Finishing the season as arguably Formula 3’s in-form driver, Frederik Vesti raised a few eyebrows when he switched 2020 champions PREMA for ART Grand Prix, but if the Danish driver was going to stay put in F3 then he believed that something needed to change. Not because he didn’t enjoy his time with PREMA – far from it- but because “to develop, you need new challenges.”

To that end, Vesti has been through a whirlwind of change since the conclusion of the 2020 campaign in Mugello last September, also becoming Mercedes’ first junior driver on the Road to F1 since George Russell – a move more than three years in the making.

Unsurprisingly, the Dane is raring to go ahead of the new season. Labelling himself as “very green” when he arrived in F3, he knows there’s now huge potential for him this year…

Vesti joined the Mercedes junior programme during the off-season

ON STEPPING UP TO FORMULA 3

Heralded upon his arrival in F3 with PREMA, there was a hefty weight of expectation on Vesti’s young shoulders following a sensational Formula Regional European campaign, where he clinched the title with 13 wins, 10 pole positions and 20 podiums in total from just 24 races.

But at just 17-years-old, Vesti was still “very much a rookie,” while a lack of time between events in a nine-round, 11-week Championship left him with little time to analyse or improve.

Granted this was a problem faced by the entire grid, but Vesti thrives on preparation, making the tightly-squeezed 2020 campaign especially difficult for him.

“I had driven on some of the tracks, and I had a little bit of experience with the car, but in general, I was very green, and I was very much a rookie” says Vesti. “In normal circumstances, you would have a race weekend and then get a couple of weeks off.

Vesti won three times with PREMA in 2020

“You can spend this time with the team going through every single little detail to understand what was good and what was bad. You can also replicate the upcoming weekend on the simulator as well and work to improve yourself. In 2020, you didn't get that at all.

“This made it extremely difficult to improve at the rate I normally would have done because it gets to the point where the brain cannot absorb any more information. You cannot learn everything in such a short space of time because your brain just won't take everything in. Stuff falls out. I know that it was the same for everyone, but personally, that’s what I found to be the most difficult thing.”

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ON PICKING HIMSELF UP

The now 19-year-old rates Round 6 of last season in Barcelona as “probably the hardest moment” of his career. Having to watch on as PREMA teammates Oscar Piastri and Logan Sargeant battled for the title, Vesti had remained upbeat about his own performances up to that point, having consistently finished inside of the top 10.

But even for a character as positive as himself, the weekend in Spain was pretty disastrous. Forced to retire from the opening race, he then struggled to make up any ground in the second, finishing 21st and without a single point.

Vesti rates Round 6 of last season in Barcelona as “probably the hardest moment” of his career

And yet, it was from this moment onwards that his season turned around. In many ways, that weekend was the making of the Vesti we see today. Not quite Vesti 2.0, but certainly a more well-rounded competitor.

“I picked myself up, went to Spa and did a great job. Then in Monza and Mugello, I won,” he continues. “I ended up just 17 points away from the title, coming back from around 70 points behind. I gained so much in a short time and I think that proves my potential and my mentality.

I think I've really found my spot, the way that I needed to work

“Yes, it was a season of missed opportunities, but because of that I feel so much more confident, so much better prepared, and so much more ready. I’ve now been through a lot of things, both positive and negative, and I am mentally stronger for it.

“I have been in many different situations, some very difficult ones, where I have had to pick myself up from the very bottom, but I have also had moments where everything is going really well, and I’ve had to work to keep that momentum going. There is a lot that I learned from last season that I can take into 2021. By the end of the year, I think I've really found my spot, the way that I needed to work, and the way that I needed to prepare.”

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ON JOINING THE MERCEDES JUNIOR PROGRAMME

It’s taken Vesti three years to get in the door at Mercedes, in which time the Brackley-based team have had just one academy representative on the Road to F1: GP3 and Formula 2 Champion, George Russell.

Vesti is the first Mercedes junior on the Road to F1 since Russell

Compared to Ferrari and Red Bull, the team have a much smaller stable of junior drivers, with just four on their books at the moment, including both Russell and Vesti, with the Dane their first recruit since 2019.

Since initially making contact three years ago, the Dane has kept Mercedes up to date with his results – good and bad – and he believes it’s this constant and honest desire to improve that won them over.

“In the beginning, it was very much a naive dream of becoming a junior driver,” said Vesti. “I actually thought that it would be much easier to be honest, but I have always had this goal.

“I really pushed hard to show them myself, to show them the true Frederik. I would still send them an email or a message after a bad result, explaining why I did poorly and what I was planning to do to make sure it didn't happen again. I also did some simulator sessions with them in 2020, which helped me to show them my potential.”

I have trusted myself and believed that this deal would happen. I really feel that this is the right programme for me

Despite receiving offers from other driver programmes, Vesti only had eyes for Mercedes, turning down the other approaches in the hope his dream deal would come off.

“I am extremely proud to have been able to wait for the right offer,” he continued. “I have trusted myself and believed that this deal would happen. I really feel that this is the right programme for me, which is why I was able to say no to other programmes.”

“Looking back over all of that now, I am so happy and so proud to have done that. I am 100% in the right place, and I don’t think that I would be in the same place had I said yes to a different programme. I feel ready for it now and I think it is the right time for me to go into a junior programme.” READ MORE: Crawford feels ‘pretty confident’ following ‘big change’ from ADAC F4

Vesti swapped PREMA for ART ahead of the 2021 season

ON SWITCHING TO ART GRAND PRIX

“Looking at George (Russell), he did it with Mercedes and ART, so why can’t I?” Mercedes played a big part in Vesti’s switch from PREMA to ART, having previously seen the French outfit lead Russell to both the GP3 and F2 titles, before his step-up to Formula 1 with Williams.

Ideally, Vesti will follow a similar pathway. There’s also the belief that competing with a different team in the same Championship can only be beneficial, allowing him to experience another way of working.

“It is really interesting to stay in the same championship, but change teams, because there is a direct comparison for everything and that is quite an interesting thing to experience,” said Vesti. “Firstly, I would like to say that I was extremely happy at PREMA and they have taught me a lot of things. But, to develop, you need new challenges.

“I am staying one more year in F3 and have seen the development of ART. I worked with them during post-season testing last year and I could feel how much hunger they have to win. I want to be a part of that.

“Everything is prepared, and everything is ready. Every single day that we are together, there is a plan for it. I honestly don’t feel that I could be in any better place.”