How a red-flagged race determined F3 champion Martins' destiny

Leading from the start of the 2022 FIA Formula 3 season, Victor Martins sat a champion in waiting as a red-flagged race decided his destiny. Much like the way he was crowned, it hasn’t always been straightforward for the determined Frenchman

How a red-flagged race determined F3 champion Martins' destiny

Sitting on the pitwall at Monza after the season finale feature race was red-flagged, the stress was visible on Victor Martins’ face. Having lined up fourth, the title was within his reach, with fellow contenders Zane Maloney and Oliver Bearman running ahead of him. All the 21-year-old needed to do was finish where he had started.

But then the race was halted, never to be resumed after a clash exiting the second Lesmo involving Kush Maini and Brad Benavides, and his future hung in the balance as it took almost 30 minutes to decide his fate. Things only went from bad to worse for the ART driver when he was handed a five-second penalty, having previously been waved the black and white flag for exceeding track limits on lap seven.

When fourth-placed Jenzer driver William Alatalo was also awarded a five-second penalty, Martins was promoted back to the fourth place he needed to secure the title, bringing a confusing end to a thrilling season in which seven drivers had gone into the final weekend with a mathematical chance of the title. The relief was clear to see for the Frenchman, who described the events as “just crazy.”

“The key was just to stay out of trouble, and we could see that [on Friday]. I made contact with [Arthur] Leclerc, so I wasn’t putting myself into good condition and momentum for [Sunday],” he said. “I was doing a great race, the approach of the feature race was the right one, just waiting for the others to do mistakes. I knew that if I finished third, that was good enough. The team was behind me, they were giving me the right information on the championship, how to push and take risks.

“What happened in the end with the safety car then the red flag and the penalties, it was too much. Too many emotions and too intense to relive everything in the moment. Sometimes I was seeing myself as a champion, then maybe not. Finally, it’s done.”

That rollercoaster of emotions was symbolic not just of the 2022 season, but of much of Martins’ career.

Having joined the Alpine Academy aged just 17, he was dropped at the end of the 2019 season after losing the Formula Renault Eurocup title to team-mate Oscar Piastri by just 7.5 points. It was a devastating blow for Martins, but he bounced back to win the title the following year and was welcomed back into the fold. He then moved up to F3 in 2021 with MP Motorsport, scoring one win and six podiums in his rookie season.

Martins clinched the F3 title in unusual fashion on the ART pitwall during a red flag at Monza, with the race not restarted

Martins clinched the F3 title in unusual fashion on the ART pitwall during a red flag at Monza, with the race not restarted

Photo by: Dutch Photo Agency

Joining ART this year, Martins led from the start of the season, putting in some impressive performances in Bahrain and Spain to clinch feature race victories. Though he suffered some mid-season difficulties, failing to win a race post-Barcelona and briefly losing the lead in the standings to Isack Hadjar, he was back on top after finishing second in the Zandvoort feature race, before sealing the title at Monza.

Just like Piastri in 2020, when the Australian took the F3 title in his rookie season with Prema, Martins failed to take a single pole position during the campaign – something he puts down to bad luck, but says doesn’t bother him.

Martins has mixed feelings about the way the title was won, much like Bearman, who fancied his chances if the final race had been restarted, and series CEO Bruno Michel, who told journalists it was “never good to end a championship like that”. Though he says that “whatever happens, I’ve got [the title],” Martins still believes his track limits penalty was unfair and maintains that he was unaware of any infringements because the team were told “very late, too late” about any violations. But the title has been won, and he won't be pursuing the FIA for answers.

"If I had lost this championship, I don’t know how it would have been, but I’m sure I would have faced the world and become stronger" Victor Martins

Martins believes the turmoil in his past makes his 2022 success even sweeter, and said it’s “even better compared to if I had an easy way to the title”.

“Like I’ve said in the past, I’ve been through a lot of things, a lot of torment also on my side where I had many doubts, where I wasn’t doing the right job, I was losing some championships for nothing,” he explained. “If I had lost this championship, I don’t know how it would have been, but I’m sure I would have faced the world and become stronger.

