Photo: Dutch Photo Agency/Red Bull Content Pool
Red Bull ace outperforms – if not upstages – FR3.5 title contenders in a dramatic end-of-season weekend in Barcelona and beyond…
Formula Renault 3.5
Entering the final round of the season at Barcelona, the leading duo were separated by a mere five points,? suggesting a repeat of the thrilling conclusions the series provided in 2010 and 2011. And this year was no exception.
With two races to go, Jules Bianchi led Robin Frijns after the latter had a dreadful weekend at Paul Ricard. The only other driver with a shot at the title was Sam Bird although his chances at that point seemed purely mathematical, as he was 25 points between the leader. It was all gearing up for a battle of the titans, the two best drivers of the series separated by barely any points. However, while the finale produced plenty excitement, in the end it looked all different.
Saturday morning seemed pretty straightforward as Bianchi took his fourth pole position of the season in a stoppage-ridden session. Antonio Felix da Costa lined up alongside him, foreshadowing another brilliant performance, while Bird and Frijns were fourth and sixth on the grid respectively.
However, after a hectic start, it was Bird running away with the lead, Felix da Costa right behind him as Bianchi made a terrible start, which demoted him to fifth behind Frijns and Kevin Magnussen. The top five remained pretty stable in that order until, with nine laps to go, Felix da Costa passed Bird for the lead and went on to claim another spectacular victory. Bird had to contend with second which kept his championship chances well alive, while Frijns drove confidently to third. The big moment of the race happened when Bianchi lost his cool behind Magnussen and, on lap 28, attempted a bold and ultimately futile move, that would cause them both to lose position. Will Stevens grabbed fourth while Magnussen only lost one place, ending up in fifth. Bianchi was less lucky – his spin demoted him to seventh, behind Kevin Korjus. As a sort of foreshadowing to Team RFR’s last hurrah, Aaro Vainio took eighth ahead of his teammate, Mikhail Aleshin, while Marco Sorensen completed the top ten.
The championship, therefore, was to be decided in race two, as it was now Frijns who led Bianchi by four points this time, with Bird a further 12 behind. However, those expecting a close, tightly-fought championship battle instead got something a little less coherent, because on Sunday, the track was drenched with rain.
The rain quite clearly affected the outcome of the qualifying as series champion Aleshin took pole in changing conditions, lining up alongside Arthur Pic. Frijns was fourth, right behind Felix da Costa, and Bianchi was exactly a row down, the two main contenders separated by Vainio.
Starting from third did not impede Felix da Costa’s progress as he stormed into the lead during lap one and never gave it up, completing a perfect weekend of dominance that surely put the Portuguese driver in contention for a test driver role in F1 in 2013. However, his success was not the story of the day as what went on behind him ended up deciding the title in the end. After a series of stops shook up the field (for it was one of those races), Bianchi and Frijns found each other very close on track. Bianchi, needing to pass the Dutchman to have a shot at the title, did just that but, a couple of turns later, Frijns ran him into the gravel in a bold and, frankly, hopeless move. The accident ended Bianchi’s title hopes, putting him out of the races, while Frijns managed to continue racing after such a fairly severe collision and went on to cruise to the title. The Dutchman would be penalised post-race for the move, but even a non-score could not prevent him from becoming series champion as Bird did not earn enough points to challenge the main duo and Bianchi did not earn any for obvious reasons.
Ahead of the title drama, the RFR teammates fought it out for second, with Aleshin coming out on top in a smooth, clean battle. Surely though, GP3 graduate Vainio was not disappointed with his maiden series podium. Magnussen held off Alexander Rossi for fourth while Pic took sixth ahead of Bird (who was promoted to seventh after Frijns got his penalty). The top ten was completed by Andre Negrao, Stevens and Walter Grubmuller.
As such, Frijns is the 2012 FR3.5 champion and, while he drove a smooth and powerful season, he’d probably liked to have sealed it in less controversial circumstances. Bianchi was second, Bird was third, but Felix da Costa in fourth was perhaps the real star of the season as he took four victories in a part-time campaign that were sure to attract lots of attention from the right people.
Eurocup Formula Renault
Barcelona proved a good track for thrilling conclusions this weekend, as the Eurocup provided us with one epic finale. Coming into the last round, 11 points separated Stoffel Vandoorne and Daniil Kvyat and both of them proved just how insignificant of a margin that can be.
