2023 could scarcely have gone worse for ART Grand Prix as the French outfit slumped to an eighth-place finish in the Teams’ Standings after the squad’s worst year in Formula 3 so far.

After the bright start in Bahrain with Grégoire Saucy following on from the strong testing form, the season gradually fell off the rails. Rookie teammate Nikola Tsolov and Kaylen Frederick were involved in their own incidents as they tried to notch up points, but ‘silly mistakes’ from drivers and team cost ART the most according to Team Principal, Sébastien Philippe.

“We were not where we were hoping to be, but I think we were much stronger than what we look,” he surmised. “We have been missing a lot of opportunities this year through stupid mistakes. We’ve had a lot of performance on three occasions in 2023 in Red Bull Ring, Bahrain and Australia where we should have been strong but this season, we faced a lot of tricky situations mainly in Qualifying.

“One time it was a damp circuit, one time it was fully wet, one time it wasn’t resumed in Monza. I think we didn’t see the correct picture in terms of performance of everybody. At the end of the day, it’s our mistakes and when I say our mistakes, I mean the team and the drivers. When you miss that Qualifying performance, it’s almost game over. So, all in all, there’s a lot of frustration because we should have been able to do much better than what we have done, but that’s the way it is and that’s it.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Saucy had been a top contender during testing, near or at the very top of the timing sheets on each of the days in Sakhir during pre-season. He carried that form on in the opening weekend of the campaign, and he added a P2 finish in Melbourne to his ’23 record along with an additional fastest lap point.

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Monaco proved to be the final bright spot of the year for him, with a podium in the Sprint Race leaving him second in the Drivers’ Championship, just 17 points from leader Gabriel Bortoleto. Just three points finishes followed in the remaining races as poor fortune and errors derailed the Swiss driver’s season.

There was a pole at the Red Bull Ring, though he fell out of contention for victory after sustaining a puncture. It didn’t get much better from there on, but results disguised his true level in 2023.

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“I think Grégoire was very strong,” Philippe says. “Not always, but almost always. It’s just that we were facing a situation where we haven’t been capable of showing it, especially in Qualifying. You don’t get a good qualifying and a start in the top 12, then the weekend is over. I’m not going to go race by race but in Spa we were fighting for P3 until the last moments but didn’t get a final lap and that was that. Hungaroring was pretty much the same situation where the track was damp at the beginning, and we had to do the lap on the very last one and we didn’t do it. All in all, it’s more about racecraft where we haven’t been very smart than a matter of performance.

“For sure, there is some improvements to make. Red Bull Ring he was on pole, but he had to retire from a puncture. He had something like six punctures this year, so when you’re not able to do a proper race or proper Qualifying, no matter the level of performance you have, it’s not going to work out. At the end of the day, we finished very far off but I’m 100% sure that in terms of performance, we were much better than that.”

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Another bright spot in what a tricky year for ART was rookie Tsolov, who at 16 years, 77 days old, became the youngest FIA F3 driver in Championship history. The Bulgarian had to wait until Round 8 but he was finally a points scorer, securing seventh position in the Spa-Francorchamps Sprint Race. For Philippe, his development was hugely impressive even if the results didn’t show the full story.

“One thing I was quite pleased with, even if we were not able to show it, was for Nikola Tsolov. I think the step was huge, massive for him. Coming from Spanish F4 with not a lot of mileage and not a lot of experience, it was really tricky to start the season like that. He’s improved massively across the year even if the results weren’t there. I was happy to see how he grew within the team, so I’m pleased with that.

“After that, there’s not a lot of positives to take from this year. The season went very quickly. There were a lot of races in the summer, so we need to learn from it on a lot of different topics. But the issues are not solely related to a lack of performance, there’s a lot of things that we know we need to correct for next year. It’s a tough Championship with a lot of competitors and you have to be opportunistic and maximise every single lap you’re doing.

“If there’s one thing that I’m maybe not happy with but confident in, is that Nikola improved a lot over the season compared to where we started with him.”

From fielding the Drivers’ Champion in 2022 to having its worst year in 2023, Phillipe is confident that ART Grand Prix will absolutely bounce back next season. The team’s title-winning pedigree will not have been lost overnight, nor will the team sit through the winter expecting to be back up the sharp end without any hard work.

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The motivation, preparation and desire to return to winning ways remain the same according to Team Principal Philippe, who says that recovering the lost performance this year will restore them to deserved results.

“It’s tough because we’re not there to finish where we did this year. It’s less tough than when you’re facing a big lack of performance, which wasn’t the case this year. For sure we were missing some performance, I’m not saying that we were super quick, but we deserved much better than what we did, so it’s frustrating. But that’s part of the game so it’s the way it is and that’s it.

“I would like to say motivation is the same because no matter the result you do the year before, at ART, the philosophy of the team is to extract the very best from every area. We are competitors so I don’t think this year changes much except that this year was very bad and there is a lot of frustration, especially when you think you can do better.

“The motivation for next year is very high but it’s always very high. I think the day we can’t be motivated for that is the day I need to stop. So, our motivation isn’t just related to bouncing back from this year.”