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Sacha Fenestraz: The next Eurocup champion chasing F3 glory

by Peter Allen


Last year, Sacha Fenestraz succeeded his management stable-mate Lando Norris as Formula Renault Eurocup champion. Now a Renault junior, he’s aiming for similar success in F3, starting in Pau this weekend.

It?s October 23, 2016. After winning both the Eurocup and Northern European Cup titles, Lando Norris bows out of his one and only season racing Formula Renault with a second-place finish in the Eurocup finale at Estoril.

Finishing 1.9 seconds up the road on a drying track is Sacha Fenestraz. The Franco-Argentine has been the second-best rookie to Norris in 2016, and has just added a second Eurocup win to his triumph on the streets of Monaco.

The next day, for what Renault terms as its official rookie test, Fenestraz moves from Tech 1 Racing to take over Norris? car at Josef Kaufmann Racing. He tops the times and goes on to sign not only with the German outfit to become its lead title hope for 2017, but also with the same ADD Motorsports management group that has methodically nurtured Norris since his karting days.

Fast forward 12 months, and Fenestraz seals the 2017 Eurocup title at Barcelona. With it, he is confirmed as a member of the Renault Sport Academy after taking up the offer that comes as a prize for winning the Eurocup (an offer that was also tabled for Norris before he signed with McLaren).


At this point, it is already clear what Fenestraz?s next step is likely to be. In September, he had made his Formula 3 debut at the Nurburgring as part of the same Carlin line-up as Norris, who was on hand to guide his colleague through his debut test at Silverstone the prior week. In a wet session dominated by Norris, Fenestraz qualified fourth for his debut. He later goes on to race at Macau with Carlin, just as Norris did one year earlier, and confirmation eventually comes at January?s Renault Sport Academy season launch that he will race full-time in F3 in 2018.

It’s there that Fenestraz insists that he is not just automatically following Norris, but that the step into F3 with Carlin is instead the most logical move, having also sampled the previously-dominant Prema squad.

?I think we’re not following [Norris? path] exactly. It’s not the same,? he tells Formula Scout. ?But obviously I have a really good management. ADD is really impressive. We see with Lando, we see with the other drivers, we see with me, since I’m with them I’m progressing really well. I?m really happy to be part of them, they’re really good people.

?Let’s say it looks like I’m following [Norris] obviously, but it was the best thing to do, because last year obviously Kaufmann was the best team in the Renault championship, and [in F3] it was Carlin or Prema. It was a hard decision. We tested both and we made the decision together to sign with Carlin. Obviously, if I can do F2 like [Norris] next year, I will be happy, but first of all, we have to do our best results this year in F3.?


Carlin?s rejuvenation in European F3 with Norris last year, coupled with the fact that Fenestraz steps up as the reigning Eurocup champion, means that plenty are expecting big things of him this season, including Prema boss Rene Rosin who has tipped him to be one of his team?s strongest challengers.

It would be simply unfair to expect Fenestraz to operate at exactly the same level as Norris, however, because there are distinct differences between them, namely the former?s more modest upbringing into motorsport. While Norris had a big-budget karting career – culminating in him winning the world championship at 14 – Fenestraz raced mostly on a national level only.

Initially, that was in Argentina, with Annecy-born Sacha?s parents having moved to Cordoba he was just six months old, where they grew the Maison Fenestraz hospitality business, the logos of which are prominent on his race cars today.

He later moved back to France to compete there, but was still very much an unknown quantity outside of his home territories when he made a late decision to step up to single-seaters in French Formula 4 at the start of 2015. As such, his two wins on the streets of Pau in only his third event where surprising and impressive in equal measure.

When the Eurocup went to Monaco for the first time the following May, it was not so surprising to see Fenestraz come out on top, as he further demonstrated his affinity for street circuits. It was also the start of a trend of wet-weather success: the first of three wins over his rookie Formula Renault campaign across the Eurocup and NEC, and all three came in wet conditions.


Photo: Gregory Lenormand / DPPI

Given that street circuits and wet weather are two of the most popular arbiters of talent in a young racing driver, those performances showed promise for the future, even if his results were not on the same level in what might be described as more conventional circumstances.

?Obviously street tracks; I love them,? he says. ?It’s really lovely to drive between the walls as fast as possible, I really like that. And then the rain, as well, I won’t say I’m bad. I?m quite good on that, so that’s quite a good point for me. I’ve trained quite a lot in go karts in the rain. I think that?s helped me a lot.?

Fenestraz began 2017 trailing rapid R-ace GP drivers Will Palmer and Robert Shwartzman, but the two street-circuit events in Pau and Monaco marked a turning point.

?R-ace GP was really fast. The only thing I think they had is that they had three really fast drivers. I was the only one on the [JKR] team who was battling in the front rows. I had a good rookie team-mate with Yifei [Ye], but I was really the only one [at the front]. So I didn’t have any data to compare to anybody, compared to R-ace: they had three, four drivers to compare against each other, so they can progress faster. So that was quite a hard point for me.

?But mid-season, starting just before Monaco, for Pau, we changed quite a lot of things in the team; my way of working with the team as well. And then starting from Monaco, everything went really good. I think we were on the podium every race weekend nearly after that.


?I think it was a really strong second half of the year. Obviously the key was to have as much consistency as possible. That was the key to winning the championship.?

At Formula Renault level, where drivers are still relatively inexperienced and early in their careers, mental strength is often a key differentiator between the leading drivers. Fenestraz impressed with the way in which he closed the championship out under pressure, frequently converting his speed into victories before wrapping the title up at Barcelona.

?I thought it was going to be harder for that,? says Fenestraz about dealing with the pressure. ?To be fair, the last race weekend at Barcelona, the day before I was close to winning the championship, I tried to manage it as best as possible but it was really tough, because obviously there was a lot of stress and everything. So I didn’t sleep I think all night. I was shaking everywhere, I was walking everywhere to try to bring the pressure down, but it was hard.?

The Renault academy place was just reward for handling that pressure. Fenestraz admits his management had contact with the young driver programmes of other F1 teams before ?we made the decision with Renault?.

?I think Renault is a really good F1 team,” he adds. “Every time they’ve been in F1 they’ve been really strong. I will try to do my best this year and hopefully I will continue with them next year. And hopefully one day why not race in the Renault F1 colours??


In the run up to Pau, Fenestraz has had a taste of what that might be like, getting behind the wheel of one of the team?s older cars as part of its series of demonstration runs through the south of France in the run up to the country?s first grand prix for 10 years.

While Cyril Abiteboul was keen to point out that he has been signed purely on merit (and given that he earned his place through his Eurocup title, it?s hard to argue with that), Fenestraz?s dual nationality must surely put him in a strong position at Renault, combining the marque?s own nationality with that of one of its key markets, and one where there is a passionate motorsport fanbase that is desperate for a new hero to follow in the footsteps of Fangio.

For now though, Fenestraz is focusing purely on F3.

?It was a big step, compared to Formula Renault,? he says. ?I knew it was going to be a big step, but not as big as that one. So I was quite impressed. Then I had some winter tests, so I had time to get used to the car and everything. I will obviously keep on learning every time I’m on track. Starting from Pau, in first practice, I will keep on learning all the year, like last year. Even in Renaults in my second year, I still learned a lot. I think the key will be to stay on track in every session all year, and then the results, hopefully they will come. I know I’m trying my best as always.?

Unlike three years ago, should Fenestraz stand on the top step in Pau this weekend, it will not be a surprise. Particularly given that it?s forecast to rain.