Starting off Round 13 as he means to continue, Victor Martins got up to speed quickly in the opening Free Practice session around the Autodromo Nazionale Monza. Topping the morning’s running with a 1:33.165, the ART Grand Prix driver’s best effort was over two tenths clear of Ayumu Iwasa and Richard Verschoor.
Aware that rapid pace in Practice doesn’t always carry over into Qualifying, Martins says he’s less concerned about the numbers on the timing screens, but rather how he and the French team approached the session as a springboard to prime him for the crucial 30 minutes of running later on.
“I will put the lap times to the side, even being P1 in Practice doesn’t really mean anything. On the other hand, we had a strong session. I look at Zandvoort where we did not have the best preparation before Qualifying because of a lot of things, but here we’ve tried to focus on that to get the best preparation possible.
“This is for everything – the tyre warmup, the driving for me in every corner, the strategy, and the plan, just to get ready before Quali to get the maximum feedback. The pace was always there when I was finishing a lap, I felt really awesome in the car, really on it from lap one. I’ve done my practice start, I’ve done fast laps, I’ve done good warm-up laps and now I feel ready for Quali.”
Consisting of only 11 corners, including three chicanes, Monza’s layout is deceptively simple, but far from easy. At full throttle for 79% of the lap and with gravel traps a plenty, there is little margin for error as one brief mistake can completely unravel a fastest lap attempt.
Admitting that stringing a lap together isn’t a straightforward task, Martins says that drivers have to be constantly adjusting to the ever-changing situation, something which he believes he’s perfected over the years.
“It’s not an easy track to get to the limit of because there are a lot of high-speed corners, and the gravel traps are really close to the track. It’s just about having a good mindset, have confidence in the car and knowing where you can bring the car. If you have oversteer, you know that you might have a snap of oversteer and you can end up quickly in the wall.
“I think it’s about adapting to the balance every lap, lap after lap because one can be good, one can have more oversteer or understeer. You need to be in the moment, really focused and adapting to the balance. For a few years now I’ve been quite confident with bringing the car to the limit quickly, so now it’s like a normal job to do. For sure, I need to focus 100%, but I feel confident.”
Qualifying around Monza is always impossible to predict, with so many variables chopping and changing the order all the way to the chequered flag. Nobody wants to be the first in the queue to head out on track. Instead, it’ll be a race to be last in order to benefit from the very powerful slipstream.
Seeing it as a test of mental agility and composure, Martins said he’s learnt from his misjudgement last time out in Zandvoort, where he fought hard with Jack Doohan for track position, forcing them both to bail out of their first shot at a lap.
“I think already from our pit lane order, we are looking quite good compared to Zandvoort. We are a bit more in the middle to the back of the pit lane, so there are a lot of cars in front of us. To get a tow will be a hard job. It’s difficult every time, but maybe we’re in a better position than being at the front.
“I managed it really well in Free Practice, so I will try to do the same. I need to be confident, be calm with everything to not overreact emotionally because if a driver overtakes you and you don’t want that, you might do what I did in Zandvoort fighting before a push lap. It’s not what I want to do this afternoon, so I will just try to get a good track position, a good tow and focus on my job.”
Holding the best average Qualifying performance on the grid, P8 at the Dutch track was his joint lowest of the year. Now, the Alpine junior is dreaming of a fourth pole position of his rookie campaign, but is focusing on the bigger picture, setting himself up well for the Sprint and Feature Races.
“A top three result I think is possible. I don’t want to say pole, I want to be on pole of course, but I think being in the top three will be a good job. Then, with that kind of position we can have two good races.”