Photo: Renault Sport/DPPI
All the action from Paul Ricard and much, much more on a hectic weekend as several series come to a conclusion for 2012 and others reach a critical point…
Formula Renault 3.5
Robin Frijns entered the penultimate round of the season at Paul Ricard with a massive lead of 24 points over Jules Bianchi. However, two races later, and it is now the Frenchman who is leading the title hunt, although Frijns and Sam Bird remain hot on his heels.
On Saturday it was Nick Yelloly who seemed to have mastered the wet conditions in which the qualifying session was held, scoring his first pole position of the season. The usual suspects were right up there with him, though ? Frijns in second, Bianchi in fourth and Antonio Felix da Costa between them. However, as it is often the case with wet Formula Renault 3.5 races, the order of the grid didn?t seem to matter all that much once the race started. A poor getaway from Yelloly allowed Frijns and Bianchi to overtake him yet it was surprisingly Andre Negrao who led the race after the first lap with an overtaking move around the outside. For the first few laps Negrao genuinely seemed to be marginally faster than the rest of the field but, as Frijns started struggling with his car a bit, Bianchi emerged as the quickest driver in the chase after the leader. He soon caught up to Negrao and overtook him, only to seemingly go off the track alongside the Brazilian driver a few laps later. With Bianchi and Negrao down to their original grid positions (fourth and fifth), it was Yelloly who inherited the race. Yet at that point Felix da Costa emerged as the class of the field and soon took the lead away from the Brit after a pretty great fight that saw them trade positions multiple times.
The rest of the race was, perhaps, a bit less hectic but there was still plenty of events going on. It was becoming evident that Frijns had some severe pace problems, his car marginally slower than everyone around him as he dropped down the order, creating multiple ?trains? along the way. At some point, former series champion Mikhail Aleshin spun out of sixth after overtaking Frijns, while, a few laps later, an excellent performance from Negrao was brought to a close when his car stopped on the main straight. With this kind of mayhem surrounding him, Bianchi made another costly mistake, which allowed Daniil Move through into what would later become the final podium position.
There were no more surprises at the top of the field, though, as Felix da Costa confidently drove to his second victory in a row ahead of Yelloly. The rest of the field arrived 20 seconds later with Move ahead of Bianchi, Marco Sorensen and Kevin Magnussen. Frijns did well to hold on to seventh, holding off Nico Muller for a big portion of the race, with the Swiss driver never managing to find a way through and finishing in eighth. The top ten was rounded up by Kevin Korjus and Bird. GP3 graduate Aaro Vainio was sixteenth while Daniel Abt retired after four laps.
Bianchi and Bird confirmed their status as very experienced drivers by locking out the front row for race two. Unsurprisingly, rain brought mayhem into the race yet again and much of the grid was reshuffled as there were plenty of collisions and strategic mistakes. While Bianchi kept the lead into turn one, the real pacesetter soon emerged, that being Felix da Costa, who stormed from seventh on the grid to take the lead in the race. However, Tech 1 outplayed Arden Caterham and, after the mandatory stops, Bianchi was back ahead and finished the race in first. Felix da Costa and Bird completed the podium with Yelloly and Sorensen behind them, the latter having a particularly impressive race after starting in 19th. Frijns got off to a good start but soon found himself falling down the order in an unfortunate repeat of race one. He finished ninth, behind Vainio, Muller and Korjus (who started the race in last). The top ten was completed by Lucas Foresti. Abt qualified in tenth but was involved in a collision into Turn 1 and later received a time penalty for not respecting track limits, which didn’t affect his 18th place.
With the Catalunya round remaining, Bianchi is now leading Frijns by five points with Bird a further 19 down. Only they can still win the title mathematically as Yelloly and Sorensen, fourth and fifth in the standings, are now more than 50 points adrift. The fight for fourth is also shaping up to be quite exciting with Sorensen one point behind Yelloly and five points ahead of Felix da Costa, despite the latter having missed the first three rounds.
Eurocup Formula Renault
The penultimate round of the season at Paul Ricard was of utmost importance for the championship as the series leader Stoffel Vandoorne went into it with an 11 point gap over his only, at this point, rival Daniil Kvyat.
Vandoorne?s weekend was off to a great start as he topped the timesheets in his group in qualifying for the first race. However, due to changing conditions that would only mean second for him as the time set by Javier Tarancon, who was quickest in the other group after Mikko Pakari?s pole time was deleted, ended up giving him pole. Kvyat lined up third on the grid ahead of Edward Jones, who managed his best qualifying of the year.