“But I think to get it, it’s like I will trust differently how things went. Even if it’s not going your way, like today was to be honest, at some points I thought anyway it’s over, it’s done, I will not be the champion, and to get it is making me hope for a better future and maybe an easier one.

“I want to say to myself even if it is hard, I will go around the corner, around the issue, around the problem like I have done in the past and for sure it feels amazing to get it.”

Though he led from the offset, Martins by no means takes the title for granted, especially given his struggles at rounds including Budapest, where he finished sixth and tenth, and Spa where he failed to score after a difficult qualifying that compromised both races.

Martins led the standings from the first round, then was briefly overtaken by star rookie Hadjar, but got the job done at Monza to see off Maloney and Bearman

Martins led the standings from the first round, then was briefly overtaken by star rookie Hadjar, but got the job done at Monza to see off Maloney and Bearman

Photo by: Dutch Photo Agency

He added: “It means a lot. I have been fighting for the championship even last year, I’ve been working for two years to reach it. I knew last year, I was in my rookie season with MP Motorsport, I knew we had to work a lot to get to the top, we did a good job and got some consistency.

“And then this year with ART, I knew I had the car and knew I had the consistency and team behind me and potential to do it. It was all about staying consistent and staying confident, even if it’s not going well a bit like we did in Budapest and Spa. I was a bit on the managing side and then for the last two rounds I said I needed to give it all, just push, do not think about the championship and that’s how it’s ended.

“Even my career when I look at it, it’s always been quite on the edge every time, but I never give up, always trust in myself and the people around me. I’d say that I’m becoming stronger and stronger every year. I can also say to myself I’m ready to fight for another championship like that and go all the way to the end.”

One person in Martins’ thoughts after clinching the title was his late friend Anthoine Hubert, the GP3 champion in 2018 with ART. A fellow Alpine Academy member, he had worked closely with Martins before his tragic death at Spa in 2019 while racing in Formula 2. Martins sports Hubert’s AH19 logo on his helmet and wants to continue his friend’s passion.

“I knew him for years, I had been working with him at Renault at the time,” he said. “We had been doing training camps in Enstone, also in France.

“After what happened in Spa… I had just spent seven days with him, I was sleeping in the same room as him, we were cycling together, I was spending a lot of time with him. I could see the professionalism of Anthoine and he was dedicated to motorsport, and I knew he didn’t have the easy way to go to F1.

“I remember when he won the GP3 title, he could not move to a top team [in F2] and to have the chance to show his full potential. He was actually doing really, really well with the team he was with [Arden].

“I want to keep that, his passion for the sport. He was always smiling even when things were not good. I really wanted to cross that finish line and show on the camera I did it for him. I don’t want to show it to anybody, I just want to do it for him.”

Martins wants to continue the path trodden by friend and compatriot Hubert, who died in 2019

Martins wants to continue the path trodden by friend and compatriot Hubert, who died in 2019

Photo by: Dutch Photo Agency

With the F3 title done and dusted, Martins is looking to step up to F2 next year, and feels he is fully prepared for the challenge having “done what he had to do this year”. He continues his path up the single-seater pyramid with Alpine’s backing, and has faith that it will put him in the right team for his next campaign.

“I believe in myself and fully believed in ART this year,” he said. “So, I will hope to be in F2, and I know I could have the chance to do great things there and try to continue my way to Formula 1. I believe that I will be there one day.

"I was a bit on the managing side and then for the last two rounds I said I needed to give it all, just push, do not think about the championship and that’s how it’s ended" Victor Martins

“From now on, I just want to celebrate, rest. Like I said, Alpine is behind me and have supported me for five years and they’ve put me every time in the right category in the right team with the right people. My personal management have also believed in me since the beginning and I think they will even more after this title. I’m in a good position to go into F2 and hope for a bright future.”

As Martins knows, it is not hope which wins titles, but speed and application – and he’s already proven to have plenty of that. Whichever team he joins for his maiden F2 campaign, his F3 experience, however up and down it may have been, will stand him in good stead.

Martins is eyeing a step up to F2 for next season with the backing of Alpine

Martins is eyeing a step up to F2 for next season with the backing of Alpine

Photo by: Jason Vian

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