Home Featured The five drivers eyeing up the Formula Renault Eurocup title

The five drivers eyeing up the Formula Renault Eurocup title

by Elliot Wood

Photos: Renault Sport / DPPI

Mathematical possibility aside, there are five drivers who have headed into the summer break in contention for the 2019 Formula Renault Eurocup title.

Two of the five are Renault Formula 1’s personal bets for the overall and rookie titles, and it is no surprise that they top the points classification in their respective standings. It’s the form of the drivers around them that has proven more interesting though, and that the four-way battle at the top is far closer than the current 21-point margin suggests.

Of the five remaining rounds of the season, four are at returning circuits. Only one has been visited with the new Tatuus T-318 Formula 3 car, Barcelona during pre-season testing, and if the pace already shown there is anything to go by then it could be a crucial weekend in the title fight.

The big unknown though is the Abu Dhabi season finale, the series’s first venture outside of its traditional European base since its 2006 trip to Istanbul Park in Turkey, and spell at Moscow Raceway in Russia between 2012-’14. It’s a one-off visit, with its place on the calendar set to be taken in 2020 by a track the Eurocup last visited nearly two decades ago.

Key?Average finishing position (RA), Average qualifying position (QA),?Percentage of team?s points scored (TP)

Oscar Piastri?AUSTRALIA?R-ace GP
1st in standings, 147 points (3 wins, 2 poles, 3 fastest laps) -?RA?4.6,?QA?3.8,?TP 38.5%

British Formula 4 graduate?Oscar Piastri was never the star of the rookie field in the Eurocup last year, but at least a fair amount of that could be attributed to the weaknesses of his Arden team.

Leaving for reigning champion team R-ace GP has worked wonders, even if its competitive advantage was all but removed this year by the FR2.0 chassis being replaced by a Regional F3 car.

It’s taken 40% of the time for Piastri to score the same amount of points as in 2018, and this time with three victories to his name. Two of those came at Silverstone, where R-ace GP looked unbeatable, and the latest at Spa-Francorchamps via some individual brilliance.

Piastri has ultimately made the difference in being one of the chasers like his team-mates and being the chased, and the circuits where he shone at last season are the ones where he’s been the benchmark driver in races this time around.

On the other side of that coin is that he’s also looked weaker at the same circuits he’s struggled with in 2018, most notably at Monaco where he was the slowest of the R-ace GP trio and made mistakes that lost irretrievable positions.

If Piastri still leads the standings heading into the final two rounds, then the Australian may have room to relax. At Hockenheim last year he was on the podium twice, and is one of only five drivers with experience of the Abu Dhabi grand prix circuit.

Victor Martins?FRANCE?MP Motorsport
2nd in standings, 147 points (1 win, 1 pole, 1 fastest lap) – RA?3.5,?QA?3.2,?TP 52.3%

Photo: Renault Sport / DPPI

Christian Lundgaard and Logan Sargeant firmly beat Victor Martins to the Eurocup rookie title last year, but they were far more experienced. Martins spent little over three years in karts before moving to cars via the centrally-run French F4 in 2016. Despite not winning the 2017 title, Renault signed him as a F1 junior and he moved into the Eurocup with R-ace GP.

Given French F4 graduates usually take two seasons to crack the Eurocup, it’s no surprise that Martins remained for a second year with his Renault backing.

While Martins is level on points with Piastri, he has only won once and that came from pole at Monaco. He was third fastest overall in qualifying, but a quirk of the format used at the street circuit meant topping his group guaranteed him race one pole.

Martins has been an unspectacular but heavy points scorer at every circuit, and is the only driver to have scored in every race. At Spa, he cleverly towed his way to a second pole but had no answer to Piastri in the race.

Consistency means it’s actually Martins who has the highest average starting and finishing positions in the field, but whether those admittedly impressive averages could be higher, it’s not been a case of Martins keeping extra performance in reserve.

MP Motorsport has been in a winning position at all but Silverstone, where Martins admitted to self-induced mistakes, and when the team has been at its best it’s been team-mate Lorenzo Colombo who’s led the way.

Probably the best judgement of Martins’ season so far is the Monza season opener, where the Frenchman finished fourth and his chief title rivals all crashed out of the points. He didn’t get a win that was for the taking, but he did bag the important points.

Lorenzo Colombo?ITALY?MP Motorsport
3rd in standings, 134 points (3 wins, 3 poles, 2 fastest laps) -?RA?3.8,?QA?4.1,?TP 47.7%

Lorenzo Colombo impressed massively with JD Motorsport in 2018, and is enjoying this year’s switch to MP Motorsport.

The Italian was unbeatable at Paul Ricard, taking both wins, poles and fastest laps, and also won at Spa. If he hadn’t spun away a likely podium from pole in the first race of the season at Monza, then he would be in the lead of the standings. That retirement aside, his average finishing position of 3.8 is bettered only by team-mate Martins.

What’s really prevented Colombo from being on top is two underwhelming weekends at Silverstone and Monaco where he failed to make the podium.

With qualifying being so important at Monaco, only going fourth fastest in his group immediately limited Colombo to small points in the races, and at Silverstone he was compounded by his team’s struggles.

While Martins has admitted mistakes he made meant progress over that weekend was slower than it could have been, it would be unfair to pinpoint MP’s poor results down to just his input, and Colombo could may well have finished higher than sixth and fifth had he utilised a different approach during the pre-event test and free practice.

Alexander Smolyar?RUSSIA?R-ace GP
4th in standings, 126 points (2 wins, 2 poles, 2 fastest laps) -?RA?5.2,?QA?6.6,?TP 38.1%

Smolyar

It’s almost easier to count the number of points Alexander Smolyar has lost rather than scored, and if a few small events had gone differently the Russian may well be leading the championship by a handy margin by now.

Impressive testing pace didn’t immediately translate into results with R-ace GP, as Smolyar qualified 13th for the first race of the season; which he then crashed in and finished 20th.

As the Russian has shown so many times this year, his ability to rebound came of use the next day when in wet conditions he took pole and victory – his first ever Eurocup podium.

Team-mate Piastri beat him to race one pole at Silverstone, but he replied by winning a thrilling side-by-side battle for the lead in the race. Sadly that did not last, as a mechanical problem forced him to retire. The following day he couldn’t make a pass stick on Piastri, but second place lifted him to third in the standings.

Despite his fastest time being deducted, he topped qualifying at Monaco and then took a second and a win, the best feasible results and enough to move him up another spot in the points table.

That was followed by a fourth and second at Paul Ricard, leaving him just three points off the title lead. It all went wrong at Spa though, with a lack of pace combined with his best lap times being deleted leaving him 17th and 21st on the grid for the two races. Unfazed, he charged to ninth and sixth, albeit the latter result coming via a red flag caused by a last lap Smolyar flip.

Caio Collet?BRAZIL?R-ace GP
5th in standings, 99 points -?RA?5.4,?QA?7.6,?TP 23.4%

Reigning French F4 champion, Renault F1 junior, Volant Winfield winner and Nicolas Todt protege Caio Collet looks odds on for this year’s rookie title, but there is more interest in whether the 17-year-old Brazilian can pick up the pace and start taking points from his R-ace GP team-mates.

This has proven no easy task, what with the late delivery of the Tatuus chassis that led to the briefest of pre-seasons and posed a larger jump from entry level formula than in previous years. Halfway through the season he is now comfortable with the car, for enough of the time, but is still learning substantial amounts each time he heads on track.

After a very low-key debut, R-ace’s pace advantage enabled Collet to qualify and finish in the top five twice at Silverstone, where he also took his first rookie win.

Collet’s street circuit prowess from French F4 translated directly into Monaco qualifying, where being second in his group all but secured two top four finishes. He was top rookie at Paul Ricard, but way behind his MP Motorsport-fighting team-mates, while at Spa he was uncomfortable in qualifying but connected with the car when it mattered in the races and made a return to the overall podium.

Despite having a no more remarkable record than his immediate F4 champion predecessors, Collet’s big-name support means there has been heightened and probably unrealistic expectations for him to be challenging for wins by now. It could happen, but probably not before the Abu Dhabi finale.

Five more to watch…

Ugo de Wilde

Currently a lofty sixth in the standings, Ugo de Wilde?kicked off the season as championship leader after leading a JD Motorsport one-two at Monza. The 16-year-old Belgian, the youngest driver on the grid, beat poleman Colombo at the start then never looked troubled on the way to his team’s first win since 2006.

While flashes of one-lap pace have continued, de Wilde has slipped down the competitive order, with an average finishing position of ninth in the subsequent rounds. His Renault-affiliated team-mate?Leonardo Lorandi now looks likely to lead JD into the second half of the season, having finished second to de Wilde at Monza and taken pole for the most recent race at Spa. He too though has struggled to be a regular scorer.

This was not a problem for the team’s third driver?Joao Vieira prior to Spa, the Brazilian having visited the podium twice and only fallen out of the points once. On that occasion, and in race one at Spa, he was denied 10th place by a small margin. What’s most impressive is Vieira is returning after two years out of motorsport, and having previously only driven in Italian F4.

Joey Foster protege?Kush Maini has been the only constant presence in the driving seat with new team M2 Competition, which is getting increasingly competitive. Third in the season opener is the best result so far, but he is the only driver outside of the top five in the standings to have scored at every circuit.

Global Racing Service is another of the new teams this year, and it’s mostly flown under the radar. It’s only three points behind the Fernando Alonso-backed Drivex squad and has at times been down to just one car this year with?Xavier Lloveras.

The Spaniard was third fastest in his group during Monaco qualifying, netting the team a sixth placed finish, and scored points at Paul Ricard and Spa. At his current rate, he could single-handedly take the team to seventh in the standings.