Gabriel Bortoleto couldn’t ask for much more from his 2023 season. A breakout rookie campaign saw him secure the Formula 3 title in a dominant fashion, earning him a spot on the McLaren Driver Development Programme and now the 19-year-old sets his sights firmly on making the same kind of impression when he graduates to Formula 2 next year with Invicta Virtuosi Racing.
Having finished sixth in the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine the season before, many weren’t sure what to expect from the Brazilian racer. He and his Trident team however had no doubt that their chances were looking optimistic.
“Trident had all the keys to make it work,” Bortoleto remarked. They have good engineers and mechanics, a strong line-up and it depended only on myself. The moment I jumped in the car I knew we would be a contender at the front, I wouldn’t say for the title because a lot of things can happen.”
Ahead of the season, Bortoleto had noted that his results “will be a consequence of all this hard work of everyone” and aware that fighting up front wasn’t going to be an easy affair, he wasn’t shy in putting in the in-depth preparation needed to push him and the team forward.
Well-equipped with the knowledge of previous drivers’ pathways to success, combined with a strong partnership between him and teammates Oliver Goethe and Leonardo Fornaroli, the fruits of his efforts quickly appeared as he took back-to-back Feature Race victories in Sakhir and Melbourne.
“We did a lot of studying of the previous years seeing how many points a driver got during the season, what they were doing at the tracks, what were the best things to do and what wasn’t right to do. I understood a little bit the right way to go with the car and at the beginning of the season, I knew exactly how Qualifying works in this category.
“For sure, it was the best environment I’ve had in my life in terms of a team. My teammates, we were all pushing each other, we were very competitive. But at the same time, we were very respectful to each other and we were happy to make the team go well.”
From there, a sense of momentum began to build both on track and in Bortoleto’s mind. Already having proved himself to be race winner material, he recognised that the key to ultimate success would be striking the right balance.
Achieving an average Qualifying result of sixth and 5.47 in the races, he went on to record only three non-points scoring finishes out of 18 races. With the maturity to accept that not every race is going to be your race, he says it was all about taking what he could out of every situation that came his way.
“Having in your mind that you’re leading the Championship and that you’re fast enough to do that is always good. In that moment, I was very confident because I’d won two Feature Races in a row. I always knew we had the potential to be in front and when you have confidence like this, it’s much easier to do laps and make it happen.
“Since the beginning, we knew that consistency was key in this Championship. At the end of the day, I was not just trying to finish the races, I was just finishing them because that’s my way of doing it. I’m aggressive, but I know when to be aggressive. If you don’t have the pace to do something, that’s life, what can you do?
“You do the best that you can do and get the results you can get. When I had the opportunity to be P1, I was P1. When I had the opportunity to be P6 or P5 in Monaco, I was P6 and P5. I think that was my season, I was always finishing the races and trying to extract the most out of the car.”
Sitting at 17 points after Round 4 in Monte Carlo, his advantage over the rest of the field continued to grow to 43 points post-Budapest, as no other driver could match his consistency on a regular basis.
Entering the penultimate round in Spa-Francorchamps with the first mathematical opportunity to take the title, Bortoleto said it was only at that moment he knew that the title was his to lose.
“In Budapest, I realised that I could win it. I always knew I had a nice advantage to P2, but in Budapest we knew that there were still three rounds to go and everything can happen. It was a good weekend from what I had in my hands.
"I left that round with 43 points over P2 and then I said to myself ‘okay, if I do the job in Spa I can win there and if I don’t, it will be in Monza and let’s see how things go. But in that moment, I think I had in my head that the title was almost finished.”
Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t to be. A mistake in Qualifying saw him line up in P15, following it up with an early retirement in the Sprint and then missing out on becoming Champion at the Belgian circuit by only two points.
Although saddened at the time, Bortoleto’s composure remained unshakeable, with the belief that bringing home the title was not a case of if he’d do it, but when. Even so, when that moment finally arrived after Qualifying in Monza, he admits it didn’t quite sink in for a while.
“I was quite disappointed at not winning the title. But it doesn’t make any difference at the end of the year. If you win, you win and that’s enough for me. If I have the chance because I have the pace, I will for sure try to win with as much of a points advantage as I can, but Spa was not a good weekend for me, so I was not frustrated at all.”
He added: “Monza was crazy! At the end of the day, I won and I’m happy with it. I don’t regret anything because then I had very relaxed racing on Saturday and Sunday. I got out of the car in parc fermé after Qualifying and I remember walking back to the Trident tent and then seeing everyone – my family, friends, all the team, the cameras and everything. It was very cool, but I didn’t realise I was a Champion yet.
“I was thinking about it for days because people would tell me ‘in some days or weeks you will realise that you are a Champion’, but it doesn’t change anything for me. I’m happy with the title, it was a nice achievement and it’s very good for my career, but I’m already thinking about next year. I don’t have time to celebrate, relax and have fun, I’m already pushing.”
After assessing the progress he’s made over the course of the season, Bortoleto isn’t getting overly caught up in his achievements. Acknowledging that he’s still got work to do in order to turn his dream into a reality, he’s ready to use the lessons he’s taken from his time in Formula 3 as a stepping stone for further success in Formula 2.
“I’m the same person and it doesn’t change anything. I have a very clear goal in my mind and that is to be a Formula 1 driver. If I want to be that then I need to do well in the junior categories. I’ve done a good job in Formula 3 and now the target is to do well in Formula 2. I need to keep working on myself and improving everything I did wrong this year.
“I didn’t maximise everything, but I think I’ve done a very good job on average. In all the races, even if I didn’t win, I was always in the top five. I know where I need to improve for next year. I know where I made my mistakes, I know the reason why I did them and now it’s time to work on myself to not repeat it next year.”