As Théo Pourchaire heads into his third season in Formula 2, he pairs up with his fellow countryman Victor Martins at ART Grand Prix. The 2022 FIA Formula 3 champion adapted so well to the F2 car in the pre-season that he thrust himself into the conversation for this season’s best rookie. But could Martins do even more and challenge Pourchaire for top honours at ART?
By Maria Clara Castro
“This has to be my year.”
This affirmation has most certainly crossed Théo Pourchaire’s mind as he enters his third season in F2 with ART Grand Prix. Once the inexperienced driver of the team, Pourchaire has become the team leader. It’s no secret that the driver from Grasse is going after the drivers’ title and hoping to ART to the teams’ championship in the process. But one unexpected factor could foil Pourchaire’s title assault: his rookie teammate, Victor Martins.
The 21-year-old adapted remarkably quickly to the F2 car in testing. During the pre-season test in Bahrain, Martins was only 0.008s slower than Richard Verschoor, the driver who clocked the fastest time throughout the three-day period, and in post-season testing in Abu Dhabi in November, the French driver ended with the fastest overall time. And though we haven’t seen proper F2 race action yet this year, Martins’ track record thus far suggests that he’ll be right on the pace from the start. More than that, Martins is likely to be the best F2 rookie of 2023.
Strength in Formula Renault and FIA F3
Among the nine F2 rookies, Martins can be considered the most experienced. He contested three Formula Renault seasons and two seasons in FIA F3, five years in two highly competitive championships on the feeder series ladder. Those who think Victor threw away several years are very mistaken. The situation is quite the contrary, and he exited those championships as a well-rounded and prepared driver.
The French driver always put himself in competitive positions during the past five years. Coming into 2018 as the 2017 French F4 runner-up, Martins debuted in Formula Renault and claimed two pole positions, six podiums and one win, finishing the championship in fifth place.
In the following year, he battled with now McLaren F1 driver Oscar Piastri and finished second, just 7.5 points behind Piastri, clinching nine pole positions and six wins from 20 races. Yet a second-place finish wasn’t enough for him. By the end of 2019, Martins was dropped by the Renault Drivers Academy.
Martins decided 2020 was going to be his year, and he made it happen. The ART driver became the 2020 Formula Renault champion with ten pole positions and seven wins, not to mention nine podiums in a row. As a result of winning the title, Martins regained Renault/Alpine backing. He remains a member of the Alpine Academy.
In his first season in FIA F3, Martins was the best rookie. He claimed three podiums in the first five races. In the championship’s second round in Paul Ricard, Martins was one of the stars because of his skilled drives and overtakes. After starting the first race in 10th place, he made his way into the lead and finished in second place. Martins left the race weekend on his home soil second in the drivers’ championship.
The Alpine Academy driver made mistakes but learned from them in order to show mature driving the following year. After ending his rookie FIA F3 season in fifth place, he didn’t step up to F2. Although many drivers tend to rush through the ladder – for instance, Pourchaire did two years in F4, one year in FIA F3 and then went straight into F2 – that wasn’t the case for Martins. He decided to race another season in FIA F3 in 2022. Successfully combining caution and aggression, Martins scored two wins, six podiums and 14 points finishes from 18 races, clinching the FIA F3 Championship.
Experience managing races
It’s also important to emphasise the contribution Formula Renault and FIA F3 has had on Martins’ development as a driver. Formula Renault Eurocup shares a format with its successor series FRECA, and both are notorious for making overtaking difficult. This is due to the fact that both tyre wear and temperature challenges are dissimilar to what F2 and F3 drivers have to deal with.
Despite the tyre wear and handling temperatures challenges, Martins seemed to have succeeded. Across all 60 Formula Renault races in which Martins took part, he started on pole position in 21 times and claimed 15 victories. That means Martins started from the first position in 35% and won 25% of the races he contested.
Unlike in FRECA, overtaking is easier in FIA F3, but tyre management and instinct are more of a focus. It’s at this stage that they develop a keen sense of risk. Sometimes it pays off, as Martins showed in the 2021 Paul Ricard race weekend. And sometimes it doesn’t, as in the 2021 F3 feature race in Zandvoort, in which Martins took out David Schumacher while battling for second in the closing laps.
What Martins showed, though, was an ability to be calculated. Though he never scored a pole position in F3, he took three wins in his two seasons in the category and finished in the points in 29 out of 38 races. While 2022 title rivals Zane Maloney and Isack Hadjar and sometimes struggled for consistency, Martins consistently challenged the sharp end of the grid, ultimately earning the title because he succeeded at race management – a crucial skill in F2.
It’s fair to say Martins not only experienced both Formula Renault and FIA F3 but also extracted the most out of them. If he demonstrates that same trait in F2 and utilises the knowledge he’s gained over his six years in single-seaters, he can win sprint and feature races. And thus he would trouble the expected F2 title contenders, whoever they may be.
Though there are teams in F2, each driver fights for themselves. While ART might want to deploy Martins to help Pourchaire, Martins can also take valuable points away from Pourchaire and even threaten his title bid if he can fight for podiums and wins early in the season. This weekend at Bahrain will be his best chance yet to show his potential.
Header photo credit: Formula Motorsport Ltd
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