With Sauber junior and new Formula 2 Champion Theo Pourchaire at a career crossroads, he admits his team cannot afford to give him the testing mileage that Oscar Piastri received in his year on the sidelines.
Pourchaire is one of the hottest young prospects on the racing scene, reaffirming that by becoming Formula 2 Champion on the final race weekend of the F2 and Formula 1 seasons in Abu Dhabi.
However, like Piastri discovered a few years back and even Felipe Drugovich last year, winning the F2 title is not a guaranteed pass into F1.
Theo Pourchaire says Sauber cannot afford test sessions
Additional reporting by Thomas Maher
After winning the F3 and F2 titles back-to-back, Piastri, then a part of the Alpine Academy, found himself without a seat in F1 2022, though Alpine integrated him into the F1 team as their test driver, while he also completed several private tests in old F1 machinery to ensure his development did not stall when he was not actively racing.
Pourchaire would love to follow a similar path with Sauber as he plots out where his career goes next, the team having decided to retain Zhou Guanyu, rather than give him his shot in F1 2024, but these private tests are not an option.
“At the moment, I don’t think anything is planned with Sauber to do some testing in an F1 car,” Pourchaire admitted to media including PlanetF1.com.
“Because also it costs a lot of money to the team, it’s really expensive to drive in F1.
“Of course, I would have loved to do some laps in an F1 car, private test, but it’s really really expensive, so I understand that the team cannot do that.”
As per the rules, Pourchaire, who will serve as Sauber’s F1 2024 reserve driver, is not permitted to return to F2 after winning the title.
Pourchaire though feels the need to be racing in another series in order to stay sharp and has set his sights on Japan’s Super Formula as the category he wants to compete in next.
“I think about Super Formula of course, because the car is close to F1, faster than a Formula 2 car and closer to an F1 car,” Pourchaire explained.
“So I think about this series, nothing is sure yet, I really hope I can drive there.”
Red Bull has put that series on the map as an ideal training ground for future F1 stars, Pierre Gasly having finished runner-up in the 2017 Super Formula Championship, Liam Lawson securing the same position in 2023 while putting himself on the F1 radar with a fine stint at AlphaTauri in the place of the injured Daniel Ricciardo.
And Lawson’s story has got the wheels turning in Pourchaire’s head for why Super Formula is the place to be.
“Lawson showed that it’s a great great category,” said Pourchaire, “because as soon as he was jumping in an F1 car, he was quick.
“He’s a great driver, I know him, but Super Formula is a really great car. Tracks are difficult, a track like Suzuka is really high-speed corners, narrow track, so it’s important to be confident and to trust the car, so that’s what F1 is about to me.
“That’s the biggest difference with F2, downforce is crazy in F1.
“Super Formula is Plan A, but as I said, nothing is sure yet and I’m in talks with some teams and with the Sauber Academy as well for the financial support.”
Without the cards falling into place in a major way like it did for Lawson, Pourchaire knows then that F1 2025 is his main target to finally make that breakthrough onto the grid.
Being snubbed for the past two F1 campaigns though has not dented his confidence, the Frenchman smelling opportunity with various driver contracts currently up at the end of F1 2024.
“I’m of course disappointed because my dream is to be an F1 driver, my biggest dream is to be a Formula 1 World Champion, but there’s no space for next year,” he said.
“It’s okay, I’m 20 years old, I’m super young, the team is helping me a lot, they’ve helped me since Formula 3, I’m confident I can have a seat in the future.
“At the end of the 2024 season, there will be a lot of drivers out of contract, so I will try to keep myself busy next year, show myself as much as possible.
“I’m a Formula 2 Champion now, so it’s different. Before that, I had no major titles in my career, so it changes a lot of things.”
It is exciting times at Sauber, as after the Alfa Romeo partnership concluded at the end of F1 2023, preparations are well underway for when they become the Audi works team from 2026.