Home Features 2014 Formula Renault 1.6 season review

2014 Formula Renault 1.6 season review

by Gruz David
Photo: Formula Renault 1.6 NEC Junior

Photo: Formula Renault 1.6 NEC Junior

The revamped Formula Renault 1.6 championships, the entry level on the French brand’s expansive single-seater ladder, completed their?second seasons in the Northern European and Nordic regions.

Just as in 2013, both series enjoyed strong entry-level fields comprised of regional talents, with several drivers making a particular impression.

Below, Gruz David and Valentin Khorounzhiy of PaddockScout offer an overview of the 2014 season in FR1.6.

Formula Renault 1.6 NEC Junior

Anton De Pasquale dominated the 1.6 NEC championship in 2014, with nine wins in 15 races (Photo: Formula Renault 1.6 NEC Junior)

Anton De Pasquale dominated the 1.6 NEC championship in 2014, with nine wins in 15 races (Photo: Formula Renault 1.6 NEC Junior)

The field of the NEC category consisted of mainly Benelux and Scandinavian drivers, however, it has become somewhat more international than it was last year.

Porsche Superup frontruners Lechner Racing entered and dominated the series with a four-car lineup, all of them finishing in the top five of the standings. Australian Anton De Pasquale was undoubtedly their top entrant, taking control of the championship fight from the very first race.

Although he had the advantage of having raced in Australian Formula Ford for two years, he still had to make the tough move to an entirely new continent, but it was one that De Pasquale managed perfectly. He finished every race of the first half of the season in the top two and bagged four victories in the second half on his way to a comfortable title. Unquestionably the quickest on the grid, he earned the entry budget for the 2015 Formula Renault 2.0 NEC series, so it’s hard to imagine him going anywhere else for the immediate future.

Just like last year, an Estonian racer finished as runner-up. 16-year-old Ralf Aron, the only non-Lechner driver in the top five, showed a lot of promise throughout the season. After three rounds of consistent, but under the radar top ten finishes, he suddenly picked up the pace at Assen and went on to finish on the podium six times in a row, including two victories. As a result of his late charge, he finished as the best karting graduate in the series.

Austrian Florian Janits showed a similar learning curve, spending three rounds adapting and then suddenly delivering superb results. He celebrated two victories at Zolder and Zandvoort, yet his third place in the standings was ensured by his consistency, as he finished the last eight races of the season in the top four.

17-year-old Ferdinand Habsburg stepped on the podium in just the second race of the season, yet he was hindered by a couple of troublesome weekends. He only took one further podium before the last round at Zandvoort, where he secured fourth in the standings with two second places.

Belgian Max Defourny joined Lechner Racing after two rounds with Provily. He showed great consistency, finishing every race in the top ten and securing two podiums on his way to fifth in the final standings.

Provily Racing’s Janneau Esmeijer spent his sophomore season in the series after finishing third last year. His title chances seemed to be on the up during the second weekend at Spa, where he took a double victory, marking De Pasquale’s sole winless round. However, he couldn’t match that kind of pace afterwards and dropped out of contention. Missing the final round relegated him to sixth in the standings.

Janneau Esmeijer had a tough sophomore season, but enjoyed a sublime double at Spa (Photo: Formula Renault 1.6 NEC Junior)

Janneau Esmeijer had a tough sophomore season, but enjoyed a sublime double at Spa (Photo: Formula Renault 1.6 NEC Junior)

Oliver Soderstrom and Paul Sieljes both returned to the series after a part-time campaigns last year. Soderstrom, impressively, never failed to finish a race, classified between fourth and eleventh on every occasion. Sieljes, on the other hand, struggled to finish better than eleventh for the bigger part of the season, but he recorded a ninth and a seventh place during the final round. Between Soderstrom and Sieljes, who finished seventh and ninth in the standings respectively, Dutchman Boris Kolff took eighth. Provily’s rookie driver also had a decent run in the championship, which was punctuated by a maiden third in the final race.

The 2014 season saw KF2 and KF3 champions from ADAC Kart Masters enter the championship. Cedric Piro spent a solid learning year with his family-run squad, consistently finishing in or close to the top ten to record tenth overall. Marcel Lenerz, on the other hand, had a season with more ups and downs. Although his best finish was a fifth at Spa-Francorchamps, he endured a disqualification at Assen and missed the last event at Zandvoort, ending up in 13th in the standings.

Ending the year in 11th, Captain Racing’s Nico Otto entered the series in the fourth weekend and enjoyed a good part-time effort, with a best finish of fourth at Spa. Dutch driver Larry ten Voorde, similarly to Esmeijer, returned to the series after a strong rookie year in an attempt to take the title, but his campaign was derailed early on. He bagged four podiums in rounds one and three, yet both of those were followed by rounds where he had to face technical difficulties, which ruled him out of proper points-scoring positions. When his title bid became unlikely, he left the series, concentrating on possibly joining?Formula Renault 2.0 NEC in 2015.

