Standing on the cusp of their first Formula 2 Teams’ Championship title, ART Grand Prix enter the season finale at Yas Marina knowing that their margin between success and failure couldn’t be closer. The French team sit second in the Standings on 281 points, tied with MP Motorsport and only countback denies them a spot at the top of the order.
FINDING THEIR PATH TO THE FRONT
Initially, things started well for ART as Pourchaire began his second F2 campaign with a slot on the front row in Sakhir. Time deletions up and down the field left the Frenchman with all to do as the final minutes of the session drew closer, matching his previous best effort to secure second, only a tenth off P1. After retiring from the Sprint Race, Pourchaire got his revenge, getting his elbows out to claim victory in the frenetic Feature Race – as he and his team assumed the lead of both Championships. Meanwhile on the other side of the garage, Vesti experienced a few teething issues during his first F2 weekend as he failed to score in either race.
“There was a lot of pressure because otherwise, I think I would have been P14 or P15 something like that. It was a bit difficult mentally, I was screaming on the radio” - Pourchaire on Sakhir Qualifying challenges
A disappointing weekend was on the cards in Jeddah, as neither driver could crack into the top 15 in Qualifying, with Pourchaire languishing at the back after coming to a halt on track. Failing to add any points to their tally in either race sent them tumbling down the order. Pourchaire fell to fifth, whilst ART dropped out of the top five.
The season resumed for the third round at Imola following an in-season test in Barcelona, and the additional running started to pay dividends for ART, with Pourchaire claiming P7 in the Sprint Race. The next day brought smiles on both sides of their camp. Making full use of an early pit stop, Pourchaire remained in control, capitalising on his rivals’ mistakes to breeze to victory and back up into the title lead, whilst Vesti showed his mettle to go from P16 to P6 and get his first points on the board.
Momentum continued to shift upwards in Barcelona, as Vesti – who had previously struggled with his one-lap pace – stormed to a top three start ahead of Pourchaire in seventh. After building confidence with P7 in the Sprint, Vesti put the pieces together, nailing his getaway and tyre management to bring home a maiden podium finish in third.
“When you finish a lap like that, that's why we are racing drivers and it just brings back so many feelings that were great.” - Vesti on Barcelona Qualifying
Returning to the streets of Monte Carlo a year after his sensational victory there, Pourchaire was once again in the fight at the front, topping his group in Qualifying to achieve second on the grid. Two promising races would follow, but the limited overtaking opportunities around the Principality denied him a chance to snatch the Feature Race win away from title rival Felipe Drugovich.
Having failed to score across his Monaco debut weekend, Vesti found himself more at home around the Baku City Circuit. Aided by three Safety Car appearances, the Mercedes junior made a last second pounce to snatch his first victory in the Championship on the penultimate lap, whilst Pourchaire diced his way through to take seventh. On Sunday, Vesti’s Feature Race was almost undone at the start, as the Dane stalled on the grid. Forced to re-join the race from the pitlane, he blitzed his way through the pack to claim P7.
“It’s lost points, it’s lost opportunities, especially with the pace and confidence I have in the car right now” - Vesti on his Feature Race fightback
Continuing the upward trajectory, the seventh round in Silverstone brought ART four top 6 finishes. In Qualifying, Vesti narrowly missed out on pole by 0.107s, whilst Pourchaire took fourth – clocking in an identical time to title rival Drugovich. Staying out of trouble in the Sprint Race spray, the pair added more points to the board in sixth and fourth, respectively. In the Feature Race, Pourchaire put Logan Sargeant under pressure all the way to the line to take second, while Vesti fought back from dropping down the pack with wheelspin off the line to take fifth – losing fourth to Drugovich on the final lap.
Banishing the Qualifying demons that had plagued the start of his rookie season, Vesti took a sensational maiden pole position by the skin of his teeth in Spielberg. Meanwhile, Pourchaire continued to rack up podium finishes, holding off Jack Doohan for second in the Sprint Race. Unfortunately for ART, damp conditions derailed their Feature Race. Opting to start on the wet-weather tyres, an early Safety Car appearance left them vulnerable to the slick tyre runners as the track began to dry, and neither driver was able to finish inside the points. This allowed Sargeant and his Carlin team to leapfrog Pourchaire and ART in their respective Standings.
