There’s no doubt about it, Victor Martins is hungrier than ever for glory. Seizing the lead of the Drivers’ Championship all the way back at the opening round in Sakhir, the ART Grand Prix driver has no intention of surrendering it as the 2022 Formula 3 season edges ever closer to its conclusion.
With two wins and three podiums to his name, Martins remains at the top of the standings on 98 points heading into a potentially decisive sixth round in Budapest. Despite sitting pretty at the top of the table, the momentum has shifted somewhat away from the Frenchman and towards his rivals, as his advantage hasn’t extended beyond six points all season long.
Candidly reflecting on what has already been an action-packed first half, Martins is convinced that things are heading in the right direction but admits he hasn’t quite put all the pieces together yet.
“I think the season so far has been good to be honest because when you are leading, it means you have done good things at some point,” he began. “For sure, maybe we didn’t maximise everything, especially in the Sprint Race in Bahrain or in Barcelona with the issue that we had. In the end, I think when we are on track without any problems or when I do the job that I need to do, the pace is clearly there.
“We can fight for wins every time and even pole position in Barcelona was almost there. There are just a few things that maybe we should do differently. I think there are plenty of improvements that we can do and it’s going in the right way for the middle and end of the season.”
Although Martins has remained consistent with two podiums in as many rounds, it’s Isack Hadjar who has stolen the show as of late. The Hitech Grand Prix driver has dragged himself into title contention with victory in the Silverstone Sprint and Spielberg Feature Races, beating out his compatriot on both occasions. PREMA Racing’s Arthur Leclerc has shaken off his Qualifying troubles and took his first win of the campaign in the second Silverstone race to give Martins even more to think about.
Seven points separate the trio, with only a point standing between the two French drivers. Yet Martins’ early advantage hasn’t come without hiccups along the way and even a Championship leader isn’t immune from mistakes. Two errors remain at the forefront of his mind – the Sakhir Sprint and Imola Feature races.
Committing the cardinal sin of colliding with his teammate Grégoire Saucy whilst squabbling over eighth was not the way he would have wanted to start his second F3 campaign in Bahrain before redeeming himself with victory the following day. Next time out in Italy, slippery conditions left the win ripe for the taking, with Martins lining up sixth on the grid. However, a mistake on the opening lap sent him tumbling down to last, which he eventually recovered to finish 11th.
Many young drivers over the years have been weighed down by the burden of what-ifs, but it’s testament to Martins’ maturity and the journey of growth he’s gone through over the past year and a half how he both refuses to be saddled with regret and become complacent in the midst of success.
“I just spun in the tricky track conditions with the slick tyres in the wet at the opening chicane. The mistake was something that can happen, but it’s something easy not to do. It’s not one where I made a mistake and then ask myself many questions, I just went out and said, ‘forget it’. It’s a simple mistake, one that many drivers can make, but it cost us many points.
“The first race in Bahrain was more frustrating, but I know in the end that maybe it was good that it happened there. We could reset, talk to each other with my teammates and see what was wrong, what we don’t need to do and then we’re good for the rest of the season. Sometimes you need something bad to happen, then good things will happen in the future.
“The win in the Feature Race, just to come back after the incident I had - the crash with my teammate, which was clearly not the best thing to happen there at the first race of the season. But then we managed to go back, get it right the next day to come back after the bad decision from me. It was the best way to comeback to face the world which is in front of you. It gave me confidence and serenity for Round 2 and even now.
“When you want to get the title and to be at this level, you need to ask yourself questions every time if you could have done better. Even when it’s good, you need to review the weekend – why you have done well, when, where you were a bit weaker, to keep doing what working well and to learn from the mistakes you have made.
“When things aren’t going my way, I’ve been working on how to come back and just control my emotions in the car – how to control them quite quickly to then take the best decisions in the moment. Many situations from the beginning of the season I’ve done differently in a good way than how I would have done last year.
“For example, the mid-season tests didn’t go very well. We were quite far off the pace, I wasn’t driving really, really well. So straight from Barcelona Practice, I wanted to be there in order to learn from what I saw in the tests and then deliver on the track. When I saw that I had the pace right away and I was P1, to be honest I said to myself “forget the weekend, it’s done. You have the confidence; you know that you are quick. You just need to stay calm and work with the team towards reaching the goals that are needed every time you’re on track.”
Competing in the highly competitive environment on the Road to F1, Martins isn’t naïve about what’s at stake. Fighting for the title and the potential to reign supreme when the chequered flag is waved for the final time in Monza could open doors for him to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Dennis Hauger and Oscar Piastri up to Formula 2.
Whilst the pressure builds from the outside, Martins remains frank in his outlook. Shutting out the noise, his sole focus remains on bringing home the title and he’s very familiar with the mentality it takes to win and the resolve needed to bounce back after defeat. After missing out on the 2019 Formula Renault Eurocup title, he was dropped from the then-Renault Sport Academy. Determined to find redemption, he fought off the likes of Caio Collet and Franco Colapinto to be crowned 2020 Champion by 44 points and regained his spot in the Alpine Academy.
His rookie F3 campaign with MP Motorsport proved to be a school of hard knocks. A positive beginning with three podiums across the first two rounds in Barcelona and Le Castellet failed to translate into glory, and he ended the year 74 points adrift of Hauger in fifth.
“Frustration is still the biggest thing I need to work on. When I make a mistake, I always want to learn from it and improve, but sometimes I’m maybe a bit too hard on myself. At some point, it can maybe affect the rest of my weekend, the session after, my mood or my mindset. I would say that even though I’ve made a huge step forward in dealing with it. I have the right people alongside me at ART and Alpine, they give me a lot of support and I can be fully open and honest when I talk to them so they can help me with that.
“You just have to accept things. Sometimes you can’t do anything or maybe you need to say “okay, I made a mistake but maybe it was not my day”. It doesn’t need to kill you and after the mistake in Imola I said, “mistakes can happen, it’s not because I’m bad”.
Last year, Hungary formed the backbone of his disastrous mid-season where he failed to score for five consecutive races. Now the French racer returns to the Hungaroring a different man. Impatient to see who his main rivals are, Martins has no doubt he can see his fight through this time around but recognises fortunes can swiftly change and there’s plenty to still be played for.
“In the end, we all have this question if we see ourselves in the title fight or not. I know that I’m doing another year in F3 to win it, I would be lying if I said I didn’t see myself in the title fight, but I try as much as possible not to think about it. I just do my job when it’s needed and take everything step by step. You have to start well from Practice and then build up towards the end of the weekend.
“I try not to put any pressure on myself and to not have any doubts, even if you always have, or to have the least possible heading into every Practice, Qualifying and race with all my assets and say to myself that I will do the job anyways. Even if something bad happens, it will not change the end result – which is to take the title!
“It’s always hard to bounce back when races are in a row like this. I’m sure after Budapest we will have a clear view of the Championship, but I’m excited to see it because we will soon know who is where and who you will be fighting with for the title.”