To define drivers in terms of their positions within a team – ‘one’ denoting that they are the championship contender and ‘two’ being the team mate who helps them on their way – can be controversial. After all, Norman Nato has as much of a right to be a part of a Formula Renault 3.5 grid as Carlos Sainz Jr. I know, acknowledge and accept this.
If anything, Nato is worthy of an altogether separate accolade, that of the perfect second driver. He is consistent enough to keep Sainz on his toes, quick enough to win when his rivals falter but not so fast that he continues to threaten his team mate’s attempt at title glory. A pairing like that of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in the World Series by Renault is not the desired norm for the above-mentioned reasons.
When World Series by Renault fans and commentators look back on the 2014 season, Sainz Jr. will be listed as the champion. The first half of his season was almost faultless – he is the first Red Bull junior and youngest driver to win this title for a reason. Saying this, how many will acknowledge the work of Nato and his contribution to the constructors’ championship? It was a battle that DAMS Racing so effortlessly won this season thanks, in part, to their home racer.
Since making his FR3.5 debut in 2013, Nato has shared a garage with some impressive young drivers. 2013 victor Kevin Magnussen was undeniably talented and his title winning performance that year was a showcase in winning a championship; he was a perfect combination of consistent, quick and strong-headed. His success made DAMS Racing ‘the’ team to drive for – just like Tech 1 Racing and Fortec Motorsports before them.
As such, Red Bull placed Sainz in their car number 1. Nato would have a competitive team mate again, his ideal benchmark.
It was clear at the start of the season, that Sainz needed this championship more than Red Bull did. The Austrian outfit’s junior squad had not produced a victor in the series but had some notable alumni to its credit – Sebastian Vettel, Jean-Eric Vergne, Daniel Ricciardo, amongst others – and a selection of fit and fast youngsters to choose from. The 2014 line up was by no means the most competitive in series history; Sainz would have to be victorious if a Toro Rosso seat (or even a future in single-seater racing, for that matter) was on the cards.
While paddock whispers linked the Red Bull ace to F1, coining him the next Kevin Magnussen and rightly so, his introverted French team mate has raced the season of his life. In 2014, Nato has more than doubled his 2013 points haul in the second DAMS, producing two wins. This year he replaced Nico Muller as FR3.5’s King of Monaco and followed this up with a victory in Hungary. Both were perhaps a surprise to onlookers but neither were flukes. They were fifty points well earned and enough to put him in seventh place in the standings with one more race still to contest.
So why is a dependable second driver so important? Putting aside the somewhat obvious fact that they contribute more points to a constructors title fight, drivers like Nato offer so much more.
The data from Norman, Carlos himself admitted last month, has been vital when a certain session has not gone to plan. Take the penultimate round at Paul Ricard for example. Sainz was struggling in free practice, dropping all the way to fourteenth. With some help from the telemetry provided by his team mate, the young Spaniard responded the following day to secure pole position and yet another race victory in the process.
From DAMS’ point of view, there is also something about his nationality that is entirely beneficial to a French team. He represents their country in racing without the politics attached when Formula 1 junior schemes or heavy sponsorship bring. Romain Grosjean’s links with Total and the influence these two have formed as a partnership is the only comparable example I can think of. Nato keeps the shareholders happy by simply being as plain as a driver can – on the surface anyway.
Nato may not have adorned on his car the now infamous Red Bull logo. He also does not belong to a Formula 1 junior system but for DAMS Racing, he has proven himself to be the perfect home representative. Nato has not set the world of FR3.5 alight with his performances and he is not the most competitive junior racing today but he has proven himself to be an integral part of the team.