A second year in Formula 3 for Victor Martins came with a certain amount of pressure and expectation. The Frenchman rose to those challenges though and secured the crown in a dramatic fashion.
Who better to provide insight into the title fight from within ART Grand Prix than Victor’s race engineer, Morgan Trolle. Overseeing his driver take the Formula 3 Championship title in 2022, Trolle explains just how the team approached the season, the nail-biting finale and what was going on in the pit lane as the title was decided.
Reviewing what was an enthralling title fight that included seven drivers with a chance at glory on the final day, the ART race engineer says that the team and driver made things more complicated than either would have liked.
“When there are seven drivers with a shot at the title, even when you’re leading, anything can happen,” Trolle explained. “To be honest, we made mistakes this year trying to manage the Championship, especially in Budapest. In that Feature Race, we ended up thinking too much about the title, there were a lot of things that could have been done to perform better and we were too much on the defensive side of things.
“Victor was intelligent enough to realise what he needed to change and strong enough to put it into practice.”
“It was a little bit the same in Spa during Qualifying. After that session, we completely changed the target and the mindset and we went back to something from earlier in the year: taking each race one by one, trying to perform the best and score as many points as possible and to be on the pace right away. That ended up being the right choice because we turned our Championship around, so we wanted to keep that mentality for Monza."
What stood out to him the most though was the new levels Martins reached in and out of the car. The poor run of form might have broken his title challenge, but as Trolle explains, a lot of introspection and tough love was exactly what the 21-year-old needed to find his feet once more and reignite his charge to the crown.
“I think it was something that Victor and everybody around him decided on. Everyone was really tough on Victor after the Sprint Race at Spa when he did the jump start, that includes the team, me but also his brother, his management and Alpine – everyone was tough on him. But I think that was quite useful and might have even made the different that made him Champion. Victor was intelligent enough to realise what he needed to change and strong enough to put it into practice.”
With two wins to his name, Martins hadn’t won since the Barcelona weekend back in May but arrived at Monza as the Championship leader. His closest challenger in Isack Hadjar trailed his compatriot by just five points, yet there were another five who could mathematically spoil ART’s party come Sunday.
Roman Stanek, Oliver Bearman, Zane Maloney, Arthur Leclerc and Jak Crawford each had a theoretical path to the title, making Martins’ weekend a particularly precarious one as the driver with everything to lose. What was reassuring though was the team’s prior form at the Temple of Speed.
“We didn’t go to Monza in 2021 but the last time we were in 2020, we were quite quick there. We knew that Monza was one of our strongest tracks and that we had everything in our hands to do the job. It was just up to us to make sure we didn’t fall into a trap during Qualifying or have something go wrong in the races.
“Qualifying was probably the tensest moment of the weekend. You can’t control things at Monza in that session because of the tow. Everybody wanted to get the best tow possible. That session was the moment where we could’ve ended up in trouble. Luckily, things went right for us, it wasn’t the best Qualifying we could’ve had but starting P4, that was the first step in the right direction.”
With one major hurdle overcome, the last thing Martins needed was drama in the Sprint but that is exactly what he got.
“We changed our thinking – going from ‘we just need to control things’ to ‘now we need to go on the attack.’”
Coming out of the first chicane, he went side-by-side with title rival Leclerc and through Curva Grande, the pair made contact. It was the ART driver that came off worse. A trip through the gravel didn’t put him out on the spot but it left him with an uphill struggle to minimise the damage in the points. Martins did a masterful job at that, coached through the situation by Trolle on the pit wall.
Remarkably, the team remained calm after the initial contact, instead relying on previous experience, and entrusting their driver to get the job done.
“I remember in 2020, Théo (Pourchaire) went through the gravel in the Sprint Race on Sunday and dropped down to P19,” Trolle recalled. “He managed to finish P2. Victor kept his head down and we kept him focused on overtaking as many cars as he could. Finally on the last lap, we managed to get a point out of nowhere, so I think that gave us a lot of confidence coming into the finale on Sunday.
“The next day was pretty much the same routine as usual. The only thing I mentioned to him following the contact with Arthur in the Sprint Race, was ‘you have no friends on track, so you need to be ready for anything. Don’t expect any favours. Don’t concentrate on the Championship, just focus on the race itself.’ On the radio we would choose each fight for him depending on the points situation.”
Controlling their own destiny was the main target for the final day of the season but that was easier said than done. Martins recovered well to keep the lead of the Championship ahead of the finale, but nobody could be prepared for how the Feature Race would unfold.
Trident driver Maloney and PREMA’s Bearman quickly established themselves as Martins’ two closest rivals for the race victory and overarching Championship. While the duo had to battle tooth and nail and hope for misfortune for the ART man, Martins could afford to follow home on the podium and still claim the title. That was until a dose of misfortune arrived at the worst moment for the Frenchman.
“We were quite focused on controlling that race. As soon as it was clear that the title fight was between Victor, Bearman and Maloney, we told him that he didn’t have to fight them to have Championship position.”
“It went from really tense to celebrations in two seconds.”
A Red Flag due to barrier repairs came at just the wrong moment, with track limits violations beginning to filter through and five-second penalties following as a result.
“Victor jumped out of the car, we told him that he needed to pay attention to track limits, but it should be fine. Then we had a message come through from race control about track limits.
“It was really up and down after that. Initially, we thought that the race would restart so we needed to prep everything again. We were third and needed a P4 finish. Then the penalty happened, so we changed our thinking – going from ‘we just need to control things’ to ‘now we need to go on the attack’ to make sure we had the gap to P6 so when the penalty was applied, we had a big enough gap to stay in the Championship position.
“Thirty seconds later, we got the message that the race wouldn’t resume. Then we had to work out where we finished. We didn’t know the gap behind us from the two laps prior at the point where the results would be taken. That went on for five minutes until the timing screen updated with the final results, and we started seeing penalties for other drivers coming through. Then we saw on the TV broadcast the graphic, ‘Victor Martins 2022 F3 Champion’ and we all started cheering and celebrating. It went from really tense to celebrations in two seconds.”
The way Martins handled the drama and uncertainty at Monza speaks volumes about the development he’s achieved as a driver according to Trolle and comes as no surprise to the engineer. From one of the people that worked closely with Martins in the past, the ART team expects the Frenchman to reach even greater heights next year.
“I’ve known Victor since he started racing single seaters back in 2017, I was one of his engineers in French F4. It was quite funny, we lost the Championship that year in the final race because he couldn’t control it.
“I thought about that during the Monza race this year because it was exactly the opposite. This time, he took the right decisions of when to fight and when not to with Bearman and Maloney. It helped keep him out of trouble which is something that he couldn’t do five years ago.
“When I started working with him at the beginning of the year, he’d matured a lot since 2017, he’d won a Championship already but he’s fighting every single year for a title. That experience has been helpful for him, and he’s been a lot more ready to fight for a Championship. Not all the sessions were nice this year, we had some hard times too. Victor showed that he’s resilient and he worked hard to correct the mistakes and to understand things he didn’t before.
“Race after race he became stronger and stronger. Even though he won his races earlier in the season, he was a much more complete driver at the end of it. He felt a lot more confident in the car and within the team, he was ready to perform at the top level.”