Gymnast to F1 world champion? – Victor Martins opens up on road to Formula 1

Victor Martins became a French gymnastics champion at 10 years old and is on track to become a familiar name in the motorsport world

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Alain Prost remains the only Formula 1 champion from France, which is a surprise considering Grand Prix racing originated from the country.

Prost‘s fourth and final F1 title came in 1993, with no French driver coming close to the championship since.

Jean Alesi, Olivier Panis, Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon have all won one race but France has been missing a big superstar.

That could all change because Formula 2 drivers Theo Pourchaire and Victor Martins have impressed through the junior motorsport ranks in the last few years.

While Pourchaire is leading the F2 driver standings, results have not shown how talented Martins is after misfortune and some costly errors.

The 21-year-old’s rise has been remarkable, especially considering how late he started his motorsport career.

“I was doing gymnastics at around 12 years old and tried a go-kart in Portugal with a friend,” Martins exclusively told Total-Motorsport.com. “So I started go-karting in 2014 in France and that’s how it started.

“It was just a coincidence of doing gymnastics with a friend, who had a dad that was doing a bit of motorsport when he was younger. So, I started later than everyone else I would say!

“The 2014 season was my first year doing the French Championship and I got the results. I was supported by some people around me who told me the next step and it [my career] came from there.”

Joining the Renault Academy

Martins narrowly missed out on the 2017 French F4 Championship to Arthur Rougier by four points and stepped up to Formula Renault Eurocup with R-ace GP a year later.

In the same season, he joined the Renault Academy but had mixed results on his way to fifth in the championship.

MP Motorsport was the next team Martins drove for as he finished runner-up in his second Formula Renault Eurocup after finishing the campaign with a flourish, taking six consecutive pole positions and four wins from the last six races to be just 7.5 behinds Oscar Piastri.

New year, new team – ART this time – and Martins finally won the title at the third time of asking, as he had an impressive nine-race podium streak in the middle of the 2020 season.

“The biggest thing I learned was never giving up,” said Martins. “I was always fighting for the top step of the championship in every category.

Victor Martins in the field in the opening F3 race in Austria |Manfred Binder/GEPA pictures/Red Bull Content Pool

“Sometimes I made a mistake and maybe didn’t have the opportunity for the next year. Maybe I stepped up a bit faster in F3 or FRECA.

“I have always believed in myself and the people around in our team. Also my family to just wait [be patient] for the opportunities to come to me.

“A lot of things in myself always. I now accept whatever is happening, try and push everything to the limits.”

Formula Renault Eurocup champion to F3 champion

Martins was dropped from the Renault Academy at the end of 2019 but was re-signed by Alpine in 2021.

He made the move to F3 with MP Motorsport, showing great speed for a rookie in the early and latter stages of the season.

A smart racing head is needed to become a top racing driver and Martins began to show this quality towards the end of his teenage years.

“As a person I learned quite a lot of things with all the teammates I had in the Academy and then of course as a racing driver,” added Martins.

“I’m doing some simulator tests, I’m doing some some stuff with engineers, I can listen to the F1 drivers when I’m in Enstone.

Alpine junior Victor Martins on his way to second in the F2 Saudi Arabian Sprint Race for ART | XPB Images / Alpine F1 Team

“So they are there to support you on the sporting and personal side to grow as a person and racing driver. The biggest thing has been the support for me to drive and do what I love.”

In 2022, Martins was back with ART and came out on top in a high quality F3 field that contained Zane Maloney, Oliver Bearman and Isack Hadjar.

He only had two wins but drove with confidence to earn a place on the 2023 F2 grid, staying with ART.

What next for Martins?

Martins took a podium on his F2 debut in Bahrain and took an outstanding pole position in Jeddah a week later, arguably the most challenging track on the calendar, over six tenths of a second quicker than the rest of the field.

Mistakes, collisions and incidents in the Saudi Arabia feature race, plus the events in Melbourne and Baku have seen the 21-year-old’s championship hopes take a big hit.

But he’s shown a lot of promise and thinks he’s on the right track to go from a French gymnast champion to perhaps giving his country their first title challenge in F1 for three decades.

“The dream is to be in F1 and win the world title; I think any driver would say that and that’s the goal,” concluded Martins.

Nigel Chiu
Nigel Chiuhttps://total-motorsport.com/author/nigel-chiu/
Nigel Chiu is an NCTJ-qualified journalist who worked at Total-Motorsport for 18 months until May 2023. He has been following F1 since 2007 and hasn’t missed a Grand Prix weekend since. Nigel’s worked with several motorsport websites, plus Eurosport and subsequently went on to work with Sky Sports F1 where he travels to multiple F1 races each season.
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