|Monaco podium with winner Sam Bird (C), 2nd place Jules Bianchi (L) and third place American Alexander Rossi (R)|
Just a week after providing the support act for the Formula One Grand Prix in Monaco, the Formula Renault 3.5 Series drivers move on to tackle Spa-Francorchamps, another of the most iconic circuits in motorsport. ISR’s Sam Bird will be out to defend his championship lead in the Belgian Ardennes, having moved to the top of the standings in the principality. But with Bird just five points ahead of Robin Frijns (Fortec Motorsports) and fourteen in front of Nick Yelloly (Comtec Racing), the situation at the top could change in an instant.
Sam Bird’s emotion was palpable on Sunday as he climbed on to the top step of the podium in Monaco. The Mercedes AMG F1 Team driver could not have dreamed of a better location to celebrate his maiden Formula Renault 3.5 Series victory, which sent him top of the championship standings. Bird is the only driver to have finished in the points in every race so far this season, and he looks set to be a formidable contender for the 2012 title.
With three different winners from three races, seven faces on the podium and 20 of the 26 drivers already putting points on the board, the FR 3.5 Series battle is heating up nicely. There could be a twist at Spa, however, as no collective testing sessions were held there this winter and the circuit is often full of surprises. Sections such as the impressive Raidillion-Eau Rouge combination, Les Combes and Blanchimont punish even the slightest mistakes, particularly when the weather comes into play. Gaps between the cars can sometimes be large on the seven kilometer-long circuit, which often tends to favor experienced drivