524, and following Friday’s practice session and Sprint Qualifying, both drivers expressed some optimism regarding the upgrades.

As a critical part of the upgrade process, how does Doohan view the improved A524?

“So we have to play catch up,” started Doohan. “We understood that. But we’re gonna move forward and we’re going to maximize every single minute on track, every lap and every session, we seem to be taking small steps forward and yes, this [Friday] morning was great, but we all know how that can play out.

“So we just keep our head down and really try and play our card the best we can.”

F1 Grand Prix of China - Practice & Sprint Qualifying

Photo by Kym Illman/Getty Images

Confidence is a job requirement.

While that may be true in any profession, it is a non-negotiable in the world of motorsports. In Formula 1, for example, there are just 20 drivers on the grid. Just imagine the confidence it takes to believe in yourself to the point that you think that you are one of just 20 on the planet who can do what you do.

Doohan certainly has that confidence.

It comes across in talking with the young driver, as he answers every question with a smile and a gleam in his eye. It comes across watching him work his way through the paddock, and around Alpine’s hospitality space. It comes across watching him on the track, and even in those practice pit stops as well.

Ultimately, however, confidence is just one piece to the puzzle. Success in this world requires more than just a belief in yourself, but also a willingness to push everything to the limit. A willingness to put more on the line than not just the average human, but the thousands upon thousands of other drivers fighting for a spot on the grid.

A question I have been asking drivers every chance I get is this: What is the one thing you want people like me to know about your job? Logan Sargeant talked about track limits, and Abbi Pulling talked about the physical demands of the sport.

Doohan talked about something more.

“There’s a common, I guess like misconception that there’s a lot of safety. Obviously, we’re very well looked after with our equipment and with how far regulations have gone, [but] there’s still some circuits, some places, and some examples where your life is on the line. So juggling that motor sport is also dangerous and that it’s not just like a given that everything is always gonna be ok, you know, mentally.

“It’s a cruel world outside.”

He continued.

“So managing the mental emotions, the difficulties on- and off-track that is being pressed out there from media outlets, from people, from fans from, you know, everyone, there’s a lot to juggle.

“So it’s a difficult world that we live in that we’re competing in.”

I walked into Alpine’s hospitality space believing the driver I was about to meet would be on the F1 grid sooner rather than later.

I left convinced of it.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top