Photo: Renault Sport/DPPI
2012 was a super year for Formula Renault 2.0, with large and competitive grids across the premier entry-level category…
Eurocup Formula Renault
The Title Fight
The main category among the Formula Renault 2.0 championships produced, considering pre-season expectations, an unexpectedly close fight for the title. From pretty much the very beginning, it was largely about two people – 18-year-old Daniil Kvyat from Russia and 20-year-old Stoffel Vandoorne from Belgium. Kvyat was pretty much the safe bet to win the championship, after taking third the previous year with two wins, frankly in a league of his own – pretty far behind the top two but easily ahead the rest of the field. But, if there was going to be a title fight, Vandoorne, who also raced in Eurocup in 2011 and collected one podium on his way to fifth, was probably the guy you’d expect to deliver one.
And a fight there was. Over the 14 races, the duo proved themselves to be the class of the field pretty much right out of the gate. In the first two rounds, Kvyat took three wins out of a possible four, setting up the stage for a dominant season that never happened. Vandoorne was winless up to round three (yet consistently on the podium) but took a double win at the Nurburgring that, coupled with a lacklustre weekend for Kvyat, promoted him into the championship lead. At Moscow Raceway, the pair cemented their dominance over the rest of the field – Vandoorne was the pole-sitter for both races yet in each of them, Kvyat took the lead into turn one and proceeded to take two wins at home. Vandoorne minimised the damage, pressuring Kvyat in both races and taking two second places, but he lost his championship lead, which now belonged to the Russian, albeit by one point only.
The tides would change once again at the Hungaroring where, on Saturday, Vandoorne took a lights-to-flag victory while Kvyat found himself out of the race on the first lap after attempting a very questionable overtaking move and colliding with another driver. He quickly rebounded on Sunday with a lights-to-flag win of his own as his Belgian rival only managed fourth, the gap between them now 11 points in favour of Vandoorne. The gap would stay the same after Paul Ricard, where both of the rivals took a win and a second-place, though, in the case of Vandoorne, his second place was a result of a most unusual drive as it came after the Belgian spun on lap one and heroically fought his way back up the pack in difficult weather conditions.
The dramatic finale that the series deserved came at Catalunya. In race one, Vandoorne increased the gap by three more points, finishing second to Kvyat’s third. In race two however, for which Kvyat took pole, Vandoorne enjoyed a very unfortunate qualifying and had to start from 16th. He was in sixth on lap two already but then a misjudged overtaking attempt ended his race prematurely and gave Kvyat the title advantage. Unforunately for the Russian, the track was drying and although the decision to start the race on wets meant he was a lot faster in the beginning, he eventually lost out to those who picked the slick tyre. That coupled with a penalty for the tyres being fitted on the grid four seconds later than permitted only allowed him to finish eighth, making Vandoorne champion by ten points.
While it might have seemed like a complete toss-up in the end, Vandoorne is well-deserving of his title. He might’ve taken less victories than Kvyat (four against seven) but was on pole far more often and incredibly consistent, to the point where two DNFs in an otherwise spectacular season for the Russian cost him the title.
The Rest of the Best
It took the eventual third-placed man in the standings a while to get up to speed, but when Oliver Rowland finally did, he was easily in a league of his own among the rest of the field. The RSF-backed Brit, who graduated into Eurocup this year after taking second in the, sadly, folded Formula Renault 2.0 UK series, seemed to struggle quite a bit as first and wasn’t exactly living up to expectations. However, after finishing twice on the podium at Moscow Raceway, Rowland finally gained some consistency and started scoring regular points. His maiden win in the series finally came in the final race of the season and, with that, he clinched the third spot in the standings.
For Norman Nato, in fourth, the season turned out to be quite a different story. He had a spectacular start to the season, winning the first Spa race and taking two other podiums and a fourth, but after that it was pretty much a string of lacklustre qualifying performances and races he did not finish, broken up by the round at the Hungaroring where he appeared on the podium yet again. Looked good to take third overall, but only one point scored in the last four races pretty much denied him that chance.
