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Théo Pourchaire, the French phenomenon who skips the stages… and bides his time

While the F1 world is packing its bags at Le Castellet for the French Grand Prix this weekend, the French public could discover one of the promises of French motorsport: Théo Pourchaire, 18, who plays in Formula 2. And already knocking on the door of the big ones.

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 a young 18-year-old boy is already knocking on the door of the most prestigious championship in the world: Théo Pourchaire.

Seeing him in F1 before his 20th birthday would not be so surprising, as the Grassois (he is almost at home in Le Castellet) has always been ahead. His father, a rally fan, gives him the virus as a kid and would have put him in a kart from the age of two. A few years later, in competition, he 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, coached Theo from his early years in karts, when he was 7 years old. “We saw that he had resources on the driving aspect, tire management… That’s when we started to see that he was still predestined to do that. He didn’t talk a lot, introverted , but when he put on the helmet we had the impression of having a more mature driver 4 or 5 years old, he insists. There was really a gap between his daily way of 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 common.”

A journey within the Sauber Academy

At eight and a half years old, the Federation offered him an exemption so that he could participate in the French championships. In front of almost sixty other pilots, he slams the pole position. “He had become a bit of a pet peeve in France, smiles Nicolas Moni. He was in his corner, very calculating, worked a lot. He was one of the drivers on whom we had the most hopes because quickly, he was capable of 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 14, he started in Formula 4 in France and cannot be classified with the other participants because of his young age. It crushes the junior category. To find adversity, he headed to Germany the following year, when he was already closely watched. Among the wise observers, Frédéric Vasseur. The latter, current boss 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 offered me to take a look at what he was doing. It was the year we set up the academy. We took him during his F4 season in Germany, he was champion that year.” Everything is going very quickly, again, Théo Pourchaire continues to dominate.

“His biggest strength is the science of racing”

Direction F3, at just 16 years old 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. Pourchaire becomes at 16 years, 10 months and 27 days the youngest winner of a race in the history of the category. Another level reached very quickly, so after a year in F3, ART Grand Prix took him to Formula 2, at 17, last year. Of course, he is still the youngest on the set. Of course, he becomes the youngest winner in history, again.

“His biggest strength is the science of the race. He is often in the right place, he has a good vision of where to overtake and an ability to follow his competitor in front very closely. He is very good at fight, very clever, often in the right place at the right time, he defends himself very well… That’s really his quality”, analyzes Sébastien Philippe, president of ART Grand Prix.

Youngest winning driver in F3 and F2

How does he manage to always be ahead? “I managed to adapt quickly to each category. It didn’t help me for certain things, explains Pourchaire. The lack of experience when you arrive in F2 where the drivers are older, it’s not simple. They have been through more things than me, know how to react to certain situations. These are difficult things to manage. The hardest thing is the mental side, especially when there are a lot of issues and expectations on oneself . 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 victories, 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 passed very quickly in the top discipline. The jump from F4 to F3; he had suffered the first weekend and then it went well. We s F2 said it was going to be harder and finally he had a great season, recalls Vasseur. I think it had been a few years, maybe since kart, that he had not been expected and named as favorite of the championship. It’s part of the baggage, the maturity, the experience…” There are still – and fortunately – “little details” to be settled for Sébastien Philippe: “consistency, a better analysis of certain things and the results Those of this year are below what Theo is capable of producing”.

F1 soon?

Pourchaire supports: “There are a lot of expectations from people because I have had very, very good results in recent years, it has gone very, very well. They wanted to see me dominate, but I try to ignore that. It’s super important to have a good entourage and to listen to yourself, to move forward quietly as I feel it. The mental aspect is the most important, it matters so much. Everyone everyone is good at that level. But in the end, the one who is better is the one who 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. In 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 cataloged on the wrong side of the line, everyone is unleashed against you. The drivers, their whole life dream of racing. F1 and when they are at the gates, they don’t want to do F1 anymore but do it well. That’s what I told Theo: ‘you have to do it in good conditions, that you’re ready because if you go to F1 and it’s a failure, you’ll remember the failure all your life, not that you did F1.’ We have to go there thinking we’re 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 the will to win.”

Obviously frustrated but understanding, the person concerned is biding his time… “It’s been F1 since I was little (in my head), he smiles. I really gained confidence when I arrived in single-seaters in 2018. On paper, this n It’s not that far but it’s still my dream to be F1 world champion. It’s what gives meaning to my life too. Last year, I wasn’t ready. There I saw other things, and even if the results are not what I would like, that’s how it happens. Why not today. In any case, if I’m offered the opportunity, I obviously wouldn’t say no!” Alfa Romeo should allow him to participate in free practice in Formula 1 this year. Théo Pourchaire is not in a hurry, and rightly so. After all, he’s only 18.

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