In an exclusive interview, F2 championship leader, Theo Pourchaire reflected on his rise up the motorsport ladder and “important goals” for the end of the 2023 season.
From making history as the youngest race winner in F3 then F2 to eventually sitting on the cusp of the 2023 F2 title with one round of the season left, Pourchaire has established himself as one of France’s top young racing talents with support from Sauber Academy and Alfa Romeo.
The now 20 year-old Frenchman however faced initial opposition as he began his competitive karting career, yet has proved any doubters wrong with his rise up the racing ladder and is now reserve driver for Alfa Romeo’s F1 Team alongside his F2 duties.
In this candid interview, Pourchaire has spoken about his racing hero, overcoming initial opposition and the importance of consistency in fighting for titles, whilst also looking ahead to 2024 where he will remain part of Alfa Romeo’s F1 setup in a reserve role.
Who inspired you to become a racing driver?
Pourchaire: “Yeah, I have a lot of inspirations. First I would say Michael Schumacher because when I was young I remember going to the Monaco Grand Prix in 2006 and I remember seeing Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso driving.
“They were two of my heroes at the time but for sure, I remember Schumacher mostly because of the Ferrari car, but for sure the red car and I do have videos of it so he is my greatest inspiration in motorsport.
“I would also say my dad because it’s thanks to him that I am doing this sport. He put me in a go-kart at three years-old so without him, I wouldn’t be here.”
You competitively raced in karting from seven years-old with success as you climbed the ladder. Looking back to your competitive karting debut, what were your initial expectations and how beneficial has your karting experience been to you in single seater racing?
Pourchaire: “At first it was hard for me because my family didn’t want me to be professional in that sport but they’re really happy now.
“That was not the goal at the time which was to have fun and now for sure, the karting years were really important to me. I learned a lot and I learned all of the basics from motorsport and the racing you know.
“It was my first stressful experience with big races, French championships, European and world championships. I did a lot of racing in go-karts and it taught me a lot.
“Taught me to grow also because most of the go-kart races were mostly in Italy or outside of France so at the time, I was really young and going to those races without my family and sometimes I was alone with my team.
“I couldn’t speak English at the time – not very good with English at the time but it was great and I grew up a lot thanks to that.”
You stepped up to single-seater racing in 2018 with title success in French F4 Junior Championship then 2019 ADAC F4. How important do you feel those title fight experiences were for you at that stage of the season?
Pourchaire: “Great memories for us because it was my first two seasons in single-seater.
“In the French championship, I was really young at 14 going onto 15 years-old so I was the youngest in the category and one of the youngest in the world to drive in a Formula 4 so I was lucky enough to have the experience but I finished third and won the Junior Championship and that was really important.
“That was a good first step and after that with my team and my close team, we decided to move to German F4 (ADAC F4), which was around 10 seconds faster per lap and the car was quicker as it was a different Formula 4 and I went to a team for the first time because in France, it was an academy and everyone has the same car and same setup and in German F4, it was like Formula 3, Formula 2 and Formula 1 with teams.
“So it was a big step and I won in 2019 the German F4 title which was really important and allowed me to find a place in Formula 3, so a really good experience and great memories for sure.”
2020 saw you enjoy a successful F3 campaign as you narrowly missed out on the title and became the youngest-ever F3 race winner. On reflection, how surprised were you at how well you adapted to F3 with your first win at just 16 years-old and vice-champion honour?
Pourchaire: “It was a bit surprising to be honest because I expected a more difficult beginning of the season but for sure, it was not easy because of the COVID.
“We did the pre-season test in Bahrain which went ok to me as I was in the top five on the first day then more in the top ten then top 15 which was obviously not very good for sure when you know I finished as vice-champion at the end of the year.
“After that, there was the COVID break without driving and for me coming from Formula 4, I was one of the only drivers to do that as I went from F4 to F3 and didn’t do any Formula Regional or Formula Alpine.
“It was a huge step and difficult to adapt myself to a car that was really quick, lot of downforce and a very competitive championship but in the second race, I won and became the youngest-ever race winner in Formula 3 which is one of my best memories in Motorsport.
