“I would say that the work we have done for this season has been more intense than anything I’ve done before. I started a lot earlier than March and the first round. I was already working on this year back in September, working with Trident to make things work.”
For Gabriel Bortoleto, things in FIA Formula 3 have more than just worked. The Brazilian arrives in Monaco with a 20-point advantage at the top of the Drivers’ Championship and a flawless Feature Race record intact, with two wins out of two for the rookie.
His bursting onto the scene has caught rivals and, as he admits to us, himself by surprise. Turning pre-season potential into immediate race victories, the Trident driver felt he would be quick but never quite knew just where he and the team stood ahead of Sakhir.
“No way was I expecting to have such a good start, honestly,” Bortoleto admitted. “I knew that we had the potential to achieve what I'm achieving right now, but I was not expecting to achieve this right at the beginning of the season. Straight away in the first two rounds, winning and making the podium in Melbourne, as well as in Bahrain, I was not expecting it for sure.”
The preparations he undertook during pre-season were carried out to a higher level than he’d done before. Moving closer to Trident’s headquarters to work more closely with and visit the team in between races is evidence of how seriously Bortoleto has taken his graduation to Formula 3.
“Winning makes you more confident, you drive more purely, more on instinct”
The dedication has meant he’s been able to hit the ground running with the team right away. He was the fastest driver of all during the test that took place in Spain following the conclusion of the 2022 season. Those three days in Jerez were his first time in the car and fed into the growing sense of expectation Bortoleto held ahead of this year’s campaign.
“In Jerez testing, I felt very good with the car to be honest. I think a car with more downforce fits me quite well. I felt very good with the team straightaway, I live close to them which was a very good thing as well. We knew we were fast, but I didn’t have any idea just how fast we were. In Bahrain we were quick, and in the team, everyone was a lot more confident after the Bahrain pre-season test. That was when I realised that we could do very well.”
Reflecting on his fast start to life in FIA F3, the feeling for Bortoleto is that he’s extended his form from the end of 2022. Achieving two race victories late in the season in last year’s Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine campaign propelled Bortoleto into this year. He believes that those wins boosted his confidence levels, erased doubts and led to a calmer demeanour. All three elements have played a big role in his start to 2023.
He has arrived at a team that put together a ’22 campaign Trident Team Manager Giacomo Ricci believes was stronger than the 2021 season, one in which it won the Teams’ title. Bortoleto’s positive feeling have only grown since arriving, an intense work ethic complimented by the team culture that has been cultivated by Trident.
Alongside teammates Leonardo Fornaroli and Oliver Goethe, the Italian outfit has amassed 100 points in two rounds to lead the Teams’ Standings by 30 points. The harmony between the trio has also been a standout factor for Bortoleto. The Brazilian says that the chemistry between drivers and their engineers has only boosted the performances of all three. In his view, Trident has been the perfect environment for him to draw the best of himself in F3.
“I think it's all about confidence and your mind. Like last year, I managed to be on top in almost every round that we did. After Spa and my first win of the season, I think I had a clearer mind, and I knew what I needed to do. Winning makes you more confident and when you're more confident you drive, let's say more purely, more on instinct, without thinking too much of other things. You just focus on doing the job.
“Being close to Fernando (Alonso), I see how the guy is still pushing like crazy. That motivates you”
“I can say that even before we started this season in Bahrain, the atmosphere in Trident was amazing, and now it’s become even better. I think it's the best relationship that I've had with my teammates, we are all working towards just one target and that is winning the Teams’ Championship. For sure, everyone is working to try to win the Drivers’ Championship too but sometimes if you just focus on that during the season, you start to focus on other stuff, but that's not how we work at Trident.
“I think what we do inside the team and how much effort everyone puts in, from my teammates, myself, the engineers and everyone, it is something special. I've seen that we have the best relationship between not just the drivers but also the engineers and how we work together. I would say one of their engineers wouldn’t work as well with another driver, what we have for all three of us is like the perfect combination.”
Bortoleto’s first race victory of the season came in Bahrain and under the watchful eye of a certain two-time Formula 1 World Champion. Part of the A14 Academy, the Brazilian is one of the select few to be mentored by Fernando Alonso, something he doesn’t take lightly.
While it comes with a certain amount of pressure to perform at the top, Bortoleto says that it has only enhanced his performances and allowed him to unlock another level this year. Driving new circuits in Sakhir and Melbourne, pre-weekend calls with Alonso to gain insights and advantages wherever possible paid off in spades, and the Spaniard’s endless pursuit of performance is an inspiration, says Bortoleto.
“It's amazing to be part of it. Celebrating with Fernando in Bahrain was unbelievable. It was a special moment that will be in my mind and my heart forever. I think I’ll remember the day forever - one of the best days of my life. Fernando has done a lot for me, he is always pushing me to be better and letting me know what I can do to improve. He's a very open guy, I can easily call him during the race week or text him and, as soon as he can, he will answer me.
“A lot of times before the Friday, I’ve called him to ask some stuff about the track and he’s helped me. In Melbourne for example, we had a chat to talk about the track because it was my first time there, so it's amazing. And it's not just him in A14, there is Albert Resclosa Coll and Alberto Fernández Albilares that are there and also as founders of A14. Albert nowadays is the guy that is with me every day at the track. He's helping me with everything, making sure I can focus on only driving and not anything else.
“I think we are improving every round and every time we go on track”
“Even my personality as a driver, as a way of working outside of the track, being close to Fernando for example, I see how much effort he puts into his career. The guy is a two-time World Champion in Formula 1 with I don’t know how many years in F1, but the guy is still pushing like crazy. That motivates you and I think when I see that, I say ‘Yeah man, I need to push even more and to work as much as I can on everything.’ So that was one of the main things that for me, it was a difference from two years ago – I’m much more dedicated to what I do.”
While the weight of expectation from Alonso is tough to deal with, managing his own as Championship leader is another dimension to add to the equation. The Trident driver’s approach though speaks to his maturity. So far, he has handled things one race at a time noting that while it’s nice to lead things now, it’s still very early in the 2023 campaign.
Looking ahead to Monaco, a circuit that he has visited twice already in his career, expectations remain high. Once again, he led the way during F3 in-season testing at Imola, finishing the final day at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari on top. He posted the fastest overall time of the test and left confident the team is in a good place returning to Europe. Most worryingly though for rivals, Bortoleto believes that he and Trident are only getting better with every trip out of the garage this season.
“For me, it’s still the same as when I began the season. The start didn't change anything for me. Okay, I'm the Championship leader, I'm happy about that, but it's just the beginning of the Championship. We've only done two rounds, I need to keep doing my job and doing what I am doing right which is scoring points.
“Our chances are good to be at the top. It’s difficult to say exactly how it’s going to go but I think we are improving every round and every time we go on track. I hope I can keep the same rhythm next race weekend.”