Despite the championship rivals right on his back, Tarancon managed to keep his lead through lap one and held it for half the race yet, after immense pressure from Vandoorne, he ended up cutting a chicane when defending. According to the stewards, that gave him an illegal advantage, meaning Tarancon ended up with a post-race penalty of 10 seconds that would in the end drop him outside of the points.
Even with the sketchy defending, Vandoorne managed to get ahead of Tarancon and would go on to claim his fourth win of the season. Tarancon finished second on the road but, with the penalty, it was Kvyat who inherited that place while Guilherme Silva completed the podium. Steijn Schothorst, who spent a big part of the race fighting for third, retired on lap 11, which gave fourth and fifth to Oscar Tunjo and Oliver Rowland. Andrea Pizzitola held off Stefan Wackerbauer for sixth while Nyck de Vries finished right behind them. Finally, Melville McKee passed Esteban Ocon on the last lap for ninth with Ocon completing the top ten.
In qualifying for the second race, Kvyat and Vandoorne both set the fastest time in their respective groups, yet it was Vandoorne who enjoyed better conditions this time, claiming his sixth pole position of the season. Yet that was almost negated when Vandoorne lost the lead to Kvyat at the start and then went off-track, rejoining in twelfth. From there, he took on a massive recovery drive and ended up finishing second, only behind Kvyat. Ocon and Paul-Loup Chatin did well to score third and fourth, while William Vermont managed an incredible fifth after starting in 25th. Rowland, McKee, Alex Riberas, Jones and Felipe Fraga completed the top ten.
The gap, therefore, stays the same as the series wraps up at Catalunya on October 19-21.
FIA Formula Two
The 2012 season of the Formula Two championship concluded at Monza and Luciano Bacheta emerged as the series champion.
Still, it was probably a bit closer than Bacheta would’ve wanted it to be, as he entered the round with a lead of 33.5 points over Matheo Tuscher. Tuscher, not giving up on the title hopes, was quickest in the Saturday qualifying but Bacheta did well to line up alongside him on the front row. Into Turn 1, however, it was Kevin Mirocha who lead the race with Bacheta keeping second ahead of Tuscher. The Swiss driver was clearly the quickest on track, though, soon proving it by first overtaking Bacheta and then stealing the lead away from Mirocha. He kept that lead until the end of the race and claimed his second win of the season ahead of a charging Christopher Zanella. Mirocha finished third ahead of Bacheta while Harald Schlegelmilch finished fifth on his return to racing and his series debut.
The gap between the two was down to 20.5 points but that still seemed a pretty tall order for Tuscher, since he needed another win and a bad result from Bacheta. He didn’t help matters by qualifying in sixth for race two (although Bacheta only managed seventh himself) as Markus Pommer took pole with Zanella second.
A good start from Zanella saw him lead after lap one and, from there, he claimed an easy victory. Pommer received an unfortunate puncture which cost him a good finish and saw Mirocha finish in second. Bacheta became series champion by finishing third, ahead of Mihai Marinescu and Tuscher.
The top six of the championship are as follows – Bacheta, Tuscher, Zanella, Pommer, Marinescu and Mirocha.
Gianmarco Raimondo went into the penultimate round of the season at Monza with a massive lead over Niccolo Schiro yet the Italian did everything he could to keep the intrigue alive.
For race one, however, it was Mans Grenhagen who claimed pole position, looking to break the streak of bad luck that left him with very much an outside shot at the title. Raimondo lined up alongside him, yet neither of them ended up getting the win. Instead, it was Schiro who made the headlines with his brilliant victory from fourth on the grid. Staying in his position for four laps, the Italian then overtook Facu Regalia, subsequently passing Raimondo a few laps later. With two laps to go, Schiro took the lead from Grenhagen and crossed the finish line in first. Grenhagen, Raimondo and Regalia finished without further shuffling, while Kevin Giovesi took fifth.
Raimondo put himself in pole for race two with Schiro alongside him. Yet again, the Italian made the best out of his grid position, taking the lead on the first lap and scoring a dominant win. Sam Dejonghe and Kevin Giovesi completed the podium with Raimondo only managing fourth. In fifth, Alexandre Cougnaud scored the best result of his season.
