Anonymity is a hard thing to achieve when you’re a racing driver in the premier motorsport series in the world. It’s a little easier when your career sees you shuffling between two backmarker teams without a single point to your name. With an average stint in Formula 1, a semi-decent junior career, and a retirement from motorsport in his mid-20s – it’s not the stuff of legend, and Charles Pic is often forgotten among the casual fans as having ever existed.
Being pointless, Charles is eligible for profiling on Grand Prix Rejects. He holds the coveted record of being overtaken more than any other driver in history over the course of a single season, and he never left Q1 in 39 races.
|Date of Birth||February 15th 1990|
|Teams||Marussia (2012), Caterham (2013)|
|Best Result||12th (Brazil 2012)|
The Man Himself: Early Years
Charles Pic is a hard man to track down. He has done an excellent job since leaving Formula 1 of keeping himself off social media or anywhere else online. He hasn’t done interviews or podcasts, and any video on YouTube dates back to his Caterham days or his brief time in Formula E. He hasn’t kept up a regular Twitter feed since 2018, and when he did, it was limited to one-sentence posts like “Looking forward to the race !” Any other accounts are near-silent.
He was born in southern France to Jean-Christophe and Delphine. His father is currently the president of the FNTR, the country’s largest transport and logistics company. With limitless income and Éric Bernard for a godfather, it was all-but-inevitable that Charles and his younger brother Arthur would find motoring careers in some way. However, it wasn’t until Charles was 13 that he began to kart at any kind of competitional level.
Starting at a later age, he and Arthur were fast-tracked into French and Italian karting championships, picking up the occasional trophy here and there. He made his debut at the formula level in 2006, becoming rookie of the year in the junior Formula Renault class. The following two years he competed simultaneously in various French and Eurocup Formula Renault series, where he scored two wins, with end-of-year rankings as third, fourth, and third respectively. Much of his competition were the cream of future French talent: the winner of the Eurocup series was none other than Jules Bianchi.
2008-2011: Fast-Tracking the Junior Ladder
Continuing up the order, he moved to Formula Renault 3.5 for 2008. With his financial backing, Charles joined the Tech 1 team which was no shabby outfit. His first and strongest win of the season came at Monaco, where he took his first pole position, fastest lap, and win in the series. On the strength of this performance, Charles was rookie of the year once more. Unfortunately, his season was derailed by a series of pointless finishes scattered throughout the mid-season.
For the following year, he was promoted up to the Renault Driver Development Programme alongside talents such as Romain Grosjean, as the new wave of French talent continued unabated. He even proved himself at Portimao with some well-placed passes against Jaime Alguersuari, who had just been promoted to Formula 1 a few weeks prior! Declaring that “my sole objective will be to win the title”, he finished in 3rd place overall in 2009. Far more consistent this time around, he was rewarded with a promotion up to the GP2 series.
Now Charles had reached Formula 1’s official feeder series. For the GP2 Asia series, which was run with four double-headers between the regular GP2 season, he took pole position and a win, but inconsistent point finishes meant there was no chance of the title. Strong qualifying sessions, such as in Abu Dhabi, were undone on raceday, Charles being overtaken left, right and centre. Fellow Renault development driver Davide Valsecchi, one of Pic’s challengers for a coveted Formula 1 seat, won the season.
These types of results continued well on into GP2. Incredibly, Charles went into Formula 1’s main feeder series of the time and won the opening round at Catalunya! This was followed by a failure to turn that promise into results; Pic failing to score a single other podium in the following nine races and managing only two points finishes. Indeed, a podium from pole at Hockenheim was the only other one of the season’s 20 races that saw Pic on the rostrum. He had potential, but lacked the consistent ability to reach the points-paying positions. At the very least he was comfortably stronger than his teammate Rodolfo González (28 points to 4 over the season), the Renault reserve driver whose star of the future potential was clearly on the wane.
In 2011 he left the Arden team and joined Barwa Addax alongside Dutchman Giedo van der Garde. A very disappointing stint at that off-season’s GP2 Asia Series season saw Charles score zero points for his effort in the four races. His second season in GP2 proper was much stronger than his first, however. At the second round in Catalunya, he defended his feature win from the previous season to lead a 1-2 for Barwa Addax. A sprint win at Monaco, three poles and another three podiums took him to 4th place overall, nearly doubling the previous year’s points total. At one brief point he was leading the championship after taking pole position for Round 7, before he threw it away with a double retirement in the two races. Most importantly, his year had seen him beat his teammate van der Garde by three points. A late season collapse notwithstanding, the Marussia F1 team believed he was ready to join their team for the new year.
Charles made his debut as a Formula 1 driver at the Young Driver’s Test following the 2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. With two days of testing under his belt, at Interlagos he was announced as Marussia’s new driver for the 2012 season, replacing Jérôme D’Ambrosio. Along with the news, former French race winner Olivier Panis was announced as his driver coach. Pic was surprised that he was the first Frenchman signed for a full season in some years, before even the GP2 series winner Romain Grosjean!
