Going into 2021, Gregoire Saucy had never even won a race in his five years in single-seaters. But now he has eight wins, a dominantly-claimed FREC title and a Formula 3 drive after topping post-season testing
Sudden upturns in form raise eyebrows, and so Formula Scout caught up with Saucy in the paddock to ask what was behind his unexpected domination of the Formula Regional European Championship this year.
“It was a really good season. Only Monaco was bad, but the rest of the season was going really well. I felt really confident with the car, with the team.” Saucy said. “It has been a really consistent season, and I’m really happy about that”
Did he change his approach for 2021? “Not really, it’s been all normal. I just prepare physically and mentally like every year.”
Pressed on what has could have been behind such a remarkable change in results, Saucy attributed it to hard work rather than finding a magic potion.
“I think it was because we worked a lot in the pre-season test. I worked a lot to learn the Pirelli tyres because last year it was Hankook for us [in Formula Renault Eurocup]. So we needed to learn a bit but I worked a lot with the team and we were, I think, a bit in front of everyone at the start of the season and after they caught us a bit at the end, but I think [the early advantage is] because we work maybe more than the others, I don’t know.”
It is obvious that the relationship between Saucy and the ART Grand Prix squad has really clicked in their second year of working together. Has it helped to have the continuity of a second year with the team? Another expansive answer.
“I don’t know, maybe, but we improve every time, so yeah it has been good.”
Saucy is effusive in his praise for ART GP though.
“The team is really professional and serious. We work well [together]. I’m really happy with my engineers, mechanics, with all the team. After each session I work together with the engineers. We have a big meeting after each session to know how was the balance, how to improve. It’s just perfect with this team.”
Saucy particularly welcomed the open communication and sharing of information within ART GP and its driver line-up, completed by Nicolas Todt protege Gabriele Mini and Thomas ten Brinke before the latter’s shock retirement from motorsport and he was replaced by 2020 FREC star Patrik Pasma.
“For me, what I really like in this team is we are really close and we work a lot for all the three cars and everyone. Everyone is really all together. And I think it’s what I like because in the past with some teams, it was not the case and we were really fighting between each driver in the team.”
ART GP was quick to get Saucy’s signature on a FIA Formula 3 Championship contract for 2022 after he went fastest in his first official series test appearance this month. Team principal Sebastien Philippe commented that Saucy “showed the full extent of his talent and maturity in 2021 and in addition to this, we have come to know and appreciate each other both personally and sportingly”.
R-ace GP team principal Thibaut de Merindol ran Saucy in Formula 4 and the FR Eurocup in 2019, and thinks he was actually a changed driver this year despite Saucy’s own comments.
“When you succeed to be in a positive mindset and you don’t rush things, you don’t overdrive, you’re confident that you have the speed, you don’t make mistakes and you’re under control and I think he got to that stage where you’re confident and you just do your job,” de Merindol said to Formula Scout.
“You know you can do it good, you know the car is good. For sure, he did an impressive first part of the season.”
Saucy’s title advantage can be attributed to two principal factors: the ability of ART GP to build a big points lead while many of the pre-existing FREC teams feared a struggle with the switch to the Eurocup’s Renault engines, but instead just found the Eurocup arrivals to be more competitive, and an ability to master the set-up and the Pirelli tyres for qualifying.
Saucy crossed the line first on eight occasions, losing a win at Paul Ricard to a disqualification for a minor technical infringement and inheriting one at the Red Bull Ring after on-the-road victor Franco Colapinto got a track limits penalty.
Crucially though, on each of the eight occasions he started from pole position he then finished the race in first place too.
It is notoriously difficult to overtake in the FRegional-spec Tatuus T-318 car and in such a large and competitive field a good qualifying position was critical at every circuit. Saucy is not alone in the FREC paddock in highlighting the difficulty of managing the performance of Pirelli tyres over a single lap too.
As he explained “this year we have only one push lap in qualifying”, much like Formula 2 and F3.
Saucy rates the Imola season opener as his most satisfying weekend of the season: “My best race of the year, my first race and my first win of the season, which was just amazing for me because it was the first win of my [car] career.”
At the following event in Barcelona, he took a clean sweep of two poles and two race wins in addition to the race one fastest lap. That level of control was repeated at Zandvoort too. The only significant blip in the year came in Monaco, where the hazards of a street circuit contributed to him scoring not a single point over the weekend.
“It started really bad because in my first push, we only have 40 or 50 minutes in free practice and on my first push someone [Nico Gohler] in front spun and I couldn’t avoid him.
“Because I couldn’t finish the session I didn’t have one push before qualifying, so it was really difficult. I did P9 [in qualifying], so it wasn’t so bad but we know Monaco’s [overtaking is] at the start and not during the race.”
Stuck in the middle of the field, Saucy outbraked himself into Ste Devote in race one while running 10th, before getting involved in the first lap crashes in race two.
Saucy’s last win on-track came at Spa-Francorchamps in July but, with an almost unassailable lead, his focus was already on bringing home the title rather than race wins. Other potential title challengers only really got their acts together in the second half of the season – Franco Colapinto, Michael Belov as well as the trio from Prema who set the pace at season’s end.
Prema’s Paul Aron is the driver Saucy picks out as his toughest competitor this year.
“I think Paul did quite a good job. At the middle of the season he was quite a bit far [back] but after he came back and now he’s doing good times. During a race he is quite aggressive…. it’s quite hard the fighting.”
There were rivals within ART GP as well, but Saucy ended up helping his team-mates rather than fighting for position.
“I helped [Mini] a lot because I had more experience than him. He worked well during the first half of the season. Now [I help him] a bit less but it is still there.”
Saucy, who turns 22 in December, is four or five years older than his main FREC rivals. Indeed, he is older than half the current F2 field. By the junior single-seater standards of today he is already “an old man”. Does he feel at a disadvantage in that sense going forward?
“For sure I am a bit older than everyone, but the first thing is to win,” he said. “I think [experience helps] and now I think it’s better to stay more here in a lower category to learn a lot. And after in F3 and F2 to be directly there.”
Saucy began his motorsport journey in karts at his father’s indoor karting track in the Swiss town of Bassecourt, but in a country where circuit racing was outlawed the local karting scene wasn’t like many others in Europe.
“I did lots of laps in go-karts, not so much karting races though,” explained Saucy. “I did some races in the Swiss championship, but it’s not like the European or the World Championship. It’s like eight drivers competing in the series, so I couldn’t learn much there. I did more years than other young drivers did [in karting] because I had no experience in races. After that, in 2016 I started in single-seaters.”
While Saucy debuted straight into FR2.0, he did so in the club-level VdeV Single-Seater Challenge before racing briefly in the Eurocup. He only found success there once the series switched to FRegional regulations, and he returned following two full seasons in F4 and with a Toyota Racing Series season under his belt too.
As Saucy prepares to step up to F3, he has evidently prospered from the environment at ART GP and become mentally stronger and more confident in his driving. F3 does not provide anything close to the amount of testing that teams and drivers in FREC get, and the even more fickle Pirelli tyres present an extra challenge alongside the ability to get up to speed quickly in every qualifying session.
There was no secret behind what sent Saucy to the top in FREC, but the skills he’s shown using his experience could be a trump against those who rush their way up when he moves onto the next rung of the ladder.