Why 2023 will be crucial for Pourchaire’s F1 hopes · RaceFans

If there’s one thing Alfa Romeo’s reserve driver Theo Pourchaire has struggled with so far in his career, it’s his own expectations. And what feeds into those is the expectations of others.

Having finished second in Formula 2 last year with ART Grand Prix, and now being deep in preparations for another season with the team, he faces the reality that for many he will be title favourite. And he has to make sure that this year it doesn’t break him.

There was no catching MP Motorsport driver Felipe Drugovich in 2022, but Pourchaire and his team made the job of finishing second harder for themselves and particularly when the realisation came that winning the title was becoming an increasingly small possibility.

Both parties became more desperate to win, leading to more mistakes, and Pourchaire suffered a loss of confidence after telling himself through the first half of the year that he was fighting for the title and was therefore putting himself in prime position to earn a Formula 1 seat with Alfa Romeo for 2023.

Philippe with previous Alfa Romeo team boss Vasseur

In broadest terms, he burst his own bubble, and then hurt himself further seeing Zhou Guanyu retain his Alfa Romeo seat for a second season.

ART GP team boss Sebastien Philippe, who almost won the 2020 Formula 3 title with Pourchaire in addition to running him in F2 for the past two years, spoke to media at pre-season testing last week to discuss what went wrong for his driver in 2022.

“There is a lot of things to say. Last year we didn’t deliver what we should have done. Both on the team’s side and the driver’s side,” he admitted.

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“I think it’s not one thing went wrong, it’s many, many little things. For sure also Theo, like many young drivers now, stepped up the categories very, very quickly, and we should never forget that last year he was just 18 years old and it was really the first time that he was repeating a category.”

Pourchaire came close to shock F3 win in 2020

That isn’t quite the case: Pourchaire spent two years in Formula 4 at the start of his car racing career (winning the French F4 Junior title and then Germany’s ADAC F4 championship), although those were in different cars. And Pourchaire’s F2 career did start in 2020, as he contested the final two rounds once the F3 season ended.

Philippe believes the approach Pourchaire had to have in 2022 “was completely new”, despite the goal being the same as in all his previous series which was to win the title and step up to the next level. But there clearly was an issue in approach, particularly in how seldom Pourchaire qualified towards the top of the grid.

“As a team we haven’t been good every time, Theo did some mistakes, so all-in-all I think the performance was there but not every time. We have never been capable to repeat two, three, four races in a row with good speed that could bring us more confidence globally in the team,” Philippe continued.

“At some point during the summer we thought we would be able to recover this Why 2023 will be crucial for Pourchaire’s F1 hopes · RaceFans, but after coming back from the summer break we did one mistake, two mistakes and after, you know how it is. It’s like in soccer when you start to take two, three, four goals at the same time, you’re not delivering in the same way.”

Pourchaire and the team got caught up in their own errors, only magnifying their problems rather than solving them. And there was bad luck too, with Pourchaire retiring from the final race of the season when his car ingested a bird. So, besides avoiding bird strikes, what’s changed for 2023 that is going to ensure Pourchaire and ART GP go one better?

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“I think this year Theo is more mature, we have been learning a lot technically with him last year, and we have to deliver this year. And never forget that Theo is still 19.”

Feature: The F1 hopefuls who need to have a stand-out 2023 season

Once Alfa Romeo had decided to retain Zhou for 2023, their operating company Sauber took another month before finalising Pourchaire’s contract as their reserve driver for the next year.

They then took even longer to determine his racing future, though the intention was always to keep Pourchaire in a race programme for 2023. Philippe indicates the onus – or even the responsibility – landed on his team to determine whether Pourchaire should stay with them in F2 or not.

“Theo, at some point last year, his dream was to step up in F1. And I think in his approach it was this way,” he said.

“It took us a long time to make a decision on what was the best for him for 2023. And I think at the end of the day, and what his racing F1 team decided is that he needed probably a bit more experience, a bit more maturity and also it’s better for him to repeat something than to stay one year without racing.”

Shadowing Alfa Romeo trackside this year, and making several F1 practice appearances, will no doubt help Pourchaire’s development as a driver and will be one of the best ways of proving himself to his Swiss-based backers.

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Philippe’s point of view, after three years of working with him, is “that we didn’t see yet the proper Theo”, putting that down to his age and relative inexperience compared to others in F2 and young drivers who have now moved up into F1.

Pourchaire’s F2 title bid begins in two weeks’ time

“I think he still has a lot of things to learn and I think this is a good process for him to repeat this and to do a good year.”

Staying with a team that is an established winner in F2 means Pourchaire has more to prove this year. To find a way of beating the expectations of himself, Alfa Romeo and observers, he needs to not just win the title, he must do so in assertive fashion to make that success stand out as a third-year F2 driver.

With practice for the opening round in Bahrain starting in two weeks’ time, the question for Pourchaire will not simply be if he is fast enough to become champion, but whether he can find a way to both win the title and show Alfa Romeo he has the maturity they are looking for in a future F1 driver.

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