Photo: Renault Sport
The GP2 and WSR rosters accompany F1 to Monte Carlo, with the former coming under fire again over driving standards…
Formula Renault 3.5
Muller and Sorensen get their campaigns back on track
While the Monte Carlo round did not do particularly much for the Formula Renault 3.5 standings with its single race and the series leaders closely bunched up together at the finish line, it has instead been something of a career-changer, a milestone for all the three drivers who stood on the podium. The hugely-talented Swiss youngster Nico Muller ascended the top step of the podium for the first time in his WSR career, after a flawless weekend that got him back into the title fight in the blink of an eye. He was fastest in his qualifying group, albeit not by much, which proved enough for him to take pole position. From that point on, it was cruise control for the Swiss driver, who drove a superb, confident 32 laps to cross the line in first. For Muller, who’s not gotten much press in WSR despite being very good in his rookie year, the Monaco win could prove a well-needed break, with F1 teams hopefully beginning to take more interest in his progress.
Then there was a man who already has a F1 team watching over him – Marco Sorensen. After a disastrous first four races that saw the Lotus WSR team struggle for pace and yielded last year’s race winner all of three points, the Dane reminded everyone why Lotus picked him. He was exactly 0.01s off of Muller’s pole time and lined up third on the grid. Into turn one he was second and, not indulging in illusions of possibly getting Muller, brought the car home three second behind, taking his first podium of the year. Having been a pre-season contender, he still finds himself rather far off of the leader of the standings, but if the pace of the car has been sorted out, there’s nothing impossible about Sorensen coming back into the fight.
Carlin’s Jazeman Jaafar was third, his first WSR podium in just his fifth race of the championship. He could’ve done even more, after having done a phenomenal job in qualifying to top his group, but was not as quick off the line as Sorensen and had to hold on to third, which he had little trouble with. Jaafar’s been rather quick before, but has entered a new level with this weekend and could very well be a race winner when this year’s championship is done.
Out of the main title contenders, Kevin Magnussen was the most impressive, but couldn’t handle Jaafar in his qualifying group and had to take fourth, which he kept in the race. Antonio Felix da Costa had an uneventful but solid weekend that finished with him taking fifth, while Stoffel Vandoorne was ninth after a grid penalty for spinning into another car under yellows in practice.
Finally, Carlos Sainz, Jr. made a WSR debut (and a Monte Carlo debut, for that matter) that is sure to be remembered. He qualified third in his group and was very competitive in the race and, although lost position towards the end, was sixth at the checkered, which has to have impressed the folks over at Red Bull.
Next round: Spa-Francorchamps, 1-2 June
Monaco glory for specialist Bird and local hero Coletti
With the current GP2 grid arguably stronger than last year’s and several rookies of 2012 now fully-fledged title contenders with plenty of experience, it’s somewhat surprising that 2013 saw a repeat polesitter at Monte Carlo. The Venezuelan racer Johnny Cecotto, Jr. came under fire in the first couple rounds of the championship for unsportsmanlike behaviour, and on Thursday, the weekend looked like his much-needed rebound. Cecotto was simply faultless in qualifying – despite being in the generally slower Group A, he set a time so quick that it remained unbeaten throughout both sessions. On race day, unfortunately, it was back to the norm for the Venezuelan’s season as he lost out to his front row starter teammate off the line and was a bit too eager to get the spot back into T1, missing the braking point and going nose-first into the wall. What followed was GP2’s most embarrassing, albeit not deservedly so, moment of the current year, as most of the drivers found themselves with nowhere to go, causing a tremendous pile-up into T1. Cecotto was among those not present at the subsequent restart and, whilst his mistake was hardly comparable to his wrongdoings of the past, the GP2 stewards proved they’ve had about enough and parked him for the sprint race.
Unluckily for Cecotto, it was his young Kiwi teammate who served as a catalyst for Cecotto’s mistake.?Mitch Evans had a stunning qualifying, taking Group B’s top time. He made a better getaway from the front row than his teammate and led into T1. Keeping that lead after the red flag restart, he managed to keep everyone behind for the entirety of the first stint and, while he couldn’t keep his tyres fresh enough to stop late, he rejoined in third after the mandatory stop and went on to take his second podium of the season. Alas, three was the magic number for the Kiwi’s weekend – podium number three came in the sprint race with another third place.
