How has Victor Martins become one of the most consistent drivers in Formula 2 after such a challenging start to the 2023 season? Well, it started with a lot of reflection, some tough questions, teamwork and of course, a lot of pace.

The ART Grand Prix driver has turned his fortunes around after a run of five scoreless races earlier in the year. He has now taken points at every single opportunity since. It has put him in a strong but frustrating position. On one hand, the strong results are a welcome reward, but on the other, there’s a feeling of what could’ve been that’s hard to avoid.

Arriving in Formula 2 as the reigning Formula 3 Champion, there was a level of confidence that had an adverse effect says Martins. He is quite introspective about how things have panned out so far in 2023 but remains hopeful that he can show what he is truly capable of between now and the end of the campaign having fixed the early season issues.

“I think now I’m meeting my expectations. I’ve let go of earlier in the season, those difficult moments, the pressure. If I'm honest, at some points at the beginning of the season, I didn’t lose myself, but I saw I wasn’t acting how I normally would be.

“I was just not questioning myself at any point, I was just going for it. I was working as hard as possible with the team, always preparing everything like I'm doing now. I didn't change the working method, but I was more in the car and in the moment just going for it, pushing. Maybe not thinking so much sometimes.

“I tried to win everything all the time. But you can’t. Sometimes you need to manage.”

“But I realised that, and I tried to focus on what the issue was and why I was doing mistakes like that. It was not the Victor of last year I would say. So, I tried to see where it was coming from and I think it was from wanting too much, trying too much in some situations and in some areas. The F2 car is difficult to understand and that was bringing me into mistakes sometimes. But I evaluated everything, and I think it’s why I’m going through what I’m going through now.”

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While those earlier issues have been fixed according to the man himself, it’s a point he’s reached through trial and error. Spinning out of the lead in Jeddah, contact with Dennis Hauger in Melbourne and a spin in Free Practice in Barcelona were part of an unwanted collection of mistakes for Martins.

It cost him plenty of points in the Championship and led to a serious rethink about his approach to racing in Formula 2. Martins left Monte Carlo 15th in the Standings with just 24 points to his name. Changing the mentality and not focusing on the points have brought about the change in performance levels, the Frenchman says.

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Alleviating some of the internal pressure he placed upon himself has unleashed the speed and performances that helped him to the F3 title last season, and it has given teammate Théo Pourchaire a run for his money over a single Qualifying lap.

“What I and the team did well is that we took it step-by-step. There’s still some time to go but since Monaco, which was the wake-up call and I put that down to a more difficult situation, I will say from Monaco until now we have tried to forget about the Championship, and we were believing that we will come back but only step-by-step, trying to score every time and build from there. I also think it was a matter of time. I kind of covered off almost every kind of mistake I could have done. So, I got them out of the way, I did them and I tried to learn from them. Now I'm here, I still do a mistake of course, every driver does, but I will say they're not the big ones with big consequences. I experienced them and now I know how to manage them.

“I feel that we will be always fighting for pole position and that is confidence that you need to have, in the team, in the car and in yourself.”

“It’s still frustrating if I'm honest. I feel that I should have been fighting with Frederik Vesti and Théo for the Championship. How many points have I thrown in the bin? It was a lot. But honestly, I think coming from F3 as Champion, I have been super quick immediately in Qualifying and even in the races. And I think it's because I saw that the speed was really strong that I tried to win everything all the time. But you can’t. Sometimes you need to manage.”

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While he ultimately lost his P4 finish in Baku, it was the broader performance levels from that weekend that proved to be the most important takeaway. The Frenchman says that the Azerbaijan weekend was something of a turnaround moment, and Martins pinpoints that as the moment his season began in earnest.

“I think I’ve felt that since Baku, I tried to focus on what I did during that race and it's that race where I felt how to manage things and how to race in F2. Racing in F2 is not the same in F3, it needs a different approach. After Baku, I thought ‘ok, we can go now, we can go from here.’ There will be many opportunities in the future to score big points. So, the turning point was Baku.

“We started the middle part of the season really well when I felt I had the experience and great confidence. But then I arrived at a point where maybe I had too much. I was thinking I will be up there all the time even if I do a mistake. There was Barcelona where I did a mistake in FP, which had a big impact on your Qualifying pace and performance. So, I tried to work on that and since Austria, it’s been working really well. I think I understand the tyres, how to put them in the window, and how to drive the car. I feel that we will be always fighting for pole position and that is confidence that you need to have, to believe in the team but even in the car and in yourself.”

The fourth-place finish on the road began to build up confidence levels that have since propelled Martins to a run of 12 consecutive points finishes, putting him into the top five in the Drivers’ Championship. He now feels that he is performing at his highest level yet.

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He is predicting that he and ART can challenge for top honours from now until the end of the season, with his Qualifying speed a particular strength at the moment.

“The others will be stressed. I feel that pressure from a Championship fight is where I’m the best.”

Martins has been inside the top three in each of the last four Rounds on a Friday, denied a hat-trick of consecutive pole positions by a last-gasp Jack Doohan lap in Budapest. Ninth position in the Spielberg Feature Race has been his ‘worst’ result since the Baku disqualification.

“I think yes, in terms of Qualifying pace, tyre management, warm-up procedures to maximise everything at every moment, every situation. Also working with the team, the step you need to do for Qualifying in terms of the setup for the race. Honestly, I think we are performing the best, but we can see that in terms of where we are, the highest where we score the most points and where I'm the strongest in Qualifying. We just need to keep the method we have working, and we'll be there all the time.”

The question remains as to whether his turnaround has come too late for a title charge. While he won’t be thinking about the possibility of clawing his way back into contention, scoring more poles and podiums certainly won’t hurt his chances.

ART appears to be at its best since the first two Rounds of the season as a team, and with Martins hitting his best form at a vital point in the year, even he admits that the prospect has crossed his mind.

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What is clear to him though is that there can be no more mistakes. He must maintain his Qualifying performance levels from the past few races and there needs to be a little bit of luck going his way. Up next is Zandvoort, a circuit in which he secured a pivotal second-place finish in F3 en route to the crown one Round later at Monza in 2022. Never say never.

“It’s never impossible, but I'm not thinking about it. I know it's possible, but it will only be possible if I take every weekend step-by-step, I do the best I can and I maximise the situations, but I don’t really think about it.

“I feel I have the car and the team around me keep scoring points and keep being there at the top.”

“I would say what I've been through at the beginning of the season – wanting to win everything and to not want to win everything all the time. Sometimes you have to take an average result and be satisfied with it which is maybe not what you want, but which can bring into contention at the end.

“I just need to keep it simple, keep calm and not to think about the Championship. Because it's those moments where you need to be the calmest in the car. I have less pressure compared to the others where they will be stressed. I also feel that pressure from a Championship fight is where I’m the best. When I’m against a wall and I need to react, that's when I’m at my best. I’m decisive and it will be important to keep that and see where the others are.

“I believe that I will be in the fight for all of the pole positions from now until the end of the season. I feel I have the car and the team around me. I’m there in Qualifying and I need to keep scoring points. Jack (Doohan) was really strong in Budapest, and that level was where I was in Silverstone. So, I will just try to keep it consistent, keep being there at the top and see what we can bring home. Some victories, some poles and some points, but the championship I’m not sure, we’ll see.”