Fifth-placed Nyck de Vries, the highly-rated karting star in the McLaren F1 Driver Program, performed admirably in his first season of car racing. While he only secured two podium finishes to his name, his consistent speed in qualifying and three fourth places probably made up for it. Again, just like Nato, de Vries often lacked the ability to get the car home, but when he did, he produced some mighty impressive results.
Another promising Frenchman on the grid, Paul-Loup Chatin has, in a way, spent the season in the shadows of the suddenly rapid Nato as it is quite hard not to compare their progress (both F4 France graduates, both in their second year of Eurocup). In the beginning of the year, Chatin looked like a decent match for his compatriot, finishing the first six races in the points and placing on the podium at Nurburgring. It all went downhill after that round for him, for whatever reason, and plagued with disastrous qualifying results, he only managed to score three more times, with an overall result of 77 points – just two more than he scored last year. Still, with Nato already picked up to drive in FR3.5 next year, expect the same to happen to Chatin, where the inevitable comparisons can continue.
Chatin’s teammate and another second-year driver Oscar Tunjo, on the other hand, showed noticeable improvement, as he improved on his only podium from 2011 by getting a win and another podium in 2012. Consistency wasn’t his strong suit but, when he was on form, he was definitely one to watch. Only five points behind de Vries (four behind Chatin), seventh doesn’t really do justice to his season.
After an impressive Formula Renault ALPS season in 2011, which happened to be his debut season at such a level, Brit Melville McKee continued to make an impression one step further up the ladder. While not a regular threat for podiums, McKee was a very reliable points-scorer, which is what probably allowed him to take eighth in the standings (and to be the third rookie). Yet, consistency wasn’t it all – in his only podium finish of the year, McKee started the race in 32nd and, safety car interventions and bad weather permitting, finished it in second.
18-year-old Spaniard Alex Riberas should’ve been the title favourite in what was his third Eurocup year, but instead recorded his lowest finish in the standings to date, a ninth (compared to eighth and sixth the years before). It was also his first podium-less season in the series. Still, a consistent points scorer and a good qualifier, who will be a Porsche Junior in 2013.
Finally, the third Frenchman in the top ten also happened to be an F4 France graduate, though, in the case of Pierre Gasly, he drove in the series a year later than Nato and Chatin. His debut year of Formula Renault 2.0, in that case, was quite remarkable – while he was lacking consistency – only finishing six out of 14 races of the season in the points – the six points-finishes included two appearances on the podium. Add to that that he managed to top qualifying for one of the races and you have someone to definitely watch for in 2013 when he is expected to be a full-blown Red Bull Junior Team driver.
Also of Note
- The winner of the 2011 Formula BMW Talent Cup and Red Bull Junior Team driver Stefan Wackerbauer enjoyed a decent rookie season in Formula Renault. He placed eleventh in the standings, far off from Gasly and with fourth at Moscow Raceway being his season best. The German showed formidable pace in qualifying and, generally, seemed to be doing well in preparation-mode for a potential title shot in 2013. Whether he’ll get the chance is another story, though, as it seems Red Bull have let him go. Shocker, eh?
- Apart from Vandoorne, Kvyat, Tunjo and Gasly, two other drivers managed to take pole at least once this year. F4 graduate Andrea Pizzitola and Formula Renault regular Javier Tarancon grabbed pole at Spa and Paul Ricard respectively. Neither of the drivers enjoyed a particularly impressive season though, with both of them failing to transform their poles into any kind of points finish and being a long way down the standings at the end of the year.
- While not everyone from the top ten had a podium to his name, the number of unique podium finishers ended up at an astonishing sixteen. Apart from the aforementioned drivers, the following full-time Eurocup racers recorded a podium finish this year – Mikko Pakari, Jordan King, Guilherme Silva, Esteban Ocon and William Vermont. To add to that, Jake Dennis and Felipe Fraga also recorded a podium finish each, despite not contesting the entirety of the season.
Formula Renault Alps
The Title Fight
The 2012 season of the relatively new Formula Renault 2.0 Alps series saw a level of talent much higher than the debut year before that – however, with Kvyat entering this series full-time, it was largely expected that he was going to run away with the title with ease. Instead, what we got is a finale very close to that of the main Eurocup championship, with more than one driver challenging Kvyat to the title until the very last round.