THE FIGHT’S NOT OVER YET
ART’s homecoming in Le Castellet proved to be the springboard for their Championship fightback. Their weekend got underway with another promising performance in Qualifying with Vesti securing third ahead of Pourchaire in fifth. Pourchaire fought his way through to third in the Sprint, before a post-race penalty demoted him to seventh. Refusing to disappoint his home crowd, the Frenchman’s gamble on being the first driver to switch on to the hard tyres paid off as he and teammate Vesti brought home a double podium in second and third.
“It was almost a perfect weekend, I wanted to win but I did my best” - Pourchaire on racing at home
In the final round before the summer break, Pourchaire reignited the title fight in Budapest. Having been involved in an opening lap incident the previous day, the Sauber Academy junior kept his nose clean into Turn 1 at the Hungaroring and thanks to a slick pit stop by his ART team, he was able to get the jump on several of his rivals and into the lead. Despite the spots of rain, he was able to survive long enough to take the win and close the gap to the Championship lead to 21 points. At the same time. An electrifyingly quick Vesti overcame a five-second time penalty to snatch fourth and help promote ART to the top of the order.
Unfortunately, at the first weekend back in Spa-Francorchamps, the team lost ground to rivals MP Motorsport. Pourchaire could only manage to score sixth in the Sprint and retired from the Feature Race with an issue on Lap 3, whilst Vesti finished both races outside the points.
The team’s trip to Zandvoort didn’t get off to the greatest start as both drivers failed to qualify inside the top 10 and Pourchaire’s difficulties continued into the Sprint Race. Out-braking himself into Turn 1 on Lap 2 whilst attempting to pass David Beckmann, he found himself running through the gravel and dropping to the back of the pack. Despite looking quick late on, Vesti’s efforts went unrewarded in 11th. Deciding to stay out as long as possible in the Sprint Race didn’t pay off for either ART driver, as a mid-race Safety Car wiped out any advantage they’d built up front and eventually, only Pourchaire could savage two points.
“Now it’s just to keep focusing and keep improving ‘cause we are not where we want to be fully yet” - Vesti on Monza performance
With his chances of keeping the title fight going on the line in the penultimate round, Pourchaire had it all to do in Monza. Trying to fight back after a disappointing Qualifying, his efforts in the Sprint Race were aided by Drugovich’s early retirement, until a trip through the gravel whilst battling with Dennis Hauger undid all his hard work and sent him tumbling down the order – allowing his rival to claim the title. Meanwhile, having started on reverse grid pole, Vesti kept his calm to return to the podium for the first time since France and followed that up with back-to-back second places in the Feature Race, putting ART level on points with MP ahead of the final round.
With four wins and 12 podiums between their two drivers this season, ART remain in a healthy position as they set out to bring home the Teams’ Championship title for the first time in their F2 history. Their sole goal in the last two races of the 2022 campaign will be to outscore their two main rivals MP Motorsport and Carlin – do that and they should end the season in style.
As the floodlights around the Yas Marina Circuit shine down on their two stars, the French team will be hoping to recreate their earlier form at the venue. Their first trip there in 2017 saw Alex Albon finish on the podium, before 2018 F2 Champion George Russell went one better the following year, soaking up the glory with the final Feature Race victory of the season. Their most recent visits in 2019 and 2021 had the team fight tooth and nail but struggle for points.
“Driving a much faster car means that when I get back in the F2 car, it will feel a bit different and a bit easier so I can reach the limit of the car a bit faster during the weekend” - Pourchaire on his FP1 debut
While it’ll be Vesti’s first experience racing in Abu Dhabi next weekend, his form this season has showed that he can adapt well to new venues and will be set on breaking into the top five in the Championship come the end of the year. For Pourchaire, his eyes will be firmly fixed on the podium after his P4 finish there last year, as the pair aim to give ART more glory in 2022 after the French teams’ Formula 3 Drivers’ Championship title.