“It was a great season as I achieved a lot of podiums and two wins but no pole positions officially but there was one in Monza but I took a penalty after that but it was a great season and thanks to that season, I was able to go straight to F2 after only one season of Formula 3 and I could show my potential in that F3 season and I had the confidence of my team – ART Grand Prix and that was a really great season.”
You have spent the last three seasons racing in F2 with ART GP after an initial guest appearance in final two rounds of 2020 with HWA Racelab. Looking back now, what was it like getting to race with HWA and learning the car ahead of your full rookie season?
Pourchaire: “It was great but not easy to be honest but I had a call with my manager and my family and we decided to try and call HWA to know if they had a possibility for me to race in the last two rounds because we knew one of their drivers was going to stop his season.
“So they had an opportunity for me and we went to Bahrain. I did the last two rounds and it went pretty well and I was quicker than my teammate.
“I was ok in the car but to be honest, it was not easy because without doing any testing and coming from F3, it was the last two rounds of the Formula 2 season, so all of the other drivers were really really quick and confident in their cars and they knew everything about Formula 2 but it was great and good memories again as discovering a new team for me was a nice experience.”
Across the last three seasons, you have steadily established yourself as one of the top drivers on the grid with some memorable wins and battles – especially in Monaco. Now sat as the title leader in your third season, which win and battle has been your favourite in F2?
Pourchaire: “I have a lot of great memories in F2. The first one for sure is my victory in Monaco in 2021 where I became the youngest ever pole-sitter and race winner in Formula 2. For sure, this one in Monaco because you know it’s Monaco as could of happened in Bahrain but Monaco is much better.
“So close to my home, it was almost my home race and this one is amazing but I have a lot of great memories in Formula 2, and as well as my win in Monza in 2021 with a lot of great overtakes but I have so many memories so I hope that I can finish on a high my Formula 2 career.”
Building consistency has also been a huge part of your progress across F2 as you now lead this season’s championship despite taking just one win. Having endured a mixture of bad luck and a wrist injury in the last two season, how much has it meant to finally find that consistency this season and lead the championship heading into the season finale?
Pourchaire: “It’s very important to be consistent to win a championship as that’s the number one thing; you have to be consistent, you have to score points every time.
“I think I was not that bad in terms of consistency before; in my first season in F2 in Baku after my maiden win in Monaco, I broke my wrist in a crash on lap one of the feature race so that compromised a lot of the first season as I think I could of ended up in the top three but I still finished fifth in my first season which was good.
“Second season, we all know what happened with a lot of mechanical issues on the car. It’s terrible but it can happen as it’s motorsport and I had like five engine failures unfortunately but I still finished as vice-champion with that which is really good.
Of course, I wanted to win but when you have the kind of problems, you have to deal with it and you have to do your best and that is what I did.
“And this season is going pretty well at the moment as I am consistent and even on a bad weekend, I try to score a lot of points, I try to do my best and never give up, and now I am leading the championship before going to Abu Dhabi, which is really important as I have a 25 point lead so I think we can finish the job there I hope and let see as we have a few championships to win with the team.
“There is my championship but also the teams’ championship and my teammate [Victor Martins] who is battling for the rookies’ championship, so we are doing a great season.”
You are currently part of Sauber Junior Team, so what is it like being part of their academy and constantly learning new experiences which can only benefit you for many years to come?
Pourchaire: “I mean it’s a great opportunity to be part of the Sauber Academy, and right now for the Qatar GP, I am in the simulator which is really great for me because I am doing a lot of laps, if anything it’s not in real life but a simulator and I’m working a lot with the team.
“They’re helping me a lot and this year I am racing in F2 thank to the Sauber Academy and ART Grand Prix so for me, it’s great to be part of a Formula 1 team, to be the reserve driver.
“I know that I have to be ready in case they need me and that is a huge risk for many teams but it’s great and I am looking forward to the end of the season with them and hopefully I can win this Formula 2 title and that will be great.”
Finally, what are your ambitions for the future especially with a reserve role confirmed for 2024?
Pourchaire: “At the moment, I am focused on the end of this season and the end of 2023. I have a lot of things to achieve and finish in 2023 with really important goals.
“So yeah in 2024 for sure, I will be the reserve driver for Alfa Romeo so it means a lot to me to continue with them and we will see if I will be racing alongside that if we do a racing programme or not but at the moment we are talking and let see what I can do next year.”