Britain will have three representatives on the Formula 2 grid this weekend as F1's leading feeder series kicks off in Bahrain. Renault reserve driver Jack Aitken is one hoping to catch the eye amongst a field he rates as the toughest he's faced.
Ahead of his sophomore F2 campaign, Aitken expects to add to the maiden win he picked up in last year's Barcelona sprint race but has singled out European F3 champion Mick Schumacher and McLaren reserve Sergio Sette Camara as title favourites this season.
"The competition's quite high this year and I think it's really difficult to predict anything in F2," Aitken said. "It's so dependent on how it suits each driver's style and some will suit it much more than others.
"Obviously, Mick [Schumacher]'s got a lot of attention on him at the moment, which is kind of a double-edged sword I think, but he was very quick [in testing] and Prema are a very, very strong team.
"He's getting a lot of attention from media and people because of his name, which I think probably adds a bit of difficulty for him.
"I've raced people with [famous surnames] before and if you beat them, in the eyes of the public maybe it's something, but the people who know, know they're just another driver.
"I think Sette Camara at DAMS [will also be a threat], he was winning races last year and was actually outperforming Lando [Norris] a lot of the time, so he's very strong as well."
Aitken believes the fact that last season's top three – George Russell, Norris and Alexander Albon – all graduated to F1 also proves that F2 is the best place for youngsters to prepare for life at the top level of motorsport.
"It's nice to see [drivers graduating] because it's not always been the case," said Aitken. "It shows that F2 is definitely doing a good enough job of preparing drivers and the competition is higher than ever.
"In past years, maybe there was more of a spread across different series, things like the World Series by Renault which was also fielding strong drivers, whereas now all the strong guys are in F2. It's massively competitive."
Three years on from joining the Renault F1 academy, Aitken has now graduated from the French manufacturer's young driver program but will remain in his role as test driver for the team this season.
Aitken believes Renault is still the best place to continue his development and knows exactly what is expected of him this season, even if no hard targets have been set.
"The biggest difference this year is that I'm not part of the academy anymore. I've graduated from that. I'm more directly associated with the F1 team now," said Aitken.
"They [Renault] have taught me a lot more than I could ever have done by myself, and I'm pretty confident that they know what they're talking about in terms of guiding my career, and in telling me what's right and what's wrong. I'm happy to listen to them.
"This year they've told me what they've always told me, which is 'go and get the results' and then maybe in six months we'll sit down and talk [about the future], but I'm just trying to focus on F2 this year.
"There's [no particular target ] on paper as it were, but it's pretty clear the expectation. Last year was pretty tough but now I feel more mature and I've learned a few things about F2 specifically, so we both [myself and Renault] expect to be winning."
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