Home Featured How Saucy is moving on from F3 disappointment by going to sportscars

How Saucy is moving on from F3 disappointment by going to sportscars

by Alejandro Alonso Lopez

Photo: Formula Motorsport Ltd

Gregoire Saucy is moving to sportscars racing after two years in F3 that didn’t live up to expectations

Before the 2021 Formula Regional Europe season, Gregoire Saucy had never won a race in five years of racing single-seaters. He ended that season as champion with eight wins, eight poles and raised expectations for his move up to FIA Formula 3.

Saucy came 15th in his rookie F3 season with one podium, achieved on his second start, then was 14th in the standings last year. He started the year strongly with ART Grand Prix, the team he had dominated FREC with, finishing fourth place in the opening feature race at Bahrain. He followed that up with second place in the next feature race in Melbourne, finishing 0.596s behind Trident’s race winner (and eventual champion) Gabriel Bortoleto, then came third in Monaco’s sprint race.

By then, it seemed Saucy was on for a successful year. However, his fortune changed. After scoring 46 points in the first five races to sit second in the standings, he scored only eight more in the next 13.

Two of those came at the Red Bull Ring as he claimed pole position. He fought for the feature race win, but contact with Prema’s Paul Aron halfway through the race punctured his rear-right tyre and forced him to pit. He finished 27th.

At a career crossroads, the Swiss has now decided to steer away from single-seaters — like many others on the ladder to Formula 1 have in recent years — and switch to sportscar racing. In 2024 he be behind the wheel of one of United Autosport’s McLaren 720S GT3 Evos in the World Endurance Championship’s LMGT3 class, and be driving a TDS Racing-run LMP2 prototype car in the European Le Mans Series.

Saucy is a shy calm serious guy, who never causes trouble in the paddock. He is a man of few words, who rarely goes into much detail, but after making the decision about his future this was not the case. As he sat with Formula Scout, he spoke at length about 2023 and his next career move.

“It started well,” he said. “To do a podium in Monaco was also nice. It was in the sprint race, but it was good.

“Then I don’t know why, but we had some difficult moments with the team until the end of the year. We had some good things like a pole position at the Red Bull Ring, but then we had many… in motorsport, you need to be at 100% everywhere. My side, the car, the team, also with the other drivers. From Monaco until the end, it was always something not at 100%, always. One time it was me, one time was the car, one time was the team, always.

“At the end, when we see the F3 championship, it is really, really close between each driver, and when you miss one or two tenths, you are really far. That’s what we missed from Monaco until the end of the year.”

The season had been tough for Saucy, and with each round those strong early results became further and further away. In order to not be dragged by despair, he carried out some specific training.

“I’m working a lot with Formula Medicine in Italy for the physical but mainly the mental. We worked a lot there to prepare each race weekend, and at the end to do like a reset to not come to a weekend thinking ‘the previous weekend was not good’ and stuff like that. So we come to a race weekend like not totally new, but with the mind reset and just focus on the race weekend, not on the previous race,” he explained. “Of course, we work on what didn’t work in the weekend, but when it’s done, you just stop and think about the next weekend.”

Founded in 1989 by Dr Riccardo Ceccarelli, Formula Medicine assists drivers from all motorsport disciplines in their physical, mental and medical preparation in order to perform at their best.

From how he speaks, it seems the Monaco podium was one of the highlights of Saucy’s season. Back in 2021, the Principality was where he had his only points-free FREC weekend. Two years later he made a significant step forward in performance, also helped by knowing the track. Saucy commented on the handling of the Dallara F3 2019 around the streets of Monaco, for which he only had positive words like his fellow F3 racers.

Photo: FRECA

“I had a really great season in 2021 except Monaco. Compared to the FREC car, [the F3] is much faster, the car is just so, so good to drive in Monaco. Not in the wet, because we started in the wet in F3 [for practice], and I will say in the wet it was really, really tricky because the track was really slippery, also with the white lines in the wet. It was really, really difficult to drive.

“But then when we compare dry to dry, FREC to F3, the F3 car is just so nice. You can push a lot, and of course Monaco is not like Melbourne. If I can compare, Melbourne is a street track, but it’s more like a modern track, there is not so much walls. Monaco you need to push at the limit and take a lot of risk. Compared to the FREC car it’s much, much better to drive.”

Saucy barely competed in karting prior to his car racing debut in the VdeV Single-Seater Challenge in 2016, where he drove a Formula Renault 2.0 car. In 2017, he started in the FRenault Eurocup before switching to Formula 4 for just over two years in the ADAC and Italian championships. At the end of 2019, he returned to the Eurocup which was now using FRegional cars. By the time the 2021 FREC season came around, Saucy had nine podiums from 122 single-seater races.

He had dreamt of becoming a F1 driver, therefore making the decision of moving on to endurance racing was “a bit difficult”, but it was a sensible one, and he explained why as he sets sights on a future in WEC’s top Hypercar class.

“When you’re single-seaters, you always think about F1, and you want to go up until F1. But my real goal is to be professional at the end. And at this point, drivers in Formula 2 or in F3, winning, even [Oscar] Piastri who won everything didn’t go in F1 the year after he won F2. Now he is, but we can see that the two last F2 champions [Felipe] Drugovich and Theo [Pourchaire], they’re not going to F1.

“So it’s really, really difficult, and as my goal is to be professional, I think it’s the good time to change the direction and to go to grow up in endurance. Because endurance now, as we saw [in 2022] already and [in 2023], is growing up like crazy with the hypercar now in the Le Mans 24 Hours and WEC. So it’s quite nice to change the direction for me.

“My goal is to go in hypercars at the end,” he affirmed. “Everyone said the style of driving a hypercar is like between the GT car and the LMP2 cars. So you need to be smart in the two cars. So it’s why I am doing both championships. We had the opportunity to do both championships, and I think it’s good to show everyone that I can drive both cars fast.”

The switch was not always clear though. Initially, he was set to combine F3 and sportscars, and that is why he was present for 2023 post-season testing at Imola with MP Motorsport. However, the opportunity to do ELMS alongside his planned WEC assault was too good to let go of, so he, his team and sponsors decided to fully focus on endurance racing. Nonetheless, participating in the F3 test with MP was still useful for personal development.

“I would say the difference with [joining MP] was mainly the work they did inside the team. The car balance was quite similar. They don’t have something completely different, but just the work, how they work is a bit different. And I would say how they work — MP — it’s quite nice. I really enjoyed the two days with them, and it was good to try different things. They work a bit differently, but at the end the laptime was there.”

Saucy ended the test in seventh place on the combined timesheet.

“And without putting a second set of new [tyres on],” he remarks. “Everyone had two medium sets or three sets like the other teams in the morning, and at the end we put only one. So it was good. I was happy with the work we did together. It was good for me to try a different team, to see how they work in a different team because it was four years that I was with ART and to change team was good to see how they were.”

However he reckoned had he spent his sophomore F3 season away from ART GP, it wouldn’t have guaranteed better results.

Saucy has already opened his new chapter in his career by testing with his two new teams in sportscars, and he was keen to share some details of those first impressions.

“Paul Ricard is a really nice track to try the [LMP2] car because you can push hard the brakes because you have a lot of margin in exit. So I could test quite a lot the limit of the car, and also in entry. I would say about the tyre degradation, everyone told me ‘in endurance you need to be careful about the tyres’, but when you are already driving with the F3 car in the Pirelli tyres, I think it cannot be worse.

“So the test was just good. I was pushing always at the limit without taking some deg, so the deg was looking really good. And the car balance, it was really, really similar. I would say in terms of driving was really, really close to what I was using in F3. The only thing is in slow-speed corners, when you have like the last corner at Paul Ricard, like it’s a big hairpin, it’s a bit more difficult to rotate the car. You need just to wait a bit more, but that’s the only difference I can say about the car. The only thing is there is traction control in the LMP2 car and you need just to play a bit more with it. And of course the steering assist [power steering], which is much more easier than the F3 car. But the rest was really, really similar to what I was doing in F3.”

He followed on by talking about his maiden GT3 test, but was not allowed to reveal where it had taken place.

“It’s a bit more different to drive, but actually the chassis is really, really nice. I drove on the wet, I drove on the dry, we tested many things and it was just really, really nice [to drive]. It’s a bit different because now we have an anti-lock braking system [ABS] in the GT3 car, a really nice ABS. So we can push, even on the wet, really, really hard the brakes, and you just need to play a bit with the ABS to be at the limit. At the end, I would say that the only big difference is the weight of the car.

“The line, the driving style is quite similar, but the weight of the car is much more. So in the corner, when you get a snap, it’s a bit more difficult to catch it. I enjoyed really a lot. I did two days of testing with the GT car and it was really good.”

Saucy does not expect alternating both cars to be extremely challenging based on his testing experience. Instead, he noted the importance of focusing on the physical training to cope with longer stints than he is used to from single-seater racing.

“I need to work more in endurance, like to go running, go cycling. The car is a bit easier to drive physically compared to the F3 car, also the LMP2. So it’s mainly to work on keeping some good muscle, but to lose also some weight and to be in a good shape and a bit more focus on the endurance side, not strength but more endurance side. To do long runs or long bike [sessions], to work more on that.

“But of course after in the car, it will be a bit different. You need to be as fast as possible but in a long term. In the car for more than one hour, you need to be good [coping with] the weather because we will go in Qatar and it will be hot, in Bahrain too. So in a GT car, also in a LMP2, but in a GT car it’s really, really hot. I will work a lot on doing some sports in a hot condition.”