Starting from pole, Robert Wickens (Carlin) led all the way to strengthen his grip at the top of the Formula Renault 3.5 Series standings. The Canadian now leads the championship by nine points from team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne, who climbed up from ninth on the grid to finish second and keep the title race alive until Sunday and the season’s final race.
Wickens went faster than anyone in a qualifying session disrupted when Brendon Hartley (Gravity-Charouz) went off, the Canadian chalking up his seventh pole of the season ahead of Albert Costa (Epic Racing) and Alexander Rossi (Fortec Motorsports). With a large oil spill making conditions tricky, championship challenger Vergne was unable to improve on ninth place.
The sun was shining and a large crowd in place when the 24-strong Formula Renault 3.5 Series field lined up on the grid, with Adrien Tambay (International Draco Racing) and Hartley both having pulled out following their respective spins in qualifying.
Fastest at the lights, championship leader Wickens was first into turn one. Behind him Jake Rosenzweig (Mofaz Racing) and Costa had a coming-together and were both forced to retire, while Oliver Webb (Pons Racing) also had his problems on lap one when he and Anton Nebilitskiy (KMP Racing) brushed each other. By the time the opening lap was over Wickens had consolidated his position at the front, ahead of Daniil Move (P1 Motorsport), Alexander Rossi (Fortec Motorsports), Vergne and Nick Yelloly (Pons Racing).
The Canadian pulled further clear, extending his lead by a second a lap, as Move struggled to hold off the pack, with Rossi, Vergne and Yelloly all jostling to get past him and Kevin Korjus (Tech 1 Racing) and Sergio Canamasas (BVM Minardi) quickly joining the fray.
Yelloly started to fall off the pace just after the halfway point, leaving Move, Rossi and Vergne to contest a three-way battle for second. After failing in his first attempt to Rossi, Vergne exploited an opening on lap 18 to duck into third with an audacious outside pass at the end of the pit straight.
Wickens had pulled out a comfortable 20-second cushion by the time the race entered the final ten minutes, while Vergne quickly closed the gap on Move. On lap 22 the Frenchman produced a carbon copy of his pass on Rossi to surge past the Russian and into second, while Yelloly and Korjus came together in their tussle for fifth. There were no further changes at the head of the field, however, as Wickens closed the race out for win number five of the season, with Vergne and Move completing the podium. All Wickens needs to do now to clinch the title is finish second on Sunday.
What they said:
Robert Wickens: “I was keeping my eye on that famous tower in the pit straight to see how Jean-Eric was doing, and when I saw that he was fourth I knew I couldn’t afford to make any mistakes. I got a good pace going and the car was very consistent from start to finish. I did what I had to do today and that was win.”
Jean-Eric Vergne: “This is the best result I could have hoped for after starting in ninth place. The car hasn’t been perfect since the start of the weekend and we have to get that right for tomorrow. I had to take a few risks today and I pulled two good passes. We’ve both proved a lot of things this season, and tomorrow I just have to go out and win.”
Daniil Move: “This is my second podium of the year. It’s been tough for us to recover from Roly Vincini’s departure. We’ve had to work very hard and this result is a pretty good reward for that.”
||Jean Eric VERGNE
||GRAVITY - CHAROUZ
||TECH 1 RACING
||TECH 1 RACING
||Daniel DE JONG