On Saturday morning, Vandoorne did the maximum of what he could, winning qualifying in Group A and ensuring a start on the front row. Kvyat, however, did not manage a similar feat and was only third in Group B, behind Oscar Tunjo and Alex Riberas. Since the top Group B time was traditionally faster, Tunjo started from pole with Vandoorne alongside, while Kvyat had to contend with fifth.
It was a lights-to-flag victory for Tunjo with Vandoorne second, yet Kvyat, again, did the best he could, passing Oliver Rowland and Riberas on lap one and keeping third until the end of the race. Riberas and Rowland kept fourth and fifth with Paul-Loup Chatin finishing in sixth. Josh Hill, having started sixth, lost position to Chatin as well as Melville McKee and Steijn Schothorst to finish ninth as Pierre Gasly rounded up the top ten.
Vandoorne therefore entered the last race with a 15 point lead over Kvyat, but the conditions did not allow him to enjoy a relaxing stroll for the title. While Kvyat set the fastest time in his qualifying group (which gave him pole due to the changing conditions), Vandoorne only set the eighth time in his, which meant he would have to start sixteenth. However, by the end of lap one, as Kvyat was well in the lead, Vandoorne was already sixth, after which he spun attempting to take fifth. With Vandoorne’s race over just like that, it seemed that Kvyat was well on course to secure the title. However, he soon was awarded a drive-through penalty for his pit-crew’s infringement of the five-minute warning. Recovering from that on the wet tyres, Kvyat even got up to first again during the course of the race, but then started dropping down the field as people on slicks gained five or six seconds per lap on him. His finish in eighth ensured Vandoorne was champion.
Other than that, the last race of the season saw Rowland take his first victory in the series. William Vermont and Felipe Fraga completed the podium while the newly-crowned Formula Renault NEC champion Jake Dennis took fourth. Riberas, Gasly and Tunjo finished ahead of Kvyat while Mikko Pakari and Matthieu Vaxiviere completed the top ten.
In the final standings, Vandoorne beat Kvyat by ten points. In third, it was Rowland who led the rest of the field.
Formula Renault Alps
Yet another Formula Renault championship concluded its 2012 running this weekend at Barcelona. This time it was Formula Renault Alps and Kvyat again was involved in the title fight. With two races to go, the young Russian start led this category by 15 points over closest rival Norman Nato. Chatin was also technically in mathematical contention but with him trailing Kvyat by 44 points, it was a massive longshot.
In the qualifying session, Nato secured pole for race one and second for race two while Kvyat did the exact opposite of that, which set them up for a massively exciting finale. Race one saw the title fight get even closer as Nato won from lights-to-flag while Kvyat lost his second to Chatin. Hans Villemi overtook Tunjo on his way to fourth with the Colombian having to settle for fifth.
Nato’s victory brought the gap down to three points and made the possibility of Kvyat losing two titles on one day very real. However, that was not to be. Kvyat and Nato stormed away from the grid and, as Nato started catching Kvyat for the lead on lap three, the pair made contact. Their races were over then and there and it was Kvyat who was declared champion. Tunjo went on to control the race to take a second victory of the weekend with teammates Chatin and Roman Mavlanov completing the podium. The top five was rounded out by Fraga and Stefan Wackerbauer.
In the end of it all, Kvyat is the champion with 217 points with Nato on 214 and Chatin on 194.
Formula 3 Euro Series
Daniel Juncadella went into the final round at Hockenheim with a massive lead over his closest competitors, clearly intent of finally sealing the title in his third year in the series. And he managed just that, although, as it often is this year, things didn’t go quite as smooth as he probably wanted.
In qualifying, Juncadella did a decent job, qualifying on the front row for races one and three. However, he lost out on pole on both occasions to Felix Rosenqvist. Pascal Wehrlein, Juncadella’s main rival, wasn’t that far off either, qualifying in third for both races, while another contender, Raffaele Marciello, put himself in fourth and eighth respectively.
The first race was shaping up to be fairly processional right until the point where Juncadella’s engine started failing on him, which dropped him a lap down and out of the points. Rosenqvist claimed his third win of the season pretty much unopposed while Wehrlein inherited second place from Juncadella. Marciello was third ahead of Tom Blomqvist and Sven Muller.
