As Team Principal of ART Grand Prix, Sébastien Philippe has overseen many a victory around the streets of Monte Carlo, but he described Théo Pourchaire’s results in Round 2 as “a bit special,” after the 17-year-old took both pole and the Feature Race win on his first ever appearance at the track.
It was a stark turnaround of form from Pourchaire, who had scored just eight points in Round 1, but came away from Round 2 with 39.
The Frenchman stepped up as the 2020 Formula 3 vice-champion and appeared to be taking his time to get to grips with the upgrade in machinery, but he stunned with an extraordinary lap in Qualifying at Monte Carlo, beating the more experienced Robert Shwartzman to pole by half a second - a feat he didn’t manage in F3.
He then went on to control the Feature Race, with Philippe hailing the two performances as “perfect.”
“I am very proud,” said Philippe. “We have won many times in Monaco, the last time with Nyck (de Vries) two years ago. We won it with Stoffel as well a few years ago, but for sure, this one is a bit special.
“Not because it was unexpected, but because he had never been in Monaco before, and it is still the beginning of the season. For that reason, I was quite surprised with the job he did this weekend. I was not expecting him to be this good, this early on.
“He showed on Friday (in Qualifying) how quick he was, and on Saturday it was about showing how strong he was and how he could control the race, because we all know how difficult it is in Monaco and how easy it is to make a mistake.
“He made a correct start, he was leading, and he really controlled his pace, driving like he has been here four or five times already. He sped up just before his pit stop, he did the perfect job, and made no mistakes. His pace was good, and everything was under control, which is quite amazing when you think that he is only 17 and not as experienced as a lot of the others are.”
Philippe said there were parallels to be drawn between the Sauber junior’s starts to life in both the second and third tiers, with the Frenchman initially struggling in the opening round of F3 before taking a maiden win in Round 2.
“It’s funny because it is a bit like his start in F3, where at the beginning it was a bit difficult, but then he stepped up very quickly,” said Philippe. “It’s still too early to say, but at the moment, it’s a bit of a copy and paste from F3. Starting like a real rookie, thinking that he needs some time, but it then comes quite quickly.
“He is stepping up every time he gets into the car at the moment. Let’s see though, we are still only at the start of the season, but for sure, what he achieved in Monaco is going to bring him some confidence because he has proven to himself that he can make it here.”
Living just 45 minutes away from the circuit, Pourchaire considers Monte Carlo as a home event. Visibly emotional across the line, Pourchaire was later seen donning a French flag as he returned to the F2 paddock.
But with less than two weeks to go until Round 3 in Baku, the celebrations will have already been replaced by debriefs and data analysis, with Philippe insisting his young prodigy needs to use the results as a springboard for further success.
“I told him that he did a fantastic job and said that everything was just perfect,” said Philippe. “Now we need to build on this. We need to use this confidence to be the beginning of a stronger season.
“When you have the weekend that he has, here in Monaco, then you arrive at the next one with less question marks around you. He has proven to himself that he is able to do it, and like I always say, results are always really important to build up a driver. Poles and wins help you to show to yourself the potential that you have. “