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Megan White

The self-critical Alpine F1 junior who considers top F2 rookie status as “average”

Most Formula 2 rookies would be happy to sit fifth in the standings with one round remaining, with one win and nine podiums to their name. But not Victor Martins. The self-effacing, ever-critical Frenchman claims his 2023 has been “average”, despite sitting as the best-performing first-year driver.

The 2022 F3 champion, who is also a member of the Alpine Academy, moved up to F2 with ART Grand Prix for this season and has been widely praised for his performances - especially compared to third-year team-mate Theo Pourchaire, who is embroiled in a title fight with Prema’s Frederik Vesti.

Martins started the season as he meant to go on, claiming a third-place finish in the season-opening Bahrain sprint race before taking second the following round in Jeddah. Despite a brief drop in form the following three rounds, he bounced back with a double-podium in Barcelona before making it three-in-a-row next time out at the Red Bull Ring.

With three pole positions under his belt, an elusive first victory came at Silverstone, enduring three safety cars and a five-second penalty to take a sensational win. It meant “a lot, extremely a lot,” to the French driver.

“We have worked really hard on the races to understand what kind of approach, how to manage the tyres and the mindset I need to have for the races compared to Qualifying,” he said after the race. “I think I’ve found it since a few rounds and it was all about time, just to wait for this one until we had almost, I would say everything right because that was a tough race still today. But I will say now I had a great car; ART is doing a super job. Also, with Theo, it’s amazing to be the two of us sharing the podium. I think it’s there and we just need to continue that.”

That strong showing continued next time out at the Hungaroring, with yet another podium, and though he narrowly missed out at Spa, two more second-places came at Zandvoort and Monza.

Despite all that, Martins told Autosport ahead of the penultimate round at Monza that he rates his season as “average.”

Martins has starred at times in his rookie F2 season but hasn't found the consistency of title fighters Pourchaire and Vesti (Photo by: Formula Motorsport Ltd)

“Why? Because the pace is incredibly good I will say all the time, but the result is not always the one we deserve or the one which is according to the pace we have every time. So I will say average because we could have done much better at some points.

“I remember weekends like Zandvoort, Spa, and many others, Monaco, so I would say we didn't maximise everything every time. But at the same time, I think it's where I am the weakest from my career so far, where I'm always in front so I will say this is the most important thing, of course, to be quick every time and to be in front, but at the same time, it shows me that if you don't have the consistency and management that you need to have sometimes, you cannot be at the front either, so average I would say.

“I cannot be happy with how many points I missed, but I will say it taught me a lot from the beginning of the season. I don't know what I will do next year, I don't know what the future will be. But I can only say that I will be stronger because of my experience and what I have been through this season. So I'm not happy but at the same time I have big hopes for the future with what I have done this year.”

"It's been average because honestly, when I look at the championship, I could have been much higher without all the mistakes" Victor Martins

It is somewhat of a surprise to hear such strong self-criticism from a driver whose rookie season has been so impressive, even if there have been some mistakes – crashing out on the second safety car restart in the Baku sprint race perhaps the most obvious of them.

With 131 points to his name, Martins has just seven points fewer than fellow Alpine junior Jack Doohan and is 21 behind third-placed DAMS driver and Red Bull junior Ayumu Iwasa – also a second-year driver.

But, he continues: “It's been average because, honestly, when I look at the championship, I could have been much higher without all the mistakes. Zandvoort was the last one, but we can clearly see that we didn't manage everything. We got a 10-second penalty, which is another penalty. [At] Silverstone I had a penalty again but I overcame that with the victory because we were quick. But there are many – in Spa, for example, speeding in the pitlane, five seconds more. Instead of doing another podium, I finished P5. So every time there are five or 10 points in a weekend missed because of a small mistake which has big consequences. So in the end, yeah, I cannot be [happy]. If I'm happy, it means that I'm not someone who wants to win.”

Martins knows without so many errors and penalties he could be in the title fight at the Abu Dhabi finale (Photo by: Formula Motorsport Ltd)

Though his criticism may seem harsh, Martins’ determination is crystal-clear, and he is right to mention that small mistakes can have huge consequences in such a close championship – Vesti crashing out on the formation lap at Spa could prove pivotal when it comes to the title battle.

His past experiences have also doubtless shaped his views. Having joined the Alpine Academy at age 17, he was dropped at the end of the 2019 season after losing the Formula Renault Eurocup title to team-mate Oscar Piastri by just 7.5 points. It was a devastating blow for Martins, but he bounced back to win the title the following year and was welcomed back into the fold. He then moved up to F3 in 2021 with MP Motorsport, scoring one win and six podiums in his rookie season before taking the title in 2022.

Returning to Monza, where he clinched that championship, a year on conjures mixed emotions for Martins, who seems far wiser than his age at just 22. In a dramatic end to his championship charge, a red-flagged race and a five-second penalty almost put paid to his dream. But another driver’s misfortune meant he was crowned, pipping runner-up Zane Maloney and third-placed Ollie Bearman to the title.

Though he says being back at the Italian circuit does bring back “some happy [memories]”, there are also “some stressful ones”.

“I will say I learned from this last year weekend because so many things happened. I remember in the sprint race, I had an incident with Leclerc, I was too close racing with him and I ended up in the gravel,” he continues. “So it can show me that here also there is a lot of close racing and sometimes you need to get more space if you want to finish the race. But the most important one is to have got the title here with a really good race, the feature one last year, because emotionally and in the car I was really on point, knowing what I was doing, and that's the kind of mindset I need to have.”

Looking forward, Martins hopes to return for a second F2 campaign next year, driving in the new 2024-spec car which was unveiled at Monza, though he does say it is “not clear what I will do”.

He adds: “If I do it again, for sure I will try to apply what I've learned this year straightaway since the first round if I do F2. So of course, I will try. Even if I do something else, I will try to learn from this season. I don't know yet. Honestly, it's quite open still. Even if I say realistically I can only go for a podium in the championship, in terms of points, I can still win the title. But let's see.”

The 22-year-old has enjoyed private F1 testing with Alpine but hasn't yet been called up for an FP1 outing (Photo by: Formula Motorsport Ltd)

Martins will also continue his work with Alpine, and says the team is “there to support me”, adding that “even if I do something bad, they are there to understand why I did that, why I did a mistake, to make me grow and be stronger in the next phase. I see my future with them.”

Though he is unsure if or when he will take part in a coveted FP1 outing as Doohan has done, Martins believes being at the top of his game is key.

"I did two days on the private tests, which I'm really happy about that. I got that first taste of a Formula 1 car and I thank them for that, but of course I want to have another chance" Victor Martins

“Honestly, what will bring me to do an FP1 will be to be, again, at the top of the field, winning, pole positions, and maybe they will reward me with that. But today, no, I'm not doing any. I did two days on the private tests, which I'm really happy about that. I got that first taste of a Formula 1 car and I thank them for that, but of course, I want to have another chance.”

Given his current form of winning championships on his second attempt as he did in F3, perhaps Martins could already be an early favourite for next year’s title – but let’s see where this year ends up first.

The Alpine academy driver remains one to watch out for in the future (Photo by: Formula Motorsport Ltd)
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