The reverse grid race was another disaster for Juncadella as the mechanical failures on his car persisted, not allowing him to start the race properly and forcing him into retirement early on. Lucas Wolf was the polesitter but it was Muller who ended up winning the race, passing Wolf for the lead closer to the end of the race. Marciello followed his example and went on to claim second while Wolf had to do with third, his first podium of the year. Guest driver Lucas Auer and William Buller completed the top five. Wehrlein didn’t have the best of races and finished all the way down in eighth.
So, as things stood before the last race, Juncadella had a 13.5 point lead over Marciello with Wehrlein a further 0.5 behind. However, with him starting ahead of either of the rivals, Juncadella had a calm and controlled race, allowing some cars by (most notably Wehrlein) but still finishing in a respectable fourth, which guaranteed him the title. Rosenqvist brought home another win while Wehrlein secured second in the championship with… well, second. Guest driver Alex Lynn completed the podium while another British F3 regular Felix Serralles rounded out the top five. Marciello finished exactly where he started, securing his third place in the championship.
The same weekend (and the same races) also saw the fate of the 2012 season of the FIA European Formula 3 Championship decided. Juncadella also secured that title ahead of Marciello, Rosenqvist, Wehrlein and Carlos Sainz, Jr.
Riccardo Agostini went into the final round of the season at Monza with a pretty big gap over his nearest rivals, but a near-perfect weekend from Eddie Cheever, Jr. denied him the title in the European Series.
To kick it off, Cheever took pole in both race one and two while Agostini lined up fifth and sixth respectively. Another rival, Brandon Maisano, lined up second and third.
In race one, Maisano hit trouble as he had a lap one collision with Kevin Giovesi that forced him to retire. Meanwhile, Cheever enjoyed an easy lights-to-flag victory and Agostini fought his way into second. Mario Marasca, who held second for most of the race, was forced to contend with the final podium position.
Race two saw Giovesi put up quite a challenge against Cheever before his retirement midway through the race that allowed Cheever to cruise to yet another victory. Maisano finished second with Henrique Martins completing the top three as Agostini’s spin only allowed him to reach sixth.
Finally, the reverse grid race saw Giovesi take his third victory of the season with Sergey Sirotkin and Marasca completing the podium. Maisano was fourth, Agostini fifth and Cheever seventh, meaning that the latter secured the European Series title. However, Agostini was able to secure the title of the Italian Series. Or at least that’s how it looked after the final race. But following complaints from the teams and several hours of deliberation, the stewards postponed the awarding of the titles.
Formula Renault BARC Winter Series (by Peter Allen)
The first of two weekends that make up the Formula Renault BARC Winter Series took place at the British Touring Car Championship finale at Brands Hatch. After finishing third in the main season, Seb Morris began as the favourite and duly won the first race ahead of Intersteps convert Jack Aitken and Chris Middlehurst. Another ex-Intersteps man Matt Mason led the race from pole before a mistake dropped him to six, while fellow front-row starter Gustav Malja of ADAC Formel Masters fame stalled in his first start in the car on the tricky Brands Hatch grid.
Race two took place in difficult weather conditions, but that didn’t stop a fierce battle between Morris and Mason for the lead. Morris grabbed first place but then pushed too hard and went off, allowing Mason to take victory. Middlehurst and Aitken were again on the podium – this time in the opposite order. Morris recovered to fourth despite at least one further off, while Matthew Brabham, grandson of Jack, added a second fifth place finish despite an early spin of his own.
Ahead of the final two races at Rockingham on 10 November, Mason leads the standings on 56 points with Morris on 54 and Aitken and Middlehurst tied for 53.
PaddockScout Driver of the Weekend: Antonio Felix da Costa – another unbelievable performance from the Portuguese driver that makes you think the title would be his if he were to contest it from the start. As far as weekends go, it doesn’t get much more impressive than that.
Next weekend: The Indian Grand Prix support bill includes both the JK Racing Asia Series and, perhaps more interestingly, the MRF Challenge featuring the likes of Luciano Bacheta, Conor Daly, Jon Lancaster, Alice Powell and Jordan King.