The season will wrap up on November 2-4 at Catalunya. Raimondo is leading the championship with 261 points but Schiro is now a lot closer, 16 points down. Grenhagen’s 11th place in race two means that he is out of the title fight, with 54 points up for grabs and him being 77 points down.
With multiple drivers competing for the title and all of three races to go, the final round of the season at Monza was shaping up to be a thriller. Combine that with the fact that two titles were being decided in the same races and between virtually the same drivers (as, alongside the main series championship, this was also the round that would determine the winner of the Italian series) and you would be expecting even more excitement. However, the level of suspense produced by the championship in these three days was probably not predicted by absolutely anyone.
Three people came into the weekend in contention for the main European title – Nicolas Costa enjoying a healthy lead over Luca Ghiotto and Bruno Bonifacio. However, Ghiotto made it clear early on that he was not giving up the fight, qualifying in second for race one and taking pole for race three, while Costa could only answer with third and fourth respectively.
Not that the qualifying ended up mattering much as lap one brought mayhem and safety cars into pretty much all of the weekend’s races. Race one began with Gregor Ramsay hitting Bonifacio’s car, ending the title hunt for the latter and bringing out the safety car. Despite the ensuing shuffling that went on down the field, Santiago Urrutia, who started the race from pole, lead the majority of it but went off closer to the end of the race. As such, Emanuele Zonzini inherited the lead, but he wasn’t to win that, as Antonio Giovinazzi overtook him with one lap to go and secured the win in his first race in the series. A feat all the more impressive when you consider that the Formula Pilota China driver started the race from 15th, which also happened to be last. Zonzini finished second with Ghiotto third and Urrutia recovering to fourth. Crucially, Costa only managed sixth behind Kevin Jorg.
Costa’s sixth allowed him to start from pole in the reverse grid race but he didn’t manage to keep the lead, giving it up to Urrutia, who went on to win the race. Giovinazzi also ended up ahead of Costa and finished second, while Jorg was right behind him, crossing the line in fourth. Ghiotto, who was trying to overtake Costa for third at one point in the race, ended up going off and only finished fifth.
Thus, Costa and Ghiotto went into the last race as the only contenders in both series. Costa was ahead of Ghiotto by 12 points in the European standings, while his lead in the Italian series was only nine points.
In the best traditions of this year’s GP3 finale (which also took place at Monza), both titles came down to the wire. Ghiotto started the race from pole but had to battle for the lead with Urrutia and Giovinazzi for almost all of the race. At the same time, Costa went off on lap three and had to mount a massive recovery drive from 11th. And so he did, ending up fourth behind those battling for the win with a few laps to go. At one point, Urrutia spun, seemingly giving the victory to Ghiotto, but it was Giovinazzi who got to stand on the top step of the podium, beating his compatriot to the line by less than 0.05s. Costa inherited third ahead of Urrutia and female racer Samin Gomez.
As such, Costa secured both titles in a very hectic and dramatic final weekend. In both cases, the vice-champion title went to Ghiotto. However, two different people came third – in the European series, Urrutia lost out to Bonifacio for that spot, but he got to enjoy being third in the Italian series, as he finished level on points with Zonzini with two more wins to his name.
Formula 3 Euro Series
Daniel Juncadella had a near-perfect weekend at Valencia, strengthening his championship lead ahead of the final round of the season at Hockenheimring. Despite that, Juncadella didn?t actually win any of the races, which allows another three drivers to still have an outside shot at the title.
One of them, Ferrari prot?g? Raffaele Marciello, got his weekend off to a great start by claiming pole position for the first race of the weekend, lining up ahead of Felix Rosenqvist and Juncadella. Funnily enough, the same drivers lined up in the first three positions for the third race, except this time Juncadella had pole ahead of Rosenqvist and Marciello.
Into race one where Rosenqvist made a great start from second to lead into turn one with Marciello and Juncadella behind him. However, Rosenqvist?s efforts would later be nullified by a drive-through penalty that he earned by being out of position during the start, meaning that the lead belonged to Marciello yet again. The Italian managed to make use of that, taking a comfortable win ahead of Juncadella and Tom Blomqvist. Emil Bernstorff finished fourth, ahead of title contenders Pascal Wehrlein and William Buller. Carlos Sainz, Jr. had another race to forget after his badly thought-out move on Blomqvist into Turn 2 left him without a front wing, unable to continue the race. There was no shortage of further incidents as Michael Lewis spun Sven Muller and received a drive-through while Rosenqvist ruined a possible recovery drive when he ran into Andrea Roda and received another penalty.
