“To be honest, I'm pretty calm. It’s been a long time since I last drove a race car. I just want to go to Abu Dhabi, get back in the car and drive.” It’s not just bravado from the Formula 2 Championship leader. The Théo Pourchaire of 2023 has been an altogether different prospect than the versions that have come before.
The ART Grand Prix driver is on the cusp of finally securing what has been a long-awaited crown, the Formula 2 Drivers’ Championship. It’s not destiny according to the Frenchman, that is verging into fairytale. But it is overdue he says, adding that it’s more than deserved. Despite the weight of expectation, entering the final round as leader brings no extra pressure he says.
“Of course, there’s a Championship to win, but there's no big pressure. I think we really deserve it. After four years together - we missed the championship in Formula 3 by almost nothing, and then we had two difficult years in F2.
“I'm the youngest ever race winner in F3 and F2, so the first season here was already good. Last year we had a lot of issues, but this season has been a great season. We’ve had a lot of podiums, a lot of pole positions, one victory, but it's not finished. So, we are fighting for that to the end.
“I have nothing to lose, even if I'm leading the Championship. Of course, I want to win it, but I want to enjoy this last race. I will be pushing all the way.”
While Pourchaire has been in this position before, fighting and winning multiple junior titles on his way up the single seater ladder, this one is unique. Even from the situation he found himself in last season, battling with Felipe Drugovich and MP Motorsport, 2023 feels different.
Many lessons were taken from a bruising campaign in which he ultimately finished a distant second. But the harshness of 2022 has formed the brilliance of his 2023 effort that has resulted in him leading the way with one round to go.
10 podiums, two pole positions and one victory have been more than enough to put him in prime position, as consistency has been added to the performance arsenal of Pourchaire.
“Last year was not really a Championship. I was far from Felipe. He had a big advantage (by the time he won). Now we’re battling until the last round. 25 points is a good margin, but it's not impossible for Vesti, he can still win it. Ayumu needs 39 points so a full score in every session, and I need to score zero, but it’s still possible for two other drivers.
“This, I would say, is my first Championship fight since 2020 when I was in Formula 3. I remember Mugello, it was quite intense and very stressful at the time because I was young, and I was not expecting to fight for the title until the end like this against Oscar Piastri. It’s been three years without this type of battle, I'm looking forward to it, but I'm a lot more relaxed and a lot more mature than in 2020.”
His 2022 campaign has led to a far more pragmatic approach to 2023 which has borne fruit in almost every single race for the Frenchman. When he’s made the chequered flag, Pourchaire has been on the podium more times than he’s been off it.
It means he is just two rostrum appearances from the all-time F2 record for podiums in a single season, currently held by Nyck de Vries with 12, set back in 2019. It has been a conscious effort according to the ART driver, who says that high-scoring results have been the biggest priority over pure pace and race victories.
With the points situation close and with Vesti and Iwasa still in contention, that approach has shifted once again, and at Monza, Pourchaire was more than happy to take some risks. It’s something he expects to replicate in Abu Dhabi later this month as he aims to take his first podium in the United Arab Emirates.
“I will always try to push, give my best and 100% but in recent races, I took it a bit easier than in some other races. It was important to finish in the points every time and to be on the podium a lot of times this season.
“In Monza, it was a very important race weekend, but I pushed a lot and even had some contact. In the Sprint Race I remember I was going for it every time, but it will be the same in Abu Dhabi.
“I’ve never been on the podium at Yas Marina, but I hope I can do it this year. I’d never been on the podium in Baku before either and this year I did it. So hopefully we can do the same in Abu Dhabi.”
He remains conscious of his win record from this year and is eager to add at least one more victory to his ’23 resume. While he hasn’t stood on the top step since the opening Feature Race of the year in Sakhir, Pourchaire has been runner-up on six occasions this season.
While his Bahrain win stands as the biggest winning margin in F2 history, the ART driver says that he is keen to put on a show in the finale.
“I hope I can win another race in Abu Dhabi. Of course, I’ve only won one race this year, but I was close to winning a few more but I was a bit unlucky at times. I remember like at Spa-Francorchamps with the late Safety Car, it's part of the race, it's like that sometimes but I’ve been unlucky a few times, close to winning a race then things like that happened. We still ended up on the podium, scoring big, big points. We know we could have won more races but, hopefully, I can win another one before the end of the season.
“I will be focused on the performance in the Championship, I want to finish strong and enjoy things, but it will start on Friday with Qualifying, and I hope I can also have another pole position as well.”
With three drivers mathematically in contention for the title, and with top rookies Victor Martins and Oliver Bearman separated by a single point in the fight for top rookie, competition in F2 has been at an all-time high Pourchaire believes.
It has meant that there has been no runaway winner, with the lead of the Championship changing hands multiple times across the campaign from start to finish.
There have been 11 different winners in 2023 so far, a demonstration of the impressive level of performance across the grid this year. Whatever happens, Pourchaire says that the season has been thoroughly enjoyable on track.
“There are fights everywhere you look. The top six in the Championship is really close, so it’s been a great year for Formula 2 - great battles, lots of different winners, lots of different podium finishers, so it's great.
“It shows that the level is really high. There are always some people saying I didn't dominate this year, but it’s just not possible to dominate in a year like this and in a championship where everyone has the same car, same engine, tyres. It’s the driver - you have to make the difference.
“I think I made the difference by having great consistency which has pushed me forward. I hope we can finish the job in Abu Dhabi, but I’ve really enjoyed the battle a lot this season with all the other drivers.”