Far from the suspense of last season, Max Verstappen is heading straight for a second Formula 1 world championship title. The Dutchman could even be crowned at the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday 2 October. But it is another uncertainty that agitates the paddocks. Who will drive alongside Esteban Ocon at Alpine in 2023?
The second seat of the French team has aroused controversy and envy for weeks. It all started with the decision of veteran Fernando Alonso, who chose to join Aston Martin. Taken aback, Alpine offered the vacant spot to a driver from its academy, Oscar Piastri, but the Australian slammed the door in the face of the French manufacturer to join McLaren.
If this incredible episode is about to know its outcome – Alpine should soon announce the lucky winner – it allows to highlight the system of academies for young pilots. Through these structures, sort of training centers, the big teams like Ferrari, Red Bull or Alpine rely on talents that they predestine to perhaps one day lead in F1.
At 21, Victor Martins is not yet part of the shortlist to win the Holy Grail, even if he is one of the most promising talents of the Alpine academy. On September 11, on the Monza circuit, the Frenchman won the title of Formula 3 world champion. His third personal coronation, since he had already been junior world karting champion in 2016 and winner of the Formula Renault Eurocup in 2020.
F1? It is necessarily a goal but not for now. “After my title, the media did not hesitate to tell me: ‘It’s good, are you going to take the place at Alpine?’ I answered immediately: “Not at all”, says Victor Martins. I’m not even in the names of the prospective pilots. »
“I feel that I am ready for a lot of things”
Don’t see any lack of ambition there. His turn just hasn’t come yet. “If they put me in the bucket, I go straight there. I feel like I’m ready for a lothe adds. For the experience, I think it’s better to go through Formula 2 first. » Alpine has organized tests in Hungary, in particular with the Dutchman Nyck de Vries, reserve pilot at Mercedes, and another pilot from his academy, the Australian Jack Doohan, 5e of the F2 championship. But the favorite of the French manufacturer remains Pierre Gasly, who is under contract with Alpha Tauri in F1, a team partner of Red Bull.
“In F2, I want to impress. And I’m ideally aiming for F1 in 2024,” says Victor Martins.
For his part, Victor Martins is in full negotiation to extend the adventure with the ART team. Which doesn’t prevent him from keeping an eye on Alpine’s choice: “It would be lying to say that I’m not interested in it, that I’m not thinking about which driver would be the best for the rest of my career. But in the end, what counts is to have results because nothing will be possible without. »
On the Piastri case, which he knows well for having faced him for the title in 2019 in Formula Renault, he remains cautious: ” I do not know what happened. I don’t know the contract or its terms. » The young Frenchman develops his own vision of his relationship with his parent stable: “I feel very good with Alpine. I don’t see myself with another team. It is largely thanks to them that I continue to do this sport and hope to be in F1 one day. You have to be faithful on both sides. »
Although Piastri’s departure from McLaren will move him up a rank in Alpine’s internal hierarchy, his ambition rests on his own performance. And the pilot has a very precise idea of his route: “I spent time in the lower categories, I made the mistakes you have to make young, then I won. In F2, I want to impress. And I’m ideally aiming for F1 in 2024.”
Saluted by Luca de Meo in Monza
He is convinced of it: even if a confirmed driver like Gasly joins Alpine in 2023, good performances next season in the antechamber would open the doors to the premier category. “There’s no reason Alpine can’t find me a seat in another team to learn”predicts the young man.
In Monza, during his title, the CEO of Renault, the Italian Luca de Meo, came to greet him in person. “It’s important to know that you are fully supported by a good academy. Their vision is to take drivers and be able to take them to the highest level. »
Former French gymnastics champion at the age of 10, the young boy discovered competitive karts in 2011 during a trip to Portugal, thanks to the father of one of his comrades. Five years later, he is the youngest French junior world champion in the discipline. Two years later, he joined the Renault Academy.
In 2020, the relationship experiences a small hitch. Beaten by Piastri by seven points in the Formula Renault championship, he saw his status withdrawn by Alpine. The Frenchman bears no resentment. He draws his motivation there to take his revenge. He was crowned the following season and returned to the parent company in 2021. “I had made small mistakes. It was sportingly logical. But I knew that if I was titled, I was going to enter the academy again. I wanted to show that it was a bad decision.he describes.
“I think I’m on time”
Being a member of an academy, more than just financial support over several years, is the assurance of rubbing shoulders with the highest level and benefiting from cutting-edge structures and technologies. Like a young footballer who would have the chance to train with the pros. Victor Martins follows a physical preparation program thanks to Alpine coaches. He takes part in courses, works on a simulator and regularly travels to Enstone, the brand’s F1 factory.
“They try to get me to come on Grand Prix weekends. In the “ops room” [salle des opérations], I can follow the performance of the single-seaters live with the engineers… “, he details. During the Monaco Grand Prix in May, he even had access to the Alpine garage. At Monza, he was able to get to know the team’s mechanics.
Champion in F3, next season in F2, Victor Martins is convinced: “F1 is prepared years in advance. Such a project is being built. And I think I’m on time. » Believing in your destiny is the minimum when you claim to integrate a circle as elitist as Formula 1.