While Cecotto, who was the winner of the GP2 feature race at Monte Carlo of 2012, ended his weekend on lap one on Friday, his WSR counterpart of last year fared much better. Sam Bird, well-known for being a Monaco specialist, did very well to confirm his reputation. He was best of the rest in Group A, unable to match Cecotto and, therefore, having to settle for third. In the race, he was involved in the early lap one shenanigans, but carried on, with his team allowed to make repairs during the red flag. After the restart, he kept up with Evans and managed to pit late after putting in some fantastic laps on worn rubber – those laps in the end were what gave him the win. The sprint race was a different picture, with Bird ending up a lap down due to tyre issues, but it’s very unlikely he’ll be disappointed with that.
Championship leaders Stefano Coletti and Felipe Nasr had Monte Carlo weekends that went perfectly along with the earlier patterns of their seasons. Coletti underperformed in the feature race, finishing only sixth, but that was enough to put him in perfect position for his third sprint race win of the year – and, as such, the Monegasque still leads the standings confidently. Nasr, who still hasn’t finished lower than fourth, was fourth twice, producing good driving and some stellar overtaking moves.
Fabio Leimer and Marcus Ericsson will continue to rue their luck, consistently showing strong pace and having something go wrong for them when it counts the most. For both of the men, the weekend was as good as over into T1. With no points for either, Leimer sits in fourth in the standings due to his two spectacular prior wins, while Ericsson has all of four points to show for himself – those achieved by taking pole at Catalunya. James Calado, meanwhile, caught a break in luck – he was severely unhappy with the car after a really dismal qualifying, but was lucky to avoid wrecking his weekend early on. The pace was still not there, but Calado managed two fifth place finishes to take a good chunk of points, keeping his title hopes alive, if looking rather improbable.
The weekend also produced two new podium finishers. Adrian Quaife-Hobbs drove a perfect feature race to convert last on the grid into a reverse-grid pole. While Coletti was just too strong for him in the sprint race, he did spectacularly to keep the rest behind and leaves Monte Carlo with a special second-place finish in his CV. Meanwhile, Trident’s Kevin Ceccon reminded everyone why he is held in such high regard by journalists with his best GP2 weekend to date. He nearly ended his weekend after an early collision with Bird, but drove faultlessly after the restart to take second with a well-performed strategy undercut, while the sprint race brought him some more points with seventh place.
Next round: Silverstone, 29-30 June
Bryant-Meisner upstages all of International Class, while Buller quietly builds up a gap
When Performance Racing announced a guest entry for the British F3 round as Silverstone for John Bryant-Meisner, they probably weren’t expecting him to leave the track with two wins behind his belt, but in the end, that’s exactly what wound up happening. After being on-pace but quiet in practice, he was suddenly quickest by far in qualifying, resulting in a double pole. The organizers, fearing that the Swede’s different (albeit older and supposedly slower) tech gave him an unfair advantage, first asked the Performance Racing team to disconnect the boost, permitted in German F3, and then gave him additional weight, but it was all to no avail. Race one and race three followed the same pattern, as the Swede build up a gap due to the carnage behind him and cruised to victory. In race two, he was ninth, but he won’t be losing much sleep over that one, as he’s inelligible for points anyway and has garnered more than enough attention this weekend.
Fortec’s Will Buller was the main star of the main International Class, making his return to the team a very prolific one. He mostly kept his nose clean, avoiding the mayhem, and that allowed him to finish on the podium all three times. In race one, he finished behind Bryant-Meisner, picking up the points for the win. He then repeated the same result in the reverse-grid race and finished third in the final one, having tangled with Felix Serralles early on with no repercussions for himself. Buller comfortably leads the series after round one and, should he appear for the other rounds, is a prime title contender.