2012-2013: Two Pointless Seasons
2012 was not a strong year for Marussia or for Charles Pic. Over the course of the season, almost any finish saw the Frenchman end up far from the points, a then-best result of 12th at Brazil largely thanks to the two hours of wet weather carnage served up at Interlagos. Marussia had held high hopes for the coming season, as part- and windtunnel-sharing programmes with McLaren promised greater access to better equipment. Pic himself was quite apprehensive about this lack of testing experience for new F1 drivers:
“When you begin racing, you have so much stuff to do with the team to prepare for racing and travelling that you are just trying to maintain the level you reach at the end of the winter.”
In practice, Charles’ main job was to keep ahead of the HRTs, which aside from a few dud qualifying sessions, he was able to do. From Australia he was comfortably outqualified and outpaced by his teammate Timo Glock, who had more experience in the sport and at the team. It is not clear whether the two teammates got along, as there were many issues regarding blocking in qualifying, which more often than not failed and ruined both drivers’ hot-laps.
While Charles was regularly outpaced by the mild-mannered Glock, he was at least never slow enough that he was being threatened by the HRTs. He rarely made outright unforced errors, which allowed him to occasionally outpace Timo in qualifying. However, in races, such as at the Spanish Grand Prix, he did spin on the opening lap, and later would hold up the leaders and receive a drive-through penalty for his troubles. By Monaco the Marussias were no longer guaranteed to be faster than the HRTs, and their showings in race-trim were less than ideal. These were not the highest of hopes, and even then Charles was occasionally caught out as in Silverstone’s wet qualifying, where he was last on the grid and behind both his rivals.
By the summer break he seemed to be more on the pace, comfortably outpacing Glock over a race distance on occasion. Highlights saw Pic top FP2 at Spa, due to being one of the few drivers to set a time in the rain-soaked session. Lowlights saw him get a 25-second time penalty at Singapore after overtaking in red flag conditions in practice. The sheer number of engine blow-ups and technical faults on Pic’s car meant that by Korea he was forced to start taking grid penalties, which halted any possible progress he might make should any opportunities present themselves. This continued into Abu Dhabi, where more engine problems took him out of race contention. Being punted by Sergio Pérez in practice at the USA Grand Prix didn’t help matters either – Charles had to drive with floor damage for the rest of the weekend.
At the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend, Pic was able to extend his career by a year by signing for rival team Caterham. At that fateful race, he was running well enough to grab the coveted 10th place in the standings for Marussia, only for rival Vitaly Petrov to take the place a few laps from the end of the season for Caterham. The cynical among us, including Marussia’s own director of engineering at the time, accused Pic of purposefully letting his new team take the position and the points! Unsurprisingly, team and driver parted ways on rather poor terms
For 2013, Caterham were fielding an all-new lineup, with Pic driving alongside his 2011 GP2 teammate Giedo van der Garde. Heikki Kovalainen was unhappy with this state of affairs and contract negotiations failed to get off the ground. As the team still required his feedback and experience, they decided to hold onto the Finn as test driver, and as a result many of Pic’s FP1 sessions were taken from him.
With Marussia also having its own all-new line-up and HRT out of the picture, the two teams were neck-and-neck against one another for 10th place in the championship. Pic set his aim for 2013 as the year his team, presumably under his talents, would finally score its first points in Formula 1. This was not to be: the car never once escaped Q1 under his or van der Garde’s hands, and registered a big fat zero in the standings.
When placed alongside Giedo van der Garde, the difference in personality between the two drivers was suddenly very noticeable. While Glock was friendly and polite, Van der Garde was charismatic, eager to talk and tell anecdotes about his life, career, and was free to share opinions on anything and everything. Pic, on the other hand, would give shy, stock answers, always referring to the team, and his blessings for their good fortune in the way a business would want him to speak. This was no different in his native French either, where he would likewise act as a PR mouthpiece with vague, noncommittal answers to any and all questions. Perhaps, when he said that Kimi Räikkönen was his role model growing up, Charles was taking it too literally.
Pic didn’t necessarily prove his worth as opposed to his Dutch teammate, crashing out in Q1 at a rainy Melbourne, outside the 107% rule and again holding up the leaders during the race. He would find his way onto the cameras often for the wrong reasons, such as when he was unjustly hit by an unsafe Toro Rosso release at Sepang. Vergne ruined both of their races as a result. For a period after the opening rounds he was able to keep himself out of trouble, but never took advantage of a crazy race himself to take a potential point or two. For example, at Spa he was the only Caterham / Marussia driver who did not escape Q1 in a rainy session. Instead, he qualified last and stayed there.
By mid-season he was quite clearly comfortable in his Caterham and had the measure of van der Garde, though that appeared to be the limits of his talents behind the wheel. For Japan, he was given a ten-place grid penalty for speeding behind the safety car in Korea, and had his seat taken from him for FP1 by Kovalainen. His nightmare weekend continued when he drove through a red-light during qualifying and earned a drive-through penalty for the race proper. His final few races ended in anonymity and he found himself replaced by season end.
