F1 development deals "never help", says ART boss

ART Grand Prix boss Sebastien Philippe believes Formula 1 development driver deals can prove to be an unhelpful distraction for up-and-coming racers.

F1 development deals "never help", says ART boss
The ART Grand Prix team celebrate winning the 2016 GP3 Series team championship with drivers Charles Leclerc, ART Grand Prix; Nirei Fukuzumi, ART Grand Prix; Alexander Albon, ART Grand Prix and Nyck De Vries, ART Grand Prix
Nirei Fukuzumi, ART Grand Prix
George Russell, ART Grand Prix
Jack Aitken, ART Grand Prix
Nirei Fukuzumi, ART Grand Prix
Niko Kari, Arden International
Giuliano Alesi, Trident, with father Jean Alesi
Santino Ferrucci, DAMS

Philippe, whose ART team fields Mercedes F1 junior George Russell, Renault academy driver Jack Aitken and Honda motorsport protege Nirei Fukuzumi in GP3, as well as McLaren junior Nobuharu Matsushita in Formula 2, also managed Ferrari academy member Charles Leclerc on his way to the 2016 GP3 title with the French squad.

Although F1 development roles offer the chance to impress top-level squads, Philippe reckons the additional workload means young drivers sometimes struggle to stay focused on their primary targets in the junior categories.

Speaking to Motorsport.com, he said: “It never helps, to be honest.

“I now have quite a big experience of having drivers with F1 deals – Jack has his with Renault, George with Mercedes, I also have Fukuzumi with Honda [and] in the past I had Leclerc with Ferrari.

“I think it’s very difficult in their minds to manage this because as we all know their dream is to be in F1 and sometimes to be very close like this can be difficult to keep focused on the main thing, which is GP3 this year for [Russell, Aitken and Fukuzumi].

“It’s a hard job to make sure that their first priority is to win the title when you are also having a job in F1. I think it’s more something that could play against you than with you.”

When asked how he kept Leclerc, who made four F1 practice appearances for the Haas team in 2016, focused on his main goal for last season, Philippe explained that constant communication was key to his success.

He said: “I had hard work saying that to Charles and he did a perfect job, [as] we had a lot of discussions to make sure that he was keeping his focus in GP3.

“His goal of going into F1 could only [come] through a title in GP3 so I talked with him a lot and I will do the same with the others.”

ART has won the GP3 drivers’ and teams’ championships for the last two years and Russell topped the first pre-season test at Estoril.

Dorian Boccolacci went fastest for Trident at the next two tests at Barcelona and Valencia, but Philippe is confident of his team’s form heading to the first round of the GP3 season in Spain this weekend.

“I really don’t take too much importance for performance in testing because sometimes you see some drivers performing well in tests and after you don’t see them back during the season and others who don’t perform very well and are doing a good job afterwards,” he said.

“[My drivers] have learned and understood quite a lot and they are as optimistic as me for the first race.

“We used testing to learn each other and the different way of working the car and the Pirelli tyres, which are quite different from other categories.”

Alex Kalinauckas

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