The other Fortec drivers weren’t so lucky. Serralles had one total disaster of a weekend, involved in incidents in both feature races that saw him drop way down the field, with his only good result being a great recovery to fourth in the reverse-grid outing. Meanwhile, Felipe Guimaraes was on the podium for race one and scored points in the other two, despite a drive through for disrespecting track limits in the final race.
Carlin’s drivers had an eventful weekend, with none of them managing three clean races. Jordan King was rather expectedly quick, punctuating that with a de-facto win in race three, where he only lost to a guest entry. Nicholas Latifi showed his usual dark horse ability to run with the more experienced drivers, but couldn’t keep himself out of trouble, still managing to record two fifth-place finishes after a collision with Serralles in race one. Jann Mardenborough also had trouble in race one, but recovered by race three, where taking fourth allowed him to pick up the 15 points for a podium finish.
Finally, Double R Racing also had a weekend to admire. Sean Gelael made his first appearance on an F3 podium, Tatiana Calderon recorded a top-five finish and both stayed out of incidents. Their main hope, Antonio Giovinazzi, wasn’t so lucky, with penalties for not respecting track limits, but his victory in the reverse-grid race easily overshadowed any other on-track events he was part of.
In the National Class, a combination of machinery and impressive driving skills allowed Ed Jones to enjoy a complete walkover, with three class wins in three races.
Next round: Spa-Francorchamps, 25-27 July
Rovera proves he’s not infallible, but remains way too strong for competition
Alessio Rovera continued to be the revelation of the Formula Abarth season in the second round at Adria. The Italian kicked off the weekend with a double pole and got away nicely in race one. An uncharacteristic mistake caused him to spin out on track and he rejoined in fifth. By the end of the race he was second, but didn’t have the time or the pace to catch up with the leader. Rovera followed up the feature race podium with a rather dissapointing fourth in the reverse-grid outing, where he didn’t manage to overtake slower cars and himself fell prey to more aggressive, confident drivers. In race three, however, the Rovera of round one was back in full force, taking his third win to lead the championship, taking his advantage in the standings to 37 points.
Simone Iaquinta was on-track to have a better weekend than his main rival, taking advantage of Rovera’s spin to take victory in race one before storming to the podium in the sprint race. He didn’t make it past lap one in race three, though, and, as such, has fallen even further adrift of the standings lead. Another round one top performer, Michele Beretta, had a dismal weekend altogether, with a best finish of seventh, but still sits in third in the leaderboard.
The inconsistencies of the leaders meant the rest of the field got a good chance to record some decent result, which is a chance they took full advantage of. Luis Michael Dorrbecker converted his reverse-grid pole into a second place, while Federico Pezzolla performed extremely well in race one to take third. Leader of the National Trophy Sergey Trofimov took another full-fledged podium, this time in race three of the weekend. Finally, Lukas Moraes, exhibiting frontrunner pace all weekend, was rewarded with a reverse-grid victory.
Next round: Mugello, 14 July
Formula Masters China
While two of the three FMC races at Shanghai International were won by one man, the championship is still shaping a very tight affair. Race one was won by Afiq Ikhwan, a very experienced Malaysia racer who stormed to the checkered flag, finishing ahead of teammate Aidan Wright and compatriot Akash Nandy. The second race went his way as well, with Raj Bharath and Wright completing the podium, while the third one Bharath ahead of Ikhwan and Nandy.
With no clear consistent winner and a select group of people rotating on and off the podium, Ikhwan’s two wins don’t raise any bells for his potential dominance just yet. The Malaysian leads, the standings, granted, by Bharath and Wright are just five and six points behind respectively, and, with another five rounds, it’s shaping up to be a great fight.
Next round: Ordos, 30 June
PaddockScout Driver of the Weekend:
While it was a toss-up between Muller and Evans, in the end, the fact that Mitch maintained his top form through two races prevailed. And how couldn’t it? The Kiwi youngster has looked more than competent in GP2 prior to this round, but now he’s looking straight-up mighty. Keeping a level head throughout two Monaco races as a rookie is one thing, but being very competitive is quite another, and Mitch proved he could do both. He’s the kind of racer the GP2 audience wants to see and the kind of racer the GP2 teams need to fight for – simple as that.