Formula Renault 3.5 returned in earnest for its penultimate round at Paul Ricard where Carlos Sainz Jr. was invincible in the dry conditions to secure back-to-back victories for DAMS Racing. After a difficult weekend in Hungary, the Red Bull youngster was back at his best in France, to sit just six points from eternal championship glory.
The title is Carlos Sainz Jr.’s to lose
He’s arguably the best driver on the grid and has the best car so perhaps it is no surprise that DAMS Racing’s car number 1 is unbeatable in the dry. Sainz utilised the team’s late mandatory pit stop to storm to victory, bettering Gasly on his home track. To bounce back after losing a suspected Toro Rosso F1 seat to a teenager barely into a full car racing career is an achievement in itself. Friday practice was not his time in France but the Spaniard returned to form when he needed to, even if hi emotions were somewhat subdued.
But is he really the best?
All weekend, I received comments about the state of the FR3.5 grid and its standard versus other years, especially 2013. Have we enjoyed the battles of last year? No, but Sainz is not responsible for the formation of the grid. Should he win, as we all expect he will, he will become the first Red Bull junior to do so and the youngest in history aged 20. Beating the drivers on the day is the main job and he has thus far succeeded that, regardless of the line-up. Please do not underestimate how difficult it is to win a championship at any age, against any drivers and in any series. It takes a certain mentality Sainz has adopted thus far.
Stockinger fades as the weekend gets underway
Marlon Stockinger was the man of the moment on Friday to lead both the morning and afternoon practice sessions for Lotus but quickly faded, bowing to the superior pace of the front runners. The Lotus F1 junior had a stunning start but his chances of securing an upset were quickly dashed in France. A maiden pole and victory still allude the Filipino-Swiss racer.
Rowland: The last of the late brakers
Can we all take a moment to acknowledge the overtaking skills of Oliver Rowland, one of those drivers worthy of the title: ‘The last of the late brakers.’ Paul Ricard does not make overtaking easy but in a quick Fortec, and with his fuel pressure issues momentarily under control, the Racing Steps Foundation racer overtook more than 15 drivers last weekend. The fuel pressure fault dropped him out of championship contention but Rowland had the media centre talking for all the right reasons.
The McLaren juniors win again
Shifting focus away from FR3.5 for a moment, congratulations Nyck de Vries who became the 2014 Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup champion with a round to spare. Fellow McLaren junior Stoffel Vandoorne won the 2012 title and Kevin Magnussen topped the FR3.5 standings last year. Red Bull are yet to win a championship of their own with a young driver at the helm – Gasly was not signed to their programme during his victorious campaign last year – but McLaren’s reign of dominance continues.
More from the weekend:
– Sainz Jr. ‘shocked’ by Toro Rosso F1 snub (Crash.net)
– Video highlights from both races (Crash.net)
– All new stories/race reports (Crash.net)
– Weekend round up in detail (RumbleStripNews)
As always, I extend my gratitude and thanks to a group of people who make these weekends possible. To Renault Sport, RSM Racing, Crash.net and the World Series by Renault, I will be eternally grateful for their consistent hospitality and belief. See you again at Jerez!