As the world of F1 packs its bags at Le Castellet for this weekend’s French Grand Prix, the French public could discover one of the promises of French motorsport: 18-year-old Théo Pourchaire, who plays Formula 2. And he is already knocking on the door of the elders.
Will we soon have three French drivers in Formula 1? With two tricolors, Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) and Esteban Ocon (Alpine), the country is already very well represented. But an 18-year-old is already knocking on the door of the most prestigious championship in the world: Théo Pourchaire.
Seeing him in F1 before his 20th birthday wouldn’t be that surprising, as Grassois (he’s almost at home at Le Castellet) has always been ahead. His father, a fan of rallies, gave him the virus as a child and would have put him in a kart from the age of two. A few years later, in competition, it is already impressive. “Theo, what has changed a lot compared to the others is his ability to adapt and his mentality”, explains Nicolas Moni. The latter, close to the Pourchaire family, trained Theo from his early years in karting, when he was 7 years old. “We saw that he had resources in the driving aspect, tire management… That’s when we started to see that he was still destined to do it. He didn’t talk much, introverted, but when he put on the helmet we we put in. I had the impression of having a more mature driver than 4 or 5 years, he insists. There was really a gap between his day-to-day life and the skills he had on the track, which quickly surprised us. We saw that he had an ability to adapt and a way of managing the race that was not usual”.
A journey inside the Sauber Academy
At the age of eight and a half, the Federation offered him an exemption so that he could participate in the French championships. In front of almost sixty other drivers, he hits the pole position. “In France it had become a bit crazy, smiles Nicolas Moni. He was in his corner, very calculating, he worked hard. He was one of the drivers we had the most hope for because quickly, he was able to do it. winning . We were almost always a year ahead of the normal course.”
And this maturity will be confirmed. Multiple champion of France, among the best in the world, Théo Pourchaire has made his precocity a trademark. Like when, at the age of 14, he started in Formula 4 in France and cannot be classified with the rest of the participants because of his young age. Crush the junior category. To meet adversity, he headed to Germany the following year, when he was already heavily guarded. Among the wise observers, Frédéric Vasseur. The latter, current head of the Alfa Romeo team, has just founded the Sauber Academy, to train young talents. “I met him at the end of his F4 season in France, recalls Vasseur. He was supported by the federation, they suggested I take a look at what he was doing. That was the year we set up the academy. We bring. during his F4 season in Germany, he was champion that year.” Everything is going very fast, again, Théo Pourchaire continues to dominate.
“His greatest strength is the science of racing”
F3 management, aged just 16 at ART Grand Prix, which took the place of the Sauber Academy. He is, as often, the youngest. “He had a great season in F3 where he is fighting for the title while the market is high,” recalls Frédéric Vasseur. At 16 years, 10 months and 27 days, Pourchaire becomes the youngest winner of a race in the history of the category. Another level came very quickly, so after a year in F3, ART Grand Prix took him to Formula 2, aged 17, last year. Of course, he’s still the youngest on the set. Of course, he is once again the youngest winner in history.
“His biggest strength is the science of the race. He is often in the right place, has a good vision of where to go forward and an ability to follow his competitor in front very closely. He is very good at fighting, very smart . often in the right place and at the right time, he defends himself very well… This is really his quality”, analyzes Sébastien Philippe, president of ART Grand Prix.
The youngest winning driver in F3 and F2
How do you always stay ahead? “I managed to adapt quickly to each category. It didn’t help me in certain things, explains Pourchaire. The lack of experience when you get to F2 where the drivers are older, it’s not easy. They’ve been through more than me. , knowing how to react to certain situations. These are difficult things to manage. The most difficult is the mental part, especially when there are many problems and expectations about yourself. I know who I am, my age, the experience I have. .”
Winner of two races and 5th in the championship last year, he is also 3rd this year with two wins, while many saw him as the favorite for the title. For the first time, the pressure is really on him. “It’s a bit new for him because he was often the rookie who went very fast in the top discipline. The jump from F4 to F3 – he had suffered in the first weekend and then it was fine. F2 we said it would be more difficult and finally he had a great season, Vasseur recalls. I think it was a few years ago, maybe from karting, that he was not expected and had not been named the favorite of the championship. It is part of the baggage, the maturity, the ‘experience. …” There are still – and fortunately – “small details” to solve for Sébastien Philippe: “consistency, a better analysis of certain things and the results This year’s are below what Theo is capable of producing “.
Pourchaire supports: “There are a lot of expectations from people because I’ve had very, very good results in recent years, it’s been very, very good for me. They wanted to see me dominate, but I try to ignore it. It’s very important. to have a good following and listening to yourself, moving forward calmly as I feel. The mental aspect is the most important, it matters a lot. Everyone is good at this level. But in the end, what is better is what is mentally in good shape.”
A few months ago Alfa Romeo was looking for a new driver for the current season to replace Antonio Giovinazzi. On balance, Théo Pourchaire could have obtained the seat, but the Chinese Guanyu Zhou was preferred to him. Frédéric Vasseur justifies himself: “F1 is a bit of a one-shot gun. When you are classified on the wrong side of the line, everyone turns against you. Drivers, all their lives dream of competing. F1 and when they are at the gates, they don’t want to do F1 anymore but they do it well, that’s what I said to Theo: ‘you have to do it in good conditions, be prepared because if you go to F1 and it’s a failure, you’ll remember failure all your life, not that you’ve done F1.” We have to go there thinking that we are on top of everything. I think the experience was part of Theo’s lack. I wanted him to live a season with a goal of results, with a desire to win.”
Obviously frustrated but understanding, the interested party waits for his moment… “It’s F1 since childhood (in my head), he smiles. I gained a lot of confidence when I arrived in a single-seater in 2018. On paper, this is not so far but it’s still my dream to be F1 world champion. It’s also what gives meaning to my life. Last year, I wasn’t ready. I saw other things there, and even if the results aren’t what I I’d like to. that’s how it goes. Why not today. Anyway, if I’m offered the chance, obviously I wouldn’t say no!” Alfa Romeo should allow him to participate in Formula 1 free practice this year. Théo Pourchaire is in no hurry, and rightly so. After all, he is only 18 years old.