Theo Pourchaire has succeeded fellow Formula 1 reserve driver Felipe Drugovich in becoming Formula 2 champion - having officially wrapped up the 2023 title in the Abu Dhabi finale.
Like Drugovich, Pourchaire has taken the title in his third year in the category - and like for Drugovich, Pourchaire's title will not be immediately followed by an F1 graduation.
Pourchaire's benefactors at Sauber, which run the team that currently carries the Alfa Romeo name, have elected to keep him in the reserve driver role instead.
The 20-year-old is expected to pair that with a racing programme elsewhere in 2024, with Super Formula a frequently-mooted possibility.
"Super Formula is one opportunity, for sure," Alfa Romeo F1 team representative Alessandro Alunni Bravi said earlier this month of Pourchaire's 2024.
"You know, it's important for drivers in targeting Formula 1 to race in a single-seater category, if possible. And we know that Super Formula, together with Formula 2, is the closest feeder category with a good cornering speed. So of course, this is an opportunity, but we need to evaluate many, many other elements."
Driving for ART for a third successive year in F2, Pourchaire took over as this year's championship leader when main rival Frederik Vesti crashed on the way to the grid ahead of the feature race at Spa.
He'd pulled 25 points clear of Vesti heading into the Abu Dhabi finale - taking place nearly three months after the penultimate round at Monza.
An inspired drive by Vesti in the reversed-grid sprint reduced that advantage, but he still faced a massively uphill task to overhaul Pourchaire - and came up short despite overtaking his main title rival en route to an eventual third-place finish in the finale (secured in a last-lap battle with Red Bull protege Zane Maloney that sent the latter spinning across the track).
Pourchaire concluded the season with nine podiums - tied with ART team-mate Victor Martins (backed by Alpine) for most on the grid - but with just one of those podiums being a win.
The Race says...
You don’t have to go back too far to find a time Pourchaire looked destined for F1 and had made a massive impact on those paying attention to the junior categories.
When he won German F4 then burst onto the F3 scene and immediately finished second in 2020, having started that year still only 16 years old, Pourchaire had the world at his feet.
But he has not moved on enough from that early whirlwind to convince people he is the full package. And getting to F1 requires a lot more than sporadic displays of high quality – which is undoubtedly in Pourchaire’s locker.
He’s still only 20, so it would ludicrous to suggest he has peaked. It would also be churlish to say he does not deserve a chance in F1. If he had landed a seat for 2024, if Sauber had backed its own protege, nobody would be questioning the merit of it.
But there is a difference between a driver deserving a chance in F1 and a driver hammering down the door because they are so damn good they cannot be ignored.
Pourchaire has not, unfortunately, been able to brute-force his way onto anyone’s radar.
If the organisation that has supported him for several years does not think he is a better option than Zhou Guanyu – whether that be in terms of his driving ability, his capacity to improve, his mental skillset or whatever else – you would think a rival team who rates Pourchaire highly would sense a chance to swoop.
The fact that has not happened ultimately means Pourchaire just has not made a convincing enough case to anyone.
He joins the list of F2 champions who won the title by being the best of those who stuck around a little longer.
And as his predecessor Felipe Drugovich, who was actually a more convincing champion, has discovered, that’s just not been enough to command an F1 seat – immediately or longer-term.