When Arthur Rougier beat Victor Martins to win the 2017 French F4 title and subsequently joined the Renault Sport Academy, he seemed assured of a strong future in single-seaters. But it did not play out that way
After a disappointing rookie year in the Formula Renault Eurocup and without a budget to continue on the ladder, Arthur Rougier found himself both out of a drive and being dumped from the Renault Formula 1 team’s driver academy. Things didn’t look bright.
However after switching to GT racing, the 22-year-old Frenchman has rapidly made a name for himself, initially in a Sainteloc Racing Audi and since 2021 at the wheel of a Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo for Swiss squad Emil Frey Racing.
As Rougier tells Formula Scout, he is not jealous of the success of Martins, who won this year’s FIA Formula 3 title but was also dropped by Renault after his second year in the Eurocup before he earned his way back onto the scheme.
“I’m happy with where I am at the moment in GTs. I really enjoy what I’m doing and seeing those guys performing, sometimes it puts a smile on my face. But I’m happy they’re doing well. I know Victor quite well and we keep in touch.”
Naturally, there are times when his thoughts turn to what might have been. “It’s also showing that I was doing well at that time against him. I remember also doing tests with Arden at Spa-Francorchamps in the winter test day and being ahead of Oscar Piastri. So I’m like, ‘Yeah I could have maybe sometimes [done what they did],’ but [life in GTs] is cool.”
Rougier only raced on karts for two years before he moved into single-seaters, debuting in French Formula 4 in 2016. He claimed a maiden win in the season finale and came 10th in the standings. Though rookie Martins ran him close in his sophomore season, five victories and 12 podiums gave him the title by four points, after a tense final round at Paul Ricard.
“Looking back at it for me the [centrally-run] French F4 championship was really good,” he says. “Because then in single-seaters, you need to be in a top team. And this is sometimes politically quite tough to be in the right place at the right time.
“In French F4 everyone has the same car, just to make sure it was fair, and this I like. We all had the same strengths to fight and this was really nice.”
Rougier shone in Pau and at Spa in his title-winning F4 season, winning all three races at Spa. No driver has done that in the series in its FIA F4 era, and Rougier’s company in the Formula Renault 1.6 cars before that are Anthoine Hubert, Jules Gounon, Lasse Sorensen and Yifei Ye.
“I won double pole [at Spa] in 2017, with victory in all three races. It was really cool,” he reminisces.
For the step up to the Eurocup, he signed with Fortec Motorsports, while Martins joined reigning champion team R-ace GP.
Rougier was as much in demand, and “had many options, but Fortec offered me a really good deal – the only one I could afford because still with the help of the [French] federation and Renault I had to add something from my personal partners. So Fortec was only one I could go for.”
- Scout Report: Victor Martins & Arthur Rougier [April 2018]
In a competitive field, with rivals including Christian Lundgaard, Logan Sargeant, Martins, Piastri and champion Max Fewtrell, team and driver struggled.
Rougier came 15th in the championship with his two best results, a fourth and a sixth, occurring at Spa. The rookie was undoubtedly hurt by the lack of a strong team-mate.
“There are many reasons [why it didn’t work out],” he explains. “I personally think that I did quite a strong season with what I had at that time. Just missing team-mates to go forward, let’s say, and experience.
“[The FR2.0 car] was really specific, really tough to drive and you needed some a lot of driving time to understand it properly, I would say.”
“I really missed in my team a leader. I was the fastest of my team, which you would at first think is a good thing but no, when you are a rookie, you see all the rookies performing really well,” he explains. “They have a team-mate that is able to fight for the title and I had no one to push me forward, let’s say.”
Rougier believes that “the team was missing some references and data from the previous years”, while R-ace had “four drivers maybe to fight for wins every race”.
“So to try different things with the set-up we were losing time and the field is so competitive. And we were generally missing qualifying performance, because on race pace we were always really strong, but you cannot overtake a lot when you start P10 or P15. The set-up in qualifying to understand when the peak is working is really important and we missed it all season.
“The only time we had a really good car was in Spa and I ended up being something like one tenth off pole. At that time, I thought I had understood something with the car but no because the weekend after, it was one of my best quali laps of the year, but I was really far off in qualifying.”
“It was a tough year but if I had to do the same, I would do [it],” he reflects. “Because I learned a lot during that season [which] really helped me to grow as a driver and to experience a lot of things. I really had to push myself because the level in this championship was crazy.”
His funding finally ran out before the end of the season, causing him to miss the final round, and Renault confirmed his exit from the Academy for 2019 soon after.
“I knew I had no chance to go for one more season because in 2018 I had big help from the federation and from Renault.” With the FFSA’s support limited to one year, he realised “it wasn’t doable, there was never an option to go for another year”.
“My goal was to be in a top team because I think back in those days, I mean still now, if you’re not in one of the top teams there is no chance to be really up in front. I never felt like I had a proper chance, I have to say.
“To me if you want to give a driver a chance he has to be in a top team. You need to give him the support where he has no excuses. And me, I had excuses, let’s say.
“Where the [quality of the] field is so high and some drivers are coming with a lot of budget, a lot of testing, you need to be at their level. If you don’t have the same budget or team or whatever, there is no point for me to fight. I think I personally did a strong season but I did not have the keys to prepare, really up in front.”
With the backing for continuing his single-seater career gone almost as quickly as it arrived, Rougier made the decision to move across to his national GT4 series in 2019, before stepping up to GT3 in 2020.
In 2021 he was enrolled into Lamborghini’s GT3 Junior Driver programme, and in an end-of-year shootout at Vallelunga he was determined as the best junior. With Lamborghini’s support he now races in ADAC GT Masters and GT World Challenge Europe’s Endurance Cup with Emil Frey.
“It’s the first year [when] I can do two full championships, so it’s really good for me,” Rougier explains. “The first one that was on the schedule was the ADAC during the winter and we could add a late programme for endurance, which is also really good to have some more driving time so more experience this year with 24 hours of Spa of course. Both championships are a really high level and targets are really high this year.”
The focus is on the German title, where Rougier shares a car with Franck Perera, a contemporary of Lewis Hamilton in their junior years. They made the podium at Oschersleben and Zandvoort, and are in outside contention for second in the points.
“Zandvoort was a good weekend overall [even though] we still did not quite put everything together,” says Rougier.
His luck has been atrocious in GTWCE, not even getting into the car in the opening two rounds due to crashes in earlier stints when his team-mates were at the wheel.
“We had a really unlucky start of the season in endurance. I did not complete a single lap in the race in endurance actually, because I was supposed to be the last driver in Imola and Paul Ricard and we had to retire the car before me.”
At his specialist circuit Spa, Rougier and team-mates Leo Roussel and Giacomo Altoe finished 19th in the 24-hour race, having been the lead Lamborghini at half-distance.
“A really frustrating year so far,” he admits. “Last year was really good with the qualifying but this year I really struggled to have a clear lap.
“ADAC is a bit easier, but the level is so high and without heated tyres it’s making the field even closer. So usually if you’re five tenths off pole you’re last, so this is completely crazy.”
The fact that Lamborghini has announced an LMDh programme for 2024 has unsurprisingly not escaped Rougier’s attention.
“Of course, I’m aware of what is going on but for now I’m fully focused on the GT side, I’m feeling good in the GTWCE and ADAC and trying to perform well.
“The target is to have a seat with Lamborghini, a proper factory seat. I will try to do the maximum I can to get that seat and then we will see.”
And looking back on his three seasons in the junior categories, he says that “in the end now I’m happy where I am in GT, but I learned a lot during those years of single-seaters”.
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