Understandably enough, the two drivers who put the most pressure on Kvyat were Nato and Chatin. In fact, “pressure” would hardly be the right word to use as Nato led the series for most of the year due to Kvyat’s severe lack of consistency. He only gathered up four wins to Kvyat’s seven, but had one non-score less.
In this case, though, consistency wasn’t the key as Kvyat, having entered the final round with a 13-point lead over Nato, collided with him in the very last race (by which the gap had shrunk to three points), earning them both a DNF and giving Kvyat the title. An unfortunate circumstance, it was by no means an adequate representation of Kvyat’s efforts, who, prior to that round, forced himself back into the championship fight with four wins in a row.
Still, Nato wasn’t far behind and performed admirably throughout the year, though, just like with his Eurocup performance, there was a noticeable drop in the results somewhere after the halfway point. And, while Kvyat beat him on wins, Nato did edge the Russian out when it came to qualifying, with five poles to his name to Kvyat’s four.
Chatin, meanwhile, was no newcomer to Alps, as he finished third in the debut season of the championship but, to his credit, this time the level of competition was quite a bit more serious, and he managed to keep up with it, only 23 points off of the champion at the end.
The Rest of the Best
Just like with Eurocup, the rest of the drivers in the series were in a bit of a different league. And, should you want to put it that way, that league was won by Tunjo, who grabbed fourth in the standings despite missing two of the seven rounds. While his points total is exactly half of what Chatin had, suggesting a full-time campaign would probably not have given him much of a chance for the title, he did impress massively, being the only other driver apart from the top three to win races this season (in fact, winning twice to Chatin’s one win).
Then, there was a very respectable and consistent season from Vermont, who shone on occasions in Eurocup this year but was unexpectedly consistent and reliable in Alps, securing himself a fifth spot in the standings with four podium finishes to his name.
While not making it to the podium, Finn and French F4 graduate Patrick Kujala had a very impressive rookie season in the category.? How he avoided making the podium is, frankly, beyond me, as Kujala scored an astonishing seven (!!!) fifth-place finishes.
In his first year out of karts, Frenchman Ocon impressed massively, taking a podium in the Eurocup and finishing seventh in the Alps standings (despite contesting only five out of seven rounds), getting two third places during the Red Bull Ring round.
Brazilian youngsters Silva and Fraga had stunningly similar rookie Formula Renault seasons, taking eighth and ninth respectively in the Alps standings along with a fringe podium in the Eurocup. In Alps, Silva was a bit more consistent, finishing in the points nine times to Fraga’s five. On the other hand, out of those nine, only one time did he visit the podium – while his compatriot did it twice.
Finally, doing three rounds out of seven was enough for McKee to grab tenth in the standings, as he placed second in two out of the six races he took part in. The two podiums are a good indicator, even though McKee, like Chatin, had a season behind his back in the Alps series.
Also of Note
- Formula Abarth graduate Victor Franzoni did well in his first Formula Renault season, but his eleventh place in the standings is probably not what will be remembered most. Instead, it’s the stunning double-pole that Franzoni took at Red Bull Ring. Nobody quite saw that coming.
- The only non-top-ten podium finishers in the series in 2012 were Wackerbauer and French F4 champion Matthieu Vaxiviere. In the standings, they were split by Simone Iaquinta (who got pretty close once with a fourth-place finish), but while Wackerbauer ran a full-time campaign, Vaxiviere was only present for four out of the seven rounds.
Formula Renault NEC
The Title Fight
The Northern European Cup seemed to take a step back in 2012, with the overall talent level involved in the series suggesting that it was no longer the second most important championship in the FR2.0 category, giving that title to Alps. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t talent involved, though, as the young drivers who fought for the championship are well worth your attention.
In the beginning, it looked like it was going to be a very tightly-fought category, with Dennis and King frequently exchanging the championship lead in the first three rounds of the championship (all taking place in Germany). But, as King recorded his first DNF in the third race at Oschersleben, Dennis found a gap and kept increasing it all the way until the very end, with his title-winning advantage being an enormous sixty points.