For the reverse grid race, Lewis lined up on pole ahead of Muller. Thankfully, there was no further drama between the teammates as they finished just like they started, Lewis taking his first win of the season. Wehrlein was third ahead of Blomqvist and Buller while Juncadella didn?t manage to recover any places, finishing where he started ? in seventh. Marciello?s lack of consistency struck once again as the Italian went off-track early on and ruined his car?s suspension over the kerbs.
Race three was another fairly quiet one that saw Rosenqvist make another great start and steal the lead from Juncadella into Turn 1. He never gave it back and eased to victory, with Juncadella and Marciello completing the podium. Wehrlein finished fourth, to keep second in the standings, ahead of Blomqvist. Buller found himself way down in ninth, severely hurting his already slim title chances.
Coming into the last round of the championship at Hockenheimring, which will take place on 19-21 October, Juncadella will be leading Wehrlein by 35 points, with a maximum of 60 available. Marciello is third, a further 1.5 behind, while only a miracle could make Buller?s title hopes come true, as he is now 55.5 points behind the leader.
The season finale at Donington was already shaping up to be a classic due to both Jazeman Jaafar and Felix Serralles leaving Silverstone with very realistic title chances. However, on Wednesday, Brit Jack Harvey managed to come out on top in an appeal process over a 30-second time penalty he received after the second race of the penultimate round. The penalty being overturned meant that Harvey now enjoyed an additional 14 points (for finishing in second) and was right there in the mix, three points behind Serralles and six behind Jaafar.
On Saturday, Harvey proved he intends to make full use of this newly-found opportunity by securing his ninth and tenth pole positions of the season for races one & three. Later that day, he was unbeatable in race one, leading from lights to flag to secure his sixth win of the season. Jaafar finished second to stay strong in the hunt while Alex Lynn completed the podium. Serralles, having started third, finished one place down, ahead of Hannes van Asseldonk.
Harry Tincknell started race two from reverse grid pole and took his fourth victory of the season (all of them in reverse grid races). Pipo Derani did well to hold on to second when he was under pressure from Serralles for most of the race. Closer to the end, Serralles ran wide and allowed Pietro Fantin into third, which the Brazilian kept until the chequered flag. Van Asseldonk scored another fifth with Harvey in sixth. Jaafar had a good start to his race but his attempt to overtake Lynn ended with them both retiring as the Brit picked up a puncture and failed to take the corner.
As such, Harvey entered the last race as the championship leader with Serralles only three points behind and Jaafar a further two down. It was a great set-up for a thrilling race but Harvey wasn’t gonna let that happen, starting from pole and leading from lights to flag, which, obviously, won him the title. Lynn and Jaafar completed the podium ahead of Tincknell and Derani. Serralles ran in fifth for most of the race but ended up losing it twice which demoted him to eighth.
With Harvey being the champion, Jaafar claimed the title of vice-champion and Serralles had to contend with third. In fourth, Lynn completed a great first season in the series while Tincknell finished the year in fifth place.
The final round of the season took place at Donington and, unfortunately, only two out of the scheduled three races were run.
Eric Lichtenstein took pole for all three races of the weekend, but that didn’t stop series veteran Antti Buri from finally claiming the title. Buri lined up in second for each of the races (always ahead of Julio Moreno in third) and, although he only finished the first race in fifth, that was enough for him to be crowned champion. Lichtenstein won his 11th race of the season but that wasn’t enough to keep him in contention.
Race two saw only seven out of twelve people complete all the laps with Buri and Lichtenstein among those who failed to finish (which ended Lichtenstein’s streak of eight consecutive race wins). As such, Jake Cook took his second win of the season ahead of Cavan Corcoran and Ryan Cullen.
The third and final race of the weekend was cancelled following red flag delays during and after the final FIA GT1 race.
Jimmy Eriksson entered the final round of the 2012 season at Hockenheimring needing only three points to secure the title. Funnily enough, he didn?t even wait for the actual races to do that, securing pole position on Friday for races one & three and netting six points for that.
However, even after being crowned series champion, Eriksson stayed as motivated as ever, which he proved by winning the first race from pole. Kimiya Sato and Mitchell Gilbert completed the podium ahead of Artem Markelov and Dennis van de Laar. Lucas Auer, who started alongside Eriksson on the front row, ended up in eighth.
