ART Grand Prix had enjoyed a stellar first four years in FIA Formula 3 as they finished in third position in each season. However, they suffered a dip in 2023, as the French outfit wound up eighth in the Standings.

Just as surprising, they also went the entire campaign without winning a race for the first time in their F3 history. That means they enter 2024 with their eyes set of rediscovering their best form, and that started at pre-season testing in Bahrain.

Speaking after what he thought was a productive three days in Sakhir Team Principal Sébastien Philippe explained why he thought their results suffered last year.

READ MORE: PHM AIX Racing aiming to disrupt the established order in 2024

“Last year I thought the performance was much better than what people saw,” he explained. “It's a very tough Championship with a lot of cars, facing a lot of situations with yellow flags.

“There was not a lot of clean qualifying last year and when there is no clean qualifying you need to be very opportunistic in what you are doing.

“I think many times last year we should have been able to have a good weekend and we didn't do it because we missed the opportunity in qualifying.

“Last year we still took pole at Red Bull Ring, qualified on the first row in Australia, had a podium in Bahrain, and we have thrown a few results away due to bad tyre management or stupid mistakes in qualifying or traffic and so on.

Mansell is new to ART this year after making the move over Campos
Mansell is new to ART this year after making the move over Campos

“But the performance was not great, clearly, but it was much, much better than what the final result shows.”

Phillipe is now placing a huge importance on ART optimising their performance a lot better this year, which started at pre-season running in Sakhir. Across the three days the team completed 443 laps, which would have given them plenty of data to analyse ahead of round one.

“I suppose this year we just need to make sure we optimise every little thing,” said Phillipe. “We need to make sure that every lap that is completed needs to be completed in a good way.”

Ones to watch out for: MP Motorsport testing round-up

The drivers looking to do just that for ART and get them back fighting at the front are new recruits Christian Mansell and Laurens van Hoepen, as well as returnee Nikola Tsolov.

Mansell is set to start his second full campaign in the category and joins the team from rivals Campos Racing. Phillipe admits it is still early days in this new partnership but that so far, the signs from the winter and pre-season tests are positive.

Van Hoepen is the lone rookie in the line-up as he graduates from Formula Regional European Championship where he completed a couple of podium-sealing drives last year.

So far in his limited time in Formula 3 machinery, Phillipe is happy with what he has seen from the Dutchman, whose 143 tours of the Sakhir track in testing would have helped his adjustment to the car.

Van Hoepen is the lone rookie driver in the ART line-up this year
Van Hoepen is the lone rookie driver in the ART line-up this year

However, with rookies who are still adapting to their new surroundings, teams will often expect to see some inconsistencies in their performance. That is the same for ART and Van Hoepen, although his new boss is not too worried about it.

“There have been some good moments and some moments that are a bit more difficult,” revealed Phillipe. “Again, he's a rookie and he is facing different situations each time because the grip level is different, the balance is different, and he is still learning a lot.

Three rookies catching the eye: Jenzer Motorsport Testing Round-up

“So, at the moment I am quite happy with the performance at some points, but for sure the consistency at the moment is not there. We just need to make sure that we are more consistent in what he is doing.”

Tsolov on the other hand returns for a second season in Formula 3 but also with ART. He made the step-up last year as a 16-year-old and enjoyed a couple of points scoring results late on in the campaign at both the Spa-Francorchamps and Monza Sprint Races.

But there are signs that Tsolov is growing and being the lead ART driver on the timesheets in each day. Finishing in the top-10 in four sessions could serve as a massive boost of confidence.

Tsolov is preparing for his second season in Formula 3 with ART
Tsolov is preparing for his second season in Formula 3 with ART

Phillipe has plenty of belief in the pace of the Bulgarian and is confident that if he can marry his speed with consistency, he can fight at the front of the field.

“Nikola, he has made massive improvements since last year because he was starting from scratch,” Phillipe explained. “He is very young, only doing six months in Spanish F4, so for sure the Nikola at the start of this year is a completely different one than the one from last year.

Moving in the right direction: Rodin Motorsport testing round-up

“His experience in motorsport is still small because he is one and a half years in. He still needs to learn a lot of things, he is still young and a bit like Laurens, he is capable of showing some really decent pace.

“However, he struggles with consistency also but if we can get this consistency, I am sure that Nikola will be at the front.”