2022 didn’t go according to the master plan for ART Grand Prix, but that’s not to say there weren’t any positives to take out of the year. Following a season in which Théo Pourchaire struggled to sustain his title bid against Felipe Drugovich, the Frenchman still finished second in the Drivers’ Championship despite everything that went against him.
The French outfit was also in the frame to take the Teams’ crown at the final hurdle, the Yas Marina weekend and finale of the 2022 campaign. Ultimately it was MP Motorsport that secured the Championship double in ’22, but ART Team Principal Sébastien Philippe says there’s no complaints over what was a hard-fought battle that went the way of their rivals.
“We have to admit that Drugovich and MP were really consistent and very strong all season and I think they fully deserved it. They have put it all together, Sander (Dorsman, MP Motorsport’s Team Principal) did a fantastic job last year so that's why, on the driver side, finishing P2 is not that bad.”
P2 in a season where things went awry at several key moments could point to how high the standards are at ART. It has led two of the past five Drivers’ Champions to glory and came the closest it has ever been to the Teams’ title.
Lost points early in the season ultimately stung the most for ART according to Philippe, who says not hitting the ground running was the catalyst to their P3 finish in the Championship. Both Pourchaire and 2022 teammate Frederik Vesti endured tough spells. The Dane took a while to get up to speed in Formula 2 in the opening rounds as a rookie while Pourchaire took two wins that were interspersed with three point-less finishes.
It wasn’t until the latter stages of the season where Philippe was satisfied the team had serious race-winning pace on a regular enough basis, even if results didn’t follow. “Looking at it now, the way things go on during the season, there is quite a lot of frustration because we missed the Teams’ title at the very last race of the year by a very small number of points.
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“We lost so many points at the beginning of the season because performance was not there. We could have finished up P4, P5 even P6 but, at the end of the day, when you're not champion it's not changing your life where you end up.
“Just looking at the results, you would say it wasn’t a good season, but it was not a bad season. By the end of the year, we had great performance, but no consistency. We were lacking consistency the whole season with both cars.
“There were mistakes on the team side, but also on the driver side. I don't like talking about luck because I consider that there is no luck, you control what you do but at the end of the day, we still have to admit that few times by some issues or situations, we didn’t have a good time on those sides of things. So, there is quite a lot of frustration because I think we had everything to do better but we didn't.”
The drive to do better is already well underway though as attentions squarely focus on improving in 2023. Plans are already in place and changes are being made, though Philippe says those being made would have happened win or lose.
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Both from an operational, personnel and driving standpoint, ART is targeting several changes between the 2022 and 2023 seasons, aiming to eliminate team mistakes, limit driver errors and implement lessons learned following a tough campaign last year.
Even with improvements being made across the board, ART are under no illusions that rivals will just be standing still awaiting them to find improved performance.
“We are in a sport where there is always an area you can improve, even on a good day you still have to work and see what you can do better. We have learned a lot from last year. I think not only our side, but the drivers also. We know that it's very important to be always there, to be consistent in terms of performance.
“We are going to change things for sure. We always change things from one year to another. First of all, you will always have a small amount of change in the staff, purely because you always want to do something better. By always doing the same thing, it's not good. It's a bit like in soccer team, you have 11 players and you’re ok but then you change some players and all of a sudden, you’re good. It's always good to keep the momentum and to keep the motivation. We have made the deep analysis on everything and the mistakes we have done that we will not make anymore.
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“Now we have to put it in place. It's not always that easy, especially when you see the racing format we have. You only have one or two laps in Qualifying which are important, every little bit matters. So, it's very easy to make mistakes or not to be there at the moment you should be there. We know that we are putting in place different things for next year.
“All of our competitors will be doing the same, we are there with many strong teams with many strong drivers. We know that small details make a big difference. The key point will be not to make any mistakes and to have a better understanding on what we have to do in difficult situations.”
Even with changes put in place over the winter break and heading into testing, Philippe insists that there will be nothing taken for granted this season. The French outfit is one of the most experienced and past seasons have taught plenty of lessons just as 2022 did.
Emphasising one factor that is a clear target for the 2023 season, Philippe believes that getting as many points on the board as possible before the traditional European stint kicks in is hugely valuable and the main goal in mind.
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“There is never one bigger challenge I think you know. I think one of the big challenges is to make sure that we are full flat from the first race of the year. We know that to start to make a strong start offseason is really important because you create momentum, everything becomes easier and easier when you're on a good footing and when you start to struggle a bit or you're not consistent in the first few races, sometimes you put yourself a bit more in doubt.
“I think the biggest thing is to be completely ready and we will be ready for the tests in Bahrain and to deliver on the first few flyaways before we head back to Europe. If we succeed at the start, everything will be easier afterwards.”