While Pic was initially faster, being more experienced by a year in Formula 1, van der Garde crept up in pace over the long term, and had the advantage by the second half. Charles was seen by his teammate as someone with the philosophy of always wanting to know tyre and brake temperatures at all times, especially in the era of Pirelli’s ‘eggshells’.
The perfect example of this was at Abu Dhabi. There, van der Garde was punted by an unmotivated Kimi Räikkönen and dropped to the back of the field on lap 1. With him climbing so quickly back up the field, Caterham had Pic move over to allow him to pass, against Pic’s wishes: “Giedo’s faster than you! Giedo’s faster than you!” Van der Garde then escaped Pic by almost 20 seconds over a stint, leading commentator Rob Wilson to state that “[Giedo] has clearly been the faster driver in the team.” Pic’s ‘multi-year contract’ in fact only lasted one year, and he was out the door shortly following season-end.
2014-2015: Final Years and an Early Retirement
In January 2014, Pic was officially dropped by Caterham, and a month later he was picked up by the Lotus F1 team as their reserve driver. His only outing, and indeed his last ever as an F1 driver, was in FP1 at the Italian Grand Prix in place of Grosjean. By coincidence van der Garde, also out of a seat that year, also made a return for Sauber that session.
This FP1 outing was only achieved, however, by legal action taken by Pic and his lawyers. Pic being with the understanding that his presence as reserve driver obliged him a certain number of practice sessions over the season, took the Lotus team to a Belgian court, which forced them to rectify the situation before they were allowed to leave the Spa-Francorchamps weekend. He got the practice session he wanted and a handy payoff, but one wonders whether the legal action burned the last bridge Pic had to staying in Formula 1. One also wonders if that’s where Giedo van der Garde got the inspiration to do the same the following year at Melbourne in his fight with Sauber!
With him not being a part of the F1 grid, Pic then jumped at the opportunity to be part of the brand-new Formula E championship. Striking up a relationship with the Andretti team, he joined them for the inaugural round in Beijing, where he finished 4th after Nico Prost took out winless Nick Heidfeld at the death. Pic had “jumped” into the car quite literally in fact, as with no pre-season testing under his belt, he only had one day to get accustomed to the series.
Andretti replaced Pic for the second round, and Charles had to look around again for further roles. He next scored a gig with China Racing at the Miami ePrix the following February. In a four-race stint, he only scored an eighth as his best finish, with his final race at the Berlin ePrix in May. Interestingly, while Jaime Alguersuari’s rather public retirement took headlines a few weeks later, Pic had already hung up the racing gloves after the previous round. There was no announcement, and no statement from him about his intentions – he simply retired and went into business. He walked into a ‘management role’ at a French ‘logistics company’ and has been there ever since as far as we know.
And so ends the rather anonymous tale of Charles Pic. It was only in February 2022 when the Frenchman came out of the woodwork for the first time in seven years. It arose in the news that he had taken over the management of the DAMS team from the Driot brothers, who have been family friends of the Pics for many decades. The passing of the senior Jean-Paul Driot has left the Formula 2 team in limbo, and one wonders what its future holds in the hands of someone like Charles Pic. Perhaps the story is not yet over after all.
Pic is a typical example of a modern pay driver, flush with family cash, who managed to worm his way into the top line of motor-racing. With a basic amount of ability and a talent for PR speak, he had personal sponsorship from his own family, which in his case was bottomless. This opened many doors for Charles, and is what has led to the strangely formulaic career trajectory he took. He visited each series for two years before moving upward when momentum began to wane. The stability of his income meant that he could pick and choose his future, and for as long as he moved, he never struggled to find a seat.
Throughout his career, especially in Formula 1, he deliberately set his ambitions publicly on winning the world championship, even when he was doing innocuous interviews for the Marussia and Caterham teams. Although it was meant as a humorous comment each time, Pic never denied that his desire was to win races and championships, even if he was incapable of doing it at the time. Admirable prospects, but impossible to achieve when reality began to kick in at Marussia and Caterham, where he had to fight tooth and nail for 18th place.
Part of Pic’s legacy is that he only ever performed on days when the spotlight was not on him. On almost any weekend in which he could take advantage of terrible weather or timely safety cars, it was more often than not him in the wall during qualifying or the race, while the races he kept out of trouble were the days he brought home finishes. From that, there was little in the way of contemporary commentary on Pic. Even in the retrospect of research, he received mostly cursory mentions from F1 news sites during his two years in F1, and quite rightly so, as there was little of interest to take from the man’s career. Sadly, while he had all the financial opportunities at his disposal, it was his own inability to break the mould that makes him the anonymous reject we (don’t) remember him for today.
Charles’ brother Arthur Pic has also had a mildly successful career as a professional motorsport driver. He too was flown into various teams in Formula Renault 3.5 and later GP2. In the latter he managed a feature win at the Hungaroring in 2014, but his career too took a downturn when the opportunities dried up. Since retiring at the end of 2016, he now also works in the same logistics firm alongside his brother.
Sources: driverdb.com, f1technical.net, autosport.com, Pole Position Motorsport, Worldsports, thecheckeredflag.com, racefans.net, planetf1, crash.net
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