Is third time’s the charm for nineteen-year-old Théo Pourchaire in his fight for the FIA Formula 2 Drivers’ Championship crown? The ART Grand Prix driver certainly thinks so. In what is his third year fighting for the top spots in F2, the Frenchman sat down with us to explain just how and why this year is different and what has made the difference so far.
Currently second to former ART teammate Frederik Vesti in the standings, Pourchaire has been putting together his most consistent campaign so far, something that he has put extra emphasis on in 2023.
“I'm very, very focused on the next few races. This month of July is a very important month. I’m P2 in the Championship fighting for the title again. I think it's clear that I've been a bit better this year, more consistent, more podiums, one victory and one pole. I had zero poles last year, so it means a lot. I think we have a good car, and the team has been doing a good job as well so let's see. I'm focused on the job I have to do, and I feel much more comfortable than last year. It’s been much better.
“I've also been a bit luckier, which is part of motorsport, but I hope it will continue. Jeddah was a tough weekend. P3 in Qualifying and then a small mistake with a lot of consequences in the Sprint Race and a difficult Feature Race, but apart from that weekend, it's been really consistent and a very good season. I was not only consistently in the top 10 or the top five but I was consistently in the top three in the Feature Races, which is the main goal. The next target is to be consistently P1 where possible, which is something I'm working on but I'm happy and I want more, so I will try to push myself further.”
His title fight in 2022 with Felipe Drugovich was characterised by great pace paired with poor luck and costly mistakes in pivotal moments. However, he has turned those into character-building memories that have only helped his cause this time around.
"I've been trying to be as consistent as I could be, to not make mistakes, but I think now is the time to push more"
His 2023 form is evidence of a renewed approach to the title fight and one he believes will make the difference this time around. It is a similar ‘load management’ ethos as often used in the NBA, wherein a player reaches peak performance levels during the season-defining Playoffs. A huge basketball fan himself, now is the time to push, says Pourchaire, with five Rounds remaining of the 2023 F2 season.
“All sports are similar, you need to manage your season. It's very long, it's tough mentally and physically for all the people in the team. Drivers, mechanics, engineers - you have to be good every race weekend. You have to avoid big mistakes. So, it's tough and we have four rounds in one month in July. This is a really, really good challenge, I like it, but it's very tough. I've been trying to be as consistent as I could be, to not make mistakes, but I think now is the time to push more.
“I feel comfortable in the car, and I feel ready to push to the limit both myself and the car. I think I can fight more often for P1. There are a lot of challenges but it’s part of Formula 2 and part of motorsport, so I will have to adapt myself and I'm ready for it.”
This time around, Pourchaire is fighting familiar foes. 2022 teammate Vesti has switched to PREMA Racing and looks to be hitting his best form since joining the Championship as well. It makes for an interesting dynamic with both drivers so well versed with how the other works.
Another dimension in the Championship battle is the persistent Ayumu Iwasa, who has rebounded from a tough patch of form to keep himself within striking distance of the top spot. It all makes for a compelling title fight to watch from the sidelines and, for Pourchaire, an enjoyable battle from within the cockpit.
While having one driver to worry about in 2022 arguably led to some tunnel vision from Pourchaire, having multiple title rivals changes the game completely, and is an area in which the ART driver has prior experience.
"I am more ready for every kind of situation, and that's a good thing"
“Fred and I were teammates last year and he's a good guy. I know him and his family very well, very good people. Of course, now we are fighting for the title, there will be more and more tension, but on track he’s always been a clean guy. When we are racing together, I enjoy it a lot. If we can go and battle some more, that will be great for the show as well. I think it's good that PREMA has been doing a good job as well. I think they're back to their usual level, which is really good.
“In Formula 3, it was like that in 2020 up until the last race of the season. I didn't know if I could be Champion or be P4 in the Championship. I remember the night before the last race going to bed, I was stressing a lot. I was a lot younger, three years younger than now and I wanted to be Champion and to go to F2 so bad.
“So, it's the same now, it's good to have multiple drivers fighting for the title because there is a lot more racing on the track. Drivers like Ayumu Iwasa, Frederick Vesti and Oliver Bearman as well, it's great, I like that competition. I like when there is a strong competition.”
At this same point last season, Pourchaire was second in the Drivers’ Championship heading into the final five rounds of the year, but this time around he says it feels very different. A year of dealing with misfortune at pivotal moments and the pressure of expectations both in and beyond the F2 paddock has strengthened his resolve. A new mentality has been the result and led to greater levels in 2023 where before they had negatively affected him. It’s why Pourchaire believes that this year is finally his year.
“I am more ready for every kind of situation, and that's a good thing. What happened to me last year - I was a bit sad about that season because I wanted to win so bad, but unfortunately, I had many issues. I did some mistakes and when you have small issues one weekend and you do a mistake the next weekend, that can snowball a bit. Then the atmosphere in the team is not great. It all goes back to being strong mentally. I think this season, I'm a lot stronger there, the team as well. Also technically, I feel I'm driving the car a bit better, which is important because all these details add up in the end because there are only good drivers on the grid.
"This year is much different. I'm a lot more consistent and I have a lot more left to put on the table"
“It's really, really about the details. It's about finding less than a tenth and being strong mentally, pushing myself to the limit, being confident. Last year was tough, but I'm ready for this year and for the rest of the season. If I have mechanical issues, it's not a big issue, I know how to manage those situations now.
“Compared to last season, I was happy to be P2 with all the bad luck I had, but those last four races, I didn't score a point. This year is much different. I'm a lot more consistent and I have a lot more left to put on the table. We are working on that with the team. We can be the ones to win this Championship, but it will take a lot of hard work and dedication and a bit of luck for sure.”
Still just 19 years old, Pourchaire remains as one of the youngest in the field in what is his third F2 campaign. That youthfulness has been largely forgotten both in light of his F1 affiliations via the Sauber Academy as well as the expectation of a third year F2 driver already.
His impressive rise through the ranks landed him in the Championship at just 17 years of age and he became the youngest-ever F2 winner with pole and Feature Race victory on the streets of Monte Carlo in 2021.
Inexperience is no longer an excuse though as he admits himself, but being involved in yet another title fight is not the daunting prospect it once was. In fact, there may be room to argue that Pourchaire still hasn’t reached his full potential just yet, as he continues to race towards the upper echelons of single seater racing.
“It's great because it helps for my future, even for Formula 1 teams looking at me. Of course, it's my third F2 season, but I'm only 19 years old still. I will be 20 in in August, which makes me the seventh youngest on the grid. I would say it’s like I’m not really a third-season driver in F2, I’m just young.
“I don't have as much prior experience as other drivers who have done three seasons in F2. This year I feel great in the car and I'm still growing, still improving myself with ART Grand Prix and with Alfa Romeo as reserve driver. I learned a lot from them, and this is good.
“As I said, there are only good drivers in this field and a lot of those drivers deserve to drive in F1. They’re driving at a high level and they're pushing for it. So, I need to stay focused and work hard, even if I'm younger than others.”