The 17-year-old RSF-backed Brit clearly deserved it, too, as he was stunningly consistent throughout the season, only failing to make the finish once (and once finishing outside the top ten, which still gave him points, as those are awarded to the top 20 in NEC), taking three wins and 11 podiums in 20 races. With such a confident title performance and some really impressive one-offs in the Eurocup, Dennis is certainly one to look out for in 2013 – he’s two for two in car racing so far, with an InterSteps title in 2011 and the NEC title this year.
For King, it was his second year in the NEC category, and, to his credit, while not as consistent as the rookie Dennis, he was very impressive in that regard as well, taking nine podiums over the season. Unfortunately, most of the year was a winless affair for King, until the third race at Zandvoort, the penultimate round of the season – but by then it was pretty much too little, too late.
The Rest of the Best
A late-season charge from Josh Hill, for who it was also a second year in NEC, nearly denied King second place, because, unlike the former, Hill had no problems winning. Yet his rate of retirements was just too high and, even with five wins (more than King and Dennis combined), he still missed second by five points.
For UK Formula Ford graduate Jeroen Slaghekke, his debut season in Formula Renault was a good one. The Dutchman pretty much focused on NEC and delivered some pretty promising results, as pole positions early on turned into a win and a second place, at Most and Zandvoort respectively, by the end of the season. His consistency allowed for that to be enough for fourth, though the top three were clearly out of his reach at all times.
Another Formula Ford graduate, also from the Netherlands, rounded up the top five – Steijn Schothorst also had a mighty impressive debut season, getting to stand on the top step of the podium twice and a third-place finish to go along with that. He did have a few too many non-scores, but that can surely be ironed out.
Also of Note
- The season saw some smashingly successful part-time campaigns, the best of which, of course, was the effort by Vandoorne. The eventual Eurocup champion took part in seven NEC races in 2012. He won five of those, was sixth in another and only once did he fail to impress with 19th, starting from pole.
- De Vries also did really well in his part-time effort, nearly matching Vandoorne in the points (even though he raced four more races than the Belgian). Alongside with three other podium finishes, de Vries scored his maiden FR2.0 win at Assen.
- Riberas was the only other part-timer to get a win, scoring his during the weekend at Red Bull Ring, which also yielded him a double-pole.
- Even from those part-timers who didn’t manage to stand on the top spot in 2012, there was some frankly amazing stuff. In the 11 races he contested, Pizzitola managed four podium finishes and slotted in only 25 points behind de Vries. Series veteran Alessio Picariello, who concentrated on ADAC Formel Masters this year, scored three podiums and a pole in his ten races. Meanwhile, Gasly contested the first five races of the year and managed one podium, which he shared with Vandoorne and King.
- The final round at Spa yielded some very peculiar results, not the least of which the one-offs by Austrian Sandro Lukovic and Brazilian Bruno Bonifacio – in the two races, each of them took a podium… and a DNF to go along with that.
- Funnily enough, the regulars (apart from the top few) mostly started contending for podium finishes closer to the end of the year. Brazilian Gabriel Casagrande was third at Red Bull Ring and second at Most, kicking off the trend. What followed were two podiums from Shahaan Engineer at Zandvoort, Meindert van Buuren Jr.‘s maiden series podium at the same venue and Victor Colome finishing in second in the last race of the year (his season best up to that – seventh). That very same Spa race saw another winner added to the 2012 roster, as Yu Kanamaru took his maiden victory after graduating from karts (funnily enough, his season best up to that was also seventh). That particular Spa race, plagued with peculiar weather conditions, featured the most unexpected podium in, perhaps, any junior category this year. The top three (Kanamaru, Colome, Lukovic) started from 24th, 31st and 21st respectively.
- And, among all that mayhem, Kevin Kleveros, who ended up sixth in the standings, avoided getting on the podium in what was his fourth year in various FR2.0 categories. He was fourth, fifth and sixth plenty of times, just not in the top three somehow.