After clinching the FIA Formula 3 Championship at Autodromo Nazionale Monza in 2022, Alpine Academy driver Victor Martins (ART Grand Prix) took the next step on the road to Formula 1 to compete in FIA Formula 2. With one race left in the 2023 season, Victor sits fifth in the standings with 131 points in his rookie campaign.
We sat down with the Frenchman to discuss the differences between FIA Formula 3 and FIA Formula 2, how much he has grown since the start of the 2023 season and what he has learned the most across an impressive year to date.
What is the biggest difference between driving in Formula 3 and Formula 2?
I will say that the preparation is the biggest difference. Every time you get in the car in Formula 2 you need to know a lot more in comparison to Formula 3. The warm-up procedure, the preparation of the tyres and the brakes. The way to drive the car is not completely different but you also need to know the key points of the car – where the car is efficient and where it’s not. You understand and adapt to the car in relation to the current conditions. In Formula 2 the car is also heavier than Formula 3, there is a lot more power that can be difficult to manage.
Did you feel additional pressure and expectations when moving up to Formula 2?
Not so much. Because I am a rookie, I had some expectations but maybe not as much as a second-year driver would have. I know this is the step before Formula 1 but it is still a step where I have the chance to learn a lot and you need some time to do that. You have new things to manage that you didn’t have before like the two new tyre compounds and mandatory pit stops. I was open-minded about what I needed to improve but didn't feel extra pressure. Of course, I have the pressure to perform but that’s coming from my own personal goals, not from outside.
Were there any differences that surprised you when you started in Formula 2?
The way to manage the races, especially mentally as they are longer than in Formula 3. The Feature Race is quite long so you need to change your approach quite a bit. It’s not like you do the start and just full push until the end. You have to manage and adapt with the balance of the car that you have, the degradation of the tyres and every time you go out you need to re-evaluate the situation. If you don’t, you might make a mistake whether at the beginning or at the end of the race. This is quite interesting to experience and it’s a bit different compared to Formula 3.
Have there been any differences in your driving technique between the F3/F2 cars?
We have quite a lot of downforce so in high-speed corners there is quite a lot of grip but the car is still heavy. In low and medium-speed corners the car is heavy so sometimes it can feel a bit lazy , as we say in racing terms. We of course have the 18-inch tyres so sometimes it can work a bit differently with the warm-up. On the driving side, it’s not that different, what changes is the tyre, and the carbon brakes which can change the approach of the corners and the way to manage them throughout a race or Qualifying. The driving is still the same, you need to push and get through Qualifying and that’s it.
How do you approach tyre management during races, and how has this aspect of racing evolved from your Formula 3 days?
It’s a different approach, the preparation is different. With the team, I try to be as prepared as possible, even compared to Formula 3. In Formula 2 it also depends a lot on the weather conditions, just to see how the tyres will behave and how you need to manage them for a race. It’s more in the moment to decide what you’re doing with the tyres because it can change from one day to another, it’s a sensitive situation. You really need to re-evaluate every time you go out on track.
What was the preparation like for completing mandatory pit stops in Formula 2?
This was quite new to me! It’s the first year I’m doing mandatory pit stops, so I had to get used to the process. The first preparation is just to practice them at the beginning of the year; even last year for the post-season test we were doing some just to practice how quickly you need to arrive, and how clean and precise you need to be for the mechanics. Of course, we have this preparation but, in the end, it is both easy and difficult all at the same time. The position needs to be really good, so we have a debrief every weekend to discuss what I did well and what needs improvement. It’s just a process to get used to.
Has your understanding of engineering evolved since moving up to Formula 2?
To a certain extent yes but I wouldn’t say it has been a huge step up. Every year I learn more and more about the engineering of the car and what we do with our engineers. It’s just a normal progression, another step forward in what I know and understand about the car through learning from the team and knowing the procedures: how to set up the car, how to use the car and how to maximise everything. It is a process of developing your knowledge further at each stage on the road to Formula 1.
How did you prepare yourself mentally and physically for the increased competition and the higher level of racing?
I prepare physically and mentally before every race and of course during the winter break. That’s your base for the whole year, when you prepare during the winter, because sometimes during the season you don’t have that much time between races so you can’t physically get a lot better. Then it is just maintaining your fitness throughout the season, specifically areas like the neck, shoulders, arms, your core and of course cardio because you are in the car for a while and it’s very physical. I do a lot of sports when I get the chance in my spare time, and I also work with someone on the mental preparation. I put a lot of importance on that aspect of preparation because I believe 70% of the performance is in the mind. Getting your emotions in the right place at the right moment is a key ingredient to success. I work on that all the time, every year, every winter, just to arrive at each race confident and ready.
How does training and nutrition differ away from the circuit?
I look after what I eat but I don’t have a specific diet, I know what is good and not good to eat. I’ve seen some people in the past for nutrition, so I’ve learned quite a bit from them and now I work on it with my trainer. I think we’re old enough now to know what is good and what is bad for us! Between every race I train hard, I look after what I eat and when it comes to the race, I care even more about what I eat and drink. During the race I don’t have a specific diet, but my physio is there so he’s telling me what to eat and drink in order to be ready.
Did your recovery and recharge between races change from F3 to F2?
Yes, definitely. It’s about the simple things. The recovery comes from your diet, what you eat, how you sleep, if you hydrate yourself well. I put a lot of importance on those three: eat well, drink a lot, and sleep well to recover. Other things I don't do as regularly because sometimes I’m not in the right place to do them or I don’t have the option to do them when I’m far from home. Sometimes you just need to focus on those things you can manage easily and those other things we manage with Alpine and the advice they give us.
How do you handle the logistics of travelling to different countries and adapting to different time zones during a busy race season?
If I’m honest it’s not that bad at the moment. We aren’t travelling from one side of the world to the other in Formula 2 so it’s manageable. We have Australia of course, which can be a bit difficult because of the time difference. There are Bahrain, Jeddah, Azerbaijan and Abu Dhabi which are all 2-3 hours difference, but the rest are all European. I manage the logistics with my brother, who is a bit like my daily manager. With Alpine and my trainer, we manage the time zones changes but for the moment it isn’t that bad – it isn’t until you are in Formula 1 that it becomes more difficult to manage in regard to big time zone changes.
Keep an eye out for Victor Martins in the final round of the 2023 FIA Formula 2 Championship at Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi (23 - 25 November 2023).