Cast your mind back to the 2022 Le Castellet Feature Race, as Théo Pourchaire and his rookie teammate Frederik Vesti brought home a double podium finish for ART Grand Prix in front of the jubilant crowds at the team’s home event.

Flash forward over a year later and where once they sat side-by-side as teammates, now they stand apart with Vesti at PREMA Racing and Pourchaire remaining at ART. The title pendulum has swung back and forth in and out of each’s favour, but now the two title contenders embark on one final chance to face off against one another at Yas Marina.

With the chance of being crowned the 2023 Formula 2 Champion on the line, the pair are well versed on what to expect from each other and are relishing the opportunity to have gone toe-to-toe all the way to the finish.

“It’s been really cool,” remarked Vesti. “I remember saying last year that I really hoped that we would get some close racing because we were teammates, but the weekends I did well, Théo was behind, and we didn’t really fight. Then the weekends that he did well, I was a bit further behind, so we actually never got very close on track.”

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Their dynamic has shifted over the past few seasons, going from rivals in Formula 3 in 2019 to teammates at ART last season, with Pourchaire’s experience complimented by Vesti’s rookie enthusiasm. Whilst each enjoyed their own share of success, the Le Castellet Feature Race was the only time the pair celebrated on the podium together.

By comparison, this season they have been virtually inseparable in the Standings. Firstly, Vesti was chasing Pourchaire’s tail until the Dane’s domination in Monte Carlo elevated him to the top of the Standings. In parc fermé, the ART driver even gave the race winner a playful punch in the stomach as they soaked up the celebration.

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However, as Vesti joked, each time he turned to his right on the podium, there the Frenchman was, finishing second to the Mercedes junior in Monaco, Barcelona, and Silverstone.

“It was funny, I knew what he was doing. I could see his big smile, so I think he’s annoyed that we are taking the lead and doing pole at his ‘home’ race. I’m glad I can make him feel that way. There’s no doubt that this battle is tough and there are smiles everywhere, but it’s a tough fight. We both know that we want that Championship, we’re both in very competitive cars.

“This year, I don’t think we’ve had massive battles, but obviously in the Championship fight it’s been back and forth a lot. It’s been close, I almost feel like every time I’ve been on the podium, Théo has been just behind me.”

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“He never really gave me that breathing room in the Championship and that’s why Formula 2 is so competitive because if you fall back one step, there are so many drivers ready to take on that position. It’s full throttle every single race and I’ve really enjoyed that with Théo this year.”

From there, Pourchaire was the one left with work to do to claw back Vesti’s advantage. Understandably, the PREMA driver wasn’t going to make it easy for him and the gap fluctuated from five points post-Round 6 up to 20 points after his Spielberg Feature Race podium and back down to 11 points in Budapest.

READ MORE: Vesti: ‘Can’t hold anything back to put myself in best possible position for title glory’

However, the advantage flipped once more after Vesti’s spin on the way to the grid in Spa-Francorchamps on Sunday left the door open for the Sauber junior to assume a 12-point lead. The gap remained unchanged after Zandvoort as both retired early from the Feature Race, but the penultimate round in Monza proved to be a crucial shift Pourchaire’s way.

Despite Vesti securing his fifth win of the campaign on Saturday, an opening lap incident boosted his rival’s cause, allowing Pourchaire to extend the gap to 25 points, with only 39 left to play for in Abu Dhabi.

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Although the battles have been fierce, their respect for each other shines through. Neither are underestimating the fact that they’ll have to give it everything they’ve got to overcome the other one last time, but that’s all part of the fun.

“I know him from last season, and I know his driving style,” Pourchaire said. “He’s doing a great job for sure and he’s back in his family I would say because he drove for PREMA in Formula Regional, Formula 3 and now F2. He’s a really fast guy. We can beat him for sure, but it takes a lot of hard work and consistency as well.”

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He added: “Fred and I were teammates last year and he's a good guy. I know him and his family very well, they are 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.”

“We are so different as drivers, so it’s really difficult to take something on (from last year),” Vesti concluded. “I’ve really focused on myself this year and really tried to almost forget that we’re fighting for a Championship, and just do the things I know that work well for me and gives me performance on track.”