Paul Blomqvist and 2013 champion Roy Geerts?were the top guests, entering the series for two and one rounds respectively. Blomqvist, younger brother of Tom, took a third position in his first race at Spa-Francorchamps, albeit his outing at Assen was something to forget. Geerts was invited by his former team, Stuart Racing, for the final round and also managed to return to the podium.

Formula Renault 1.6 Nordic

Lappalainen took an early points lead after a dominant start and cruised to the title (Photo: STCC)

Lappalainen took an early points lead after a dominant start and cruised to the title (Photo: STCC)

Whilst the 1.6 NEC championship was being dominated by Anton De Pasquale, its STCC-supporting counterpart Nordic seemed to follow a similar script thanks to Finnish rookie Joonas Lappalainen.

The youngster was quick from the get-go, with double pole and a maiden victory in the Karlskoga opener and then two more dominant lights-to-flag drives at Botniaring. He’d only add one more win after that – at Knutstorp – and had difficulties, going off from third on the grid at Falkenberg and jumping the start from pole at Solvalla. However, his constant frontrunning pace was more than enough to consistently rack up points and he comfortably secured the title in the end.

For the second half of the season, Norwegian Kevin Aabol was his closest rival. After taking a maiden pole at Parnu but losing the shot at winning due to a dry tyre gamble, he bounced back with a five-race podium streak which included a maiden victory at Knutstorp and eventually allowed him to clinch runner-up.

Lukas Sundahl took third for a second year in a row, having come in as a pre-season favorite. His sophomore season, however, turned out very similar to his first one – he was consistently at the sharp end or close, but failed to contend for wins often enough to challenge for the title. He enjoyed two comfortable wins at Falkenberg and was close to a win at Knutstorp, but was largely just adding up points for the rest of the year.

Pontus Fredricsson was another returnee from 2013 who featured right at the front of the field. Having been on the podium only once in his rookie campaign, the Swede added seven top-three finishes to his tally, including a win from pole at Falkenberg in a race held entirely under the safety car. Somewhat hurt by three non-scores, he still finished a very respectable fourth, just six points behind Sundahl.

His compatriot Robert Svensson – another sophomore driver with just one podium in 2013 – also had a much improved year. He took a bit to find the pace, only returning to the podium in round three at Falkenberg, but then followed that up with a third-place finish at Parnu, which then transformed into a win when the drivers ahead were penalized. Having also featured in the top three at Knutstorp and Solvalla, he ended up fifth overall.

Aron overshadowed the title fight with four consecutive wins at the end of the campaign (Photo: STCC)

Aron overshadowed the title fight with four consecutive wins at the end of the campaign (Photo: STCC)

Scuderia Nordica’s Ralf Aron had a campaign not too dissimilar to his 1.6 NEC effort. He was somewhat quiet in the first half of the season, finishing sixth or lower in all races but one – the third race at Botniaring, where he secured a shock victory, denying runaway leader Lappalainen the hat-trick. In hindsight, that might’ve been a sign of things to come, as Aron was by far the best driver in the field in the final two rounds, absolutely dominating four races in a row.

His teammate Oliver Soderstrom had a much more even, if less flashy campaign. Having taken part in 11 races, he finished nine of them in the top seven and also added his name to the list of 1.6 race winners, earning his maiden victory at Parnu with the help of a wet tyre gamble.

Finnish rookie Ilmari Korpivaara had a learning year, steadily developing as the season went on. He finally broke into the top three during the mixed weather Parnu race and then converted a front row start in the Mantorp finale into a personal best second place to finish seventh overall.

Paul Blomqvist was expected to contend for the title after finishing fifth overall in both NEC and Nordic in 2013, but his campaign just did not go to plan. He was rapid in the Karlskoga opener, scoring two podiums, but would only add one more throughout the rest of the season. He won the second Parnu race on the road, but was given a time penalty for jumping the start, while retirements in four other races were also little help to his points tally.

It wasn’t just the regulars making headlines. Formula BMW Talent Cup champion Robin Hansson, who won on his one-off appearance in the series in the 2013 finale, was back for the Karlskoga opener and starred. He beat Lappalainen off the line in the first race to take the victory and finished second to the eventual champion in race two.

Future prospects

Photo: Jorge Cunha  / DPPI / Renault Sport Media

Photo: Jorge Cunha / DPPI / Renault Sport Media

A number of leading FR1.6 drivers were invited by Renault Sport Technologies to the post-season Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup test at Jerez. Defourny, running for ART Junior Team, and De Pasquale, under Josef Kaufmann Racing, were the only ones to break into the top ten – the former was sixth in the morning, while the latter took ninth in the afternoon.

Aron tested with Prema and placed 12th overall. Habsburg and Lappalainen ran for Koiranen and took 19th and 23rd, while Aabol was 24th for Tech 1.

For 2015, De Pasquale is expected to step up to 2.0 NEC, while Nordic frontrunners Lappalainen and Aabol have both tested Scandinavian Touring Car Championship machinery and have expressed interest in racing in the category. Sundahl and Soderstrom also tested in STCC.

Aron contested Italian F4’s Adria Winter Trophy with Prema, winning the first race and taking second in race two. Meanwhile, Korpivaara tested in Clio Cup JTCC – another STCC support category.