Théo Pourchaire is only 17 but is already racing just one step below Formula 1, and has the backing of an academy, but he also has to be adept behind the desk as well as behind the wheel, as MotorsportWeek.com finds out.
Formula 1’s grid has become increasingly youthful but, with the exception of record-book-breaking Max Verstappen, not many drivers find themselves on the primary rung of the FIA’s single-seater ladder at just 17.
Pourchaire’s youth is such that he will be dovetailing his commitments in Formula 1’s feeder series with his school work in his native France.
“Yeah, it’s going to be difficult as with the Covid situation and everything some of the exams were cancelled in France,” relays Pourchaire.
“For me I will have to do those exams in June. So it’s going to be difficult, a difficult year between Formula 2, and the BAC [baccalauréat], as it is called in France. It’s the big exam at 17/18 years old, it’s an important year so I need to have the exam and a great season in Formula 2.”
Only nine months have passed since Sauber junior Pourchaire made his debut for ART Grand Prix in the FIA Formula 3 championship off the back of an impressive title in ADAC Formel 4. In spite of his inexperience Pourchaire emerged as a credible front-runner in a strong field. A win in only his fourth start at the Red Bull Ring was followed by an emphatic display in the wet of Hungary, storming to victory by 12 seconds.
Pourchaire did not win again but his remarkable consistency meant he developed as a title challenger in the quick-fire campaign, scoring in 15 of the 18 races. A mistake at Monza threatened to derail his prospects but he fought back from 17th to finish second. It was the sort of comeback that made the F1 paddock sit up and take note. Another double podium followed at an enthralling Mugello finale as Pourchaire missed out on the title to Oscar Piastri by just three points, having at one stage been 47 points adrift.
Pourchaire stepped up to Formula 2 with the struggling HWA Racelab team in Bahrain, making four appearances. For 2021 he has re-aligned with ART Grand Prix, which in Formula 2 ran George Russell and Nyck de Vries to titles in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
“We know ART for a long time, they had a lot of Formula 1 world champions in the past, it’s a great team,” says Pourchaire of his compatriot outfit.
Pourchaire insists he has not been set any targets by Sauber as he prepares to line up alongside several highly-rated F1-supported youngsters. They include Ferrari’s Robert Shwartzman, the Alpine trio of Christian Lundgaard (Pourchaire’s ART team-mate), Piastri and Guanyu Zhou, and Red Bull proteges Juri Vips and Liam Lawson.
“For sure as every racing driver I would like to win this year,” says an enthusiastic Pourchaire. “The 20 drivers on the grid want to win the championship. I have a good team. If I work a lot I can possibly win some races, I hope I will fight for the championship, but it is a big step up to Formula 2. I have a lot of things to learn. I don’t have any goals, nobody forced me to [set a target of a] win, podium or do a top five and that’s good. I’m still a rookie and really young, improving race-by-race is the aim.”
It is a very youthful overall field, with most of the expected front-runners born around the turn of the century. The presence of Pourchaire – who entered the world four days before Fernando Alonso’s maiden F1 win – has already been noted by his rivals, with Shwartzman labelling him a “talented young bloke”, but he certainly has time on his side.
“For sure I have more time than the other drivers because I am still really young, and I have a lot of things to learn and to improve in my driving, in my mental and physical aspect, to work on things if I want to fight for the title at the end,” he said.
“I know that a lot of people see me as a future F1 driver or something like that but for me I focus on myself on Formula 2, I’m just 17, I’m still at school.
“For sure it’s going to be difficult but I’m quite confident as well.”