Auer started the second race from reverse grid pole alongside Rene Binder, yet neither of them ended up occupying the top step of the podium. Instead, it was Markelov who took his second win of the season with Auer and Eriksson completing the podium. Mitchell Gilbert came in fourth ahead of Binder.
Eriksson, still seemingly putting in a lot of effort despite securing the title, scored a win in the final race of the season. Sato and Auer completed the podium with Gilbert and Yannick Mettler close behind. As such, Auer finished second in the standings with Sato third, Gilbert fourth and Blomqvist fifth, despite the latter running in only five rounds out of nine.
ADAC Formel Masters
The season finale at Hockenheimring was shaping up to be a very close affair as points leader Gustav Malja went into the weekend with a lead of two points only over Marvin Kirchhofer. Yet, in the end, the title was wrapped up in advance as Kirchhofer only needed two races to make up the points deficit and then secure the title.
The qualifying saw Kirchhofer claim pole for the first two races with Thomas Jager and Malja behind him. Race one saw Kirchhofer enjoy a lights-to-flag victory, but Malja did his best to stay in the title fight, taking second from Jager on lap one and finishing in that position. Jager ended up third ahead of Jeffrey Schmidt, Jason Kremer and Beitske Visser.
Race two followed a similar pattern in that Kirchhofer once again claimed a dominant victory, leading every lap on the way to it. This time, however, Jager held on to second and Malja had to contend with third ahead of Schmidt, Indy Dontje and Visser. Malja?s third place meant that, with one race to go and 15 points available for the win, he was now trailing Kirchhofer by those very 15 points. Seeing how Malja only had three wins to Kirchhofer?s six, he would not be able to go above the German in the standings, which made Kirchhofer the series champion. One has to wonder why Jager wasn?t asked to let Malja through, as they happen to be teammates.
Still, that didn’t end up mattering much in the end, as Kirchhofer started the reverse grid race in eighth and won it anyway, completing an absolutely perfect weekend. Schmidt and Malja completed the podium ahead of Jager, Dontje and Visser.
After a weekend like this, Kirchhofer is the rightful champion with Malja a fairly close second. The rest of the field, over 100 points down on the two, is led by Schmidt, who beat Kremer to third by two points.
Alex Baron needed all of one point to secure the championship during the penultimate round of the season at Le Mans. Predictably, that task proved to be easy for a guy who?s absolutely dominated the championship so far and, by claiming pole for both races of the weekend during the qualifying session, Baron clinched the title.
Baron then let his guard down a bit and lost race one to Simon Tirman after getting passed for the lead on lap one. Baron did manage second ahead of Egor Orudzhev and Victor Sendin.
Race two also went to Tirman as Baron dropped out of the points after leading for seven laps and only finished in 13th. The podium was completed by Orudzhev and Sendin with Simon Gachet in fourth.
A weekend without wins probably didn’t do much harm to the newly-crowned champion’s mood while Tirman’s two victories allowed him to build up a massive gap in the fight for second. Enzo Guibbert, Gachet and Sendin are all within ten points in the battle for third, so there’s still some semblance of intrigue left.
Matt Parry went into the title decider at Croft with a massive lead over his closest rival, Matt Mason, and did what he needed to do, not allowing the fact that Mason claimed pole for the three races of the weekend unsettle him. In race one, he finished third behind Mason and Jack Aitken (the former scoring his eighth win of the season), while in race two he secured his title by claiming his 13th win of the season. Aitken continued a strong weekend by finishing second in race two, ahead of Cameron Twynham, while Mason was only fifth. Finally, Aitken claimed his second victory of the season ahead of Sean Walkinshaw and Parry whereas Mason had another unfortunate race, finishing sixth.
PaddockScout Driver of the Weekend: Marvin Kirchhofer – lots of contenders for that one, but in the end, the one who truly had a flawless weekend is the ADAC Formel Masters champion. Kirchhofer came into the weekend in second but his three wins (one of which came in a reverse grid race) did not leave Malja any chances. Absolutely perfect.
Next weekend: Thanfully things calm down somewhat with the majority, presumably, watching the Japanese Grand Prix. There is some Formula Renault action though, with the Alps series visiting Mugello for its penultimate round while the BARC title battle concludes at the British Touring Car event at Silverstone.