After a good three days of pre-season testing in Bahrain the mood within the ART Grand Prix camp is sky high according to their Team Principal Sébastien Philippe as they bid to defend both titles in 2024.

It was a busy few days of running for the reigning Teams’ Champions as returning driver Victor Martins and new recruit Zak O’Sullivan put the new Formula 2 car through its paces in Sakhir. The pairing completed 308 laps between them across the five sessions.

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Reflecting on their progress in Bahrain, Phillipe said: “It was okay. We could do what we planned to do during the test. It is always difficult to have a clear view after on where we are because it's testing, and we all know on a race weekend it is a bit different, but we still have a lot of work to do but mainly it's fine.”

ART are looking to do this year what only PREMA Racing have done during the past seven seasons of Formula 2 which is to defend their Teams’ title – as the Italian outfit followed up their 2020 Championship by repeating the same trick in 2021.

But even with such high expectations and pressure, the mood within the camp was incredibly calm during pre-season and Phillipe says that is due to their motivation. The longtime boss says his squad are used to both scenarios, whether that is winning or losing, so it is strictly business as usual.

OSullivan and Martins are ARTs line-up for the 2024 season
O'Sullivan and Martins are ART's line-up for the 2024 season

“The mood is good because when you have a good year the motivation is there,” added Phillipe. “Now it's not a big change from before, we have been used to winning, we have been used to losing in the past.

“So, there is not more pressure or less pressure it is just a new season with a target of doing the best we are able to do altogether. We are just there to go step-by-step, race-by-race, achieving the best job we are able to do.”

ART will also be hopeful of defending the Drivers’ Title won last year by Théo Pourchaire. A win this year would give them a record fourth crown, and the returning Martins will have his eyes on that achievement.

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The Frenchman impressed plenty last year, ending the season as the top rookie after finishing fifth in the Standings. Martins also wound up on the podium on 10 occasions, with one of those being a Feature Race victory at Silverstone.

His three pole positions were the most on the grid along with Oliver Bearman and he also had the most front row starts on the grid with seven.

But his shot at the title in 2023 was greatly affected by mistakes in Bahrain, Jeddah, Melbourne, and Baku. However, Phillipe has backed Martins to convert his strong performances from last year into more consistent results this season.

Martins will be looking to build on his strong rookie campaign in 2024
Martins will be looking to build on his strong rookie campaign in 2024

“He has learned a lot from his few mistakes last year,” said Phillipe. “The performance was already there last year, it's a new car now, so also on the teams’ side, we still need to work to make sure we understand what we are doing.

“For sure, on Victor's side, he has one more year of experience in F2 now, so definitely performance should be a bit better than last year. But it will not be a huge difference because he was already there last year. It's more about race craft and using each opportunity to score as much as possible.”

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But if ART are to compete for the title again, they will need both drivers competing at the front, similar to last year. The team will be hopeful that O’Sullivan adapts quickly and his performance in Bahrain shows that he might just be doing that.

The Williams Academy prospect makes the step up to F2 after finishing as the runners-up in Formula 3 last year. He is looking to carry over that good form this season, and by the looks of things in Bahrain he is not far off doing so.

He was in the top-10 in each session on the first three days before focusing on high fuel long runs on the final day. Phillipe was more than happy with the British driver although he believes there is a lot more work to do.

OSullivan is making progress at ART after stepping up from Formula 3
O'Sullivan is making progress at ART after stepping up from Formula 3

“I think Zak is still very new in an F2 car,” explained Phillipe. “He had to test the new option tyres for the first time in Bahrain. So, he is getting the mileage he needs to get the experience, but I think I would say the start of the collaboration together is going smooth and well.

“For sure there is still a lot of work to do, but we are quite happy with what Zak has been able to deliver at the moment.

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Phillipe later added: “For sure there is some areas where he feels more comfortable than some others but just fine tuning to be the get the best performance in his reliability, in the race craft, in everything, you can always improve.

“For Zak, he still needs to face some situations that he hasn't faced, like doing some pitstops, doing races that are longer than F3, tyre management, all this is still very new for him. I think the main thing for Zak is to try and gain as much experience as possible in the next few months.”