Finishing fifth in the Drivers’ Championship wasn’t how Josep María Martí had imagined the season panning out at the mid-way point. Yet, the end result doesn’t tell the full story on a journey of personal growth for the Campos Racing driver.
Off the back of a frustrating rookie Formula 3 season, Martí knew it was all-or-nothing and there was no room to repeat the previous year’s errors. Rising to the occasion, he was vital to securing Campos’ best-ever result in the Championship with fourth, achieving three wins and a further podium finish.
“Going into this year, I knew it was going to be a make-or-break season in single-seaters,” the Spaniard admitted. “2022 wasn’t necessarily bad on pace, but it was bad on results so I knew that 2023 was the year that could make it or break it for me. In that sense, going into the season I had some pressure on myself.
“I was the only second year driver in the team this year and in that way, I had that extra weight on my shoulders to carry results. It was on me to build the team and build the results. It’s quite easy to see that we each made a step-up.”
After being the youngest in the Spanish team’s trio of rookies in 2022, it was naturally expected that Martí would take more of a leader role this year. Moulding himself into a more mature and resilient driver, the Red Bull Junior acknowledges that progress has been made, but that there always could have been more to find.
“I feel like I was a completely different driver in 2023 than I was in 2022, especially when it came down to the finer moments like Qualifying in the wet or drying conditions. Last year maybe I would have crumbled or made mistakes, I feel like this year I did a little bit better.
“I still have a lot of room for improvement, I think there was stuff this year that shouldn’t have happened, but I’ve grown from it. I know how to improve them and obviously, I will try my best to work ahead and become better to move on to the next level.
“I can’t be upset with how the season went. I wish that I would have done things differently in some races, but you always do. Overall, I’m really happy with how the season went. Maybe the result sometimes didn’t show it, but I feel like I was the quickest in the team always, which is really good because my teammates were solid drivers and people learnt throughout the year.”
One weekend that stung him hard, but ultimately ended on a positive was Melbourne. Pushing hard at the start of Qualifying, he crashed out and faced two P30 fightbacks. Nevertheless, his fighting spirit saw him go from P30 to P7 in the Feature Race – the most positions gained by a driver this season, and taught him that when shooting for the title, a driver can only usually risk one disappointing weekend.
“The moment when I grew the most in the season was Australia. It was such a hard time on the Friday and in the Sprint Race, I came close to the points. I gained 17 places and obviously you’re happy with it, but at the same time you know that doing a race like that, it’s going to be really difficult to win.
“Then we get to Sunday and Melbourne is known for being a track where normally it’s hard to overtake. To make up 23 positions in the end was such an achievement. After the race, my engineer came up to me and said ‘you’ve already wasted your bullet. You have one bullet that you can miss throughout the whole year, and you’ve used it up’.”
Taking that lesson to heart, Martí bounced back on home soil in Barcelona, putting together a weekend that has special place in his heart with the pole and Feature Race win. However, as a true racer, even in the highs of victory, he says he wasn’t fully satisfied.
“It’s certainly one of the highlights of my career. I’ve always said the biggest achievement of my career is getting signed by Red Bull and the second is the Grand Slam in Barcelona. I remember the sensation of the lap in Qualifying, knowing that it was all or nothing. I knew that I wanted that pole more than anyone else.
“To take it on Campos’ 25th anniversary and my first pole at home at such a crucial moment of the year was so rewarding for everyone in the team. Looking back at the race, I still could have done a little bit better. I won by four seconds, and I always say that I should have won by six, but you never know what situation you’re going to face so you always save something.”
Sitting second in the Standings after Barcelona, Martí became Gabriel Bortoleto’s closest rival for the title until two costly weekends in Spa-Francorchamps and Monza relegated him to fifth. Pointing to his speed from Round 4 onwards as a sign of his strength, he says he never underestimated the uphill that he was facing.
“To be honest, I knew that fighting for the title was going to be really hard because Bortoleto had a really big head start on everyone else with two wins. I didn’t think much of it, I wanted to do the best I could. I have to admit it was really frustrating racing against Gabriel because he didn’t put a foot wrong the whole year apart from Spa Qualifying and nobody could take advantage of his mistakes.
“Looking back, it probably was a Champion’s way, and he deserves it. For me, it was really gutting because I felt from the second half of the season I was the quickest driver. From Barcelona onwards, I think I was the fastest on the grid. I felt like in conditions whether it was wet or dry or on the medium, soft, or hard compounds, I was able to extract as much as I could from the car in many situations.”
Crucially, Martí believes his ability to make the most of the car stems back to the work done behind the scenes by Campos. Praising the Spanish squad’s work ethic, their drive to put in the effort needed to find every millisecond of pace possible has left an indelible mark on the 18-year-old, with him only wishing he could have rewarded them with even more success.
“The team has done a brilliant job, and we came fourth in the Standings, so that was such a jump from where we were and I’m really proud of them. Everybody’s worked hard to really deserve this, and I hope that they do even better next year. It only takes one person to bring the team up and I had a lot of them in my team around me that tried to build and improve every single day to make everything better, such as where could we scrub off time, but it always counts.
“A team that goes to those lengths and works so hard deserves results. In my opinion, they deserved more, at least four or five wins from me. Obviously, that didn’t happen, I didn’t do everything perfect throughout the year.”