There are now less than two weeks to go before the opening round of the 2023 FIA Formula 2 Championship season. During pre-season testing, which ran from 14–16 February at the Bahrain International Circuit, Feeder Series and selected media spoke to ART Grand Prix team principal Sébastien Philippe about the team’s 2023 all-French line-up of the returning Théo Pourchaire and reigning F3 champion Victor Martins.
By Tyler Foster
For the 2022 F2 season, ART fielded a driver pairing of Sauber junior Pourchaire and Mercedes junior Frederik Vesti. Though neither underperformed relative to expectations, ART finished 24 points behind teams’ champions MP Motorsport and were ultimately pipped by Carlin for second place in Abu Dhabi by just 16 points.
For the new year, Vesti has switched to Prema, and his space has been filled by Martins. This fresh duo of Pourchaire and Martins gives ART an all-French presence behind the wheel. Philippe told Feeder Series that working alongside fellow native French speakers eased logistics within the team.
“I think it is the first time in ART that we will have two French drivers in the F2 team. Even in the GP2 times, I think this didn’t happen. Clearly, even if we are used to working a lot in English, it’s very comfortable at least to have two French drivers because we all speak French. It’s always easier to speak French,” he said.
“Independently of that, I am really proud to have two very good drivers, no matter the nationality. [They’re] very committed, and both of them [have] the talent to improve and probably have a chance to go to the next step. But they need to work a lot.”
Pourchaire returns with a point to prove
In August of 2022, Pourchaire and his management announced that the then 18-year-old would not be returning for a third season of Formula 2. This led to heavy speculation over what he would do in 2023, with links to a test in Super Formula and a race seat with Alfa Romeo in F1 surfacing as rumours. But Pourchaire’s plans changed, and he will return for a third year in F2 with the aim of graduating to F1 for 2024.
While the French teenage prodigy improved in his second season of F2, he fell considerably short of the mark set by champion Felipe Drugovich of MP Motorsport. The gap of 101 points left questions over whether Pourchaire had the consistency to become a champion at this level.
Philippe explained the confusion surrounding Pourchaire’s return to F2 and justified the reasoning behind the decision.
“First, you should never listen to drivers in the middle of the season about the future because depending on when you ask the question, he could be in a hot moment or you never know the future,” Philippe said. “Théo, at some point last year, his dream was to step up in F1. It took us a long time to make a decision on what was the best for him for 2023.
“At the end of the day, his F1 team decided that he needed probably a bit more experience, a bit more maturity. Also, it’s better for him to repeat something than to stay one year without racing. On my side, I really think that we didn’t see yet the proper Théo. He’s only 19. He still has a lot of things to learn.”
It’s better for him to repeat something than to stay one year without racing. On my side, I really think that we didn’t see yet the proper ThéoART Grand Prix team principal Sébastien Philippe on Théo Pourchaire
Martins ‘more prepared’ than most rookies
With the majority of the focus on ART centred on the younger of their current driver pairing, it is easy to ignore the entry of 21-year-old Martins to the F2 stage. The Alpine junior switched from MP Motorsport to ART after his rookie year in F3 and went on to take the ultimate prize last season amongst a stacked grid.
Philippe argues that because of the patient approach to his pathway, Martins will be more prepared now as a rookie, giving him an advantage over others.
“I think Victor had a completely different philosophy to step up. We all see that drivers want to step up very quickly. Sometimes they are happy with P5 in the championship,and they think it’s enough to go up to the next step. The good thing, for Victor, is that for the first year of F2, he has pretty much all … he needs in terms of maturity and knowledge, because he has been always stepping up only after clinching the title in the category before,” Philippe said.
“For sure it took time, but I think he is much more prepared as a rookie with all that he has done in the past than someone who is stepping up very quickly. We all know that Formula 2, it’s good if in the first year you can have the best chances possible because the second year is kind of ‘money time’ for the drivers with a lot of pressure. So I think the rookies in F2, when they are well prepared, is an advantage.”
ART focused on consistency
For Philippe, the aim for 2023 is to maximise both of his drivers’ results over the course of this season. The competitiveness of the teams’ championship in Formula 2 means each team must have two similarly competent drivers. ART certainly have talent in abundance with their duo for 2023, but they will be wary of the pitfalls that foiled their 2022 campaign.
“There is not only one big challenge, there is a lot of small little details that you need to improve each year and to be very consistent,” Philippe explained. “We’ve seen it last year. I think we’ve all been lacking a bit of consistency. Only MP with Drugovich were really there every time.
“I think the main focus is always to be in the top five and to do less mistakes than the others. We all know that it will be a very competitive championship with many good teams and drivers, so probably the one who will be the more consistent will be there at the end. This is the main thing to take care of.”
Header photo credit: Formula Motorsport Ltd
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