Home Featured What was behind a Formula 3 giant’s 2023 struggle?

What was behind a Formula 3 giant’s 2023 struggle?

by Alejandro Alonso Lopez

Photo: Formula Motorsport Ltd

The year after its latest F3 champion was crowned, ART Grand Prix experienced its toughest season yet. Formula Scout hears what went wrong in 2023. 

While celebrating a clean sweep of titles in Formula 2, ART Grand Prix struggled like it never has before in FIA Formula 3 in 2023, completing its least successful season since the category was launched as GP3 back in 2010.

In one year, the French team went from winning the drivers’ title with Victor Martins in 2022 to not making the top 10 in the standings with any of its three contenders in 2023. It also dropped from third to eighth in the teams’ championship, having scored just 71 points compared to the 208 points taken last year, with no race wins and only two podiums.

Gregoire Saucy was its best classified driver in 14th place with a tally of 54 points to his name. The Swiss started the season strong with fourth and second place in Bahrain and Melbourne’s feature races. Those results were followed by third place in Monaco’s sprint race, but ever since then results were never the same.

He claimed pole position at the Red Bull Ring and fought for the victory on Sunday until contact from Prema’s Paul Aron caused him a puncture and consequently he dropped to the back of the pack.

Saucy’s teammates Kaylen Frederick and Alpine junior Nikola Tsolov endured far tougher seasons still, with just three and two points finishes respectively.

Martins already had to dig deep to extract performance from the car in his 2022 championship winning campaign, especially towards the end of the season. This year followed a similar pattern, with a strong start and a decrease in competitiveness as the season went on. It was Silverstone – round six of nine – that was again rock bottom according to the drivers. 

Photo: Formula Motorsport Ltd

In conversation with Formula Scout, ART GP’s repeaters Frederick and Saucy as well as team principal Sebastien Philippe shed some light on the reasons behind their struggles in 2023.

“Very frustrating,” a disappointed Frederick said. “I think not just for me but for the whole team, all of us. Even when we had really good pace, like in Spa, we should have been easily in the top three, both Greg [Saucy] and I, there’s just something that always went wrong each race. And we managed to qualify in the back and when we had pace then couldn’t make up enough spots in the races.

“So even when we had a really good pace, it just seemed like there was always something that went wrong and we just always had to work too hard in the races to make up for what we lost.

“Very frustrating,” repeated the American. “Definitely not representative of what we were able to do. Every weekend it was quite frustrating, to be honest.”

Frederick, who was in his third year in the series, explained that the lack of results did not come from a difficult car to drive, as it overall had “a really good balance”. It was just there was not enough speed in it.

“Even when we weren’t super quick, the balance was really good and the car felt nice,” he said. “From the beginning it was a good car to drive. Definitely no complaints about how the car drives at all. Again it’s just sometimes the car can feel nice but it’s just not quick enough, which has been the case in some races this year. And when everything did come together and we were quick, again something else went wrong.

“The car has always felt good. There is potential like I said. Between the team and the drivers, there is a lot more potential than what we showed.”

The reasons behind the lack of pace “depended on the race” according to Frederick.

Photo: Formula Motorsport Ltd

“Silverstone, for example, we had a quick car in practice and we were quick, and then in qualifying, the car still felt good. It felt really good and even better than practice, but we were slow. Don’t really know why, but we didn’t qualify high enough. And then in the race, it was a mess with the conditions.

“That’s one example, or when we go to Monaco. It was my first time at the track and free practice was completely wet. So, qualifying were the first dry laps that we had. But even Greg, who was really quick there at Monaco still could just barely get to the top 12. You know, the car felt pretty good. So it depended on the race. It wasn’t just one small fix. It’s always something different.”

The fact the issues had never the same origin made progressing even more difficult, the 2020 BRDC British F3 champion believed.

“It is always hard to learn and move forward when there’s always constant change, there’s something else that’s a new problem to overcome. It’s hard to sort of build from it when there’s always something new. There’s definitely been a lot of adversity throughout the year. It’s just been challenging overall.”

Saucy had a similar verdict to his teammate regarding the car’s balance.

“In some places, it was quite good and I don’t understand why we were like [that far off],” the Swiss F3 sophomore said. “You know, when you are driving in the car and you just do the lap and you think the lap is really good, and then at the end you don’t have the laptime, so you miss some tenths. And sometimes like in Barcelona where we were struggling a bit more with the car balance, I think with the degradation at the end of the sector three.

“So it was really changing every race weekend. At Red Bull Ring, I was feeling really good in the car, just doing my best, and the pole was there. It was really close, but the pole was there. Also at the start of the year, it was really good. Except Bahrain, I think we missed a bit. I didn’t do everything in Bahrain, like I did some mistake in qualifying. I was close, I was at one tenth from the pole, but then I finished P3. But I was I would say close to the pole and I did a little mistake, and for sure the pole was there.

Photo: Formula Motorsport Ltd

“But like Melbourne, where I took quite a lot of time with the car in FP to feel the car, the track, etcetera. Then I was just feeling great all the weekend, like good to push and the lap time was there. So it was difficult after that to know why [we weren’t fast enough], and sometimes we were out a bit of the window with the tyres and I think it can come from that we missed a bit of speed.”

Philippe also acknowledged the team’s package had not been as competitive as in previous years. However, he reckoned that several opportunities were missed, and, therefore, the end result portrayed a much more dramatic situation than the reality.

“I think in F3, when you look at it like this, it’s looking like we are struggling a lot,” said Philippe. “We are struggling, not a lot, it’s just that we have missed many, many opportunities, not due to a lack of performance.

“Probably we were not always very performant, but enough to do a better job than what we did. Now, this year has been quite tricky because many quali went… but not only for us, for many of us, not in the good [way]”.

“Look here, the quali was not a quali,” Philippe said referring to Monza’s qualifying session, which was suspended with under 10 minutes remaining on the clock. “Spa was a quali on wets but drying and the last lap was important, you had to do it. There’s been many situations like this this year that we haven’t been able to optimise as a team, drivers plus the car.

“We should have been able with what we had to do better, but we didn’t. So it’s not really a big lack of performance because we made pole position in Red Bull Ring, we were on the first row in Australia, we were fighting for a podium in Bahrain. There’s been many places like these where we showed that we had some performance.

“After saying that, we haven’t been able to optimise, and it’s a very tough championship with many cars, 30 cars. When you have a big look at it, there is many drivers that are not doing… no one I think can say that he is really happy about the situation. Many drivers didn’t score that much points. So we are in this position. For sure we should have done a better job than that, a much better job. But again, I think we look worse than what we are exactly at the moment because Gregoire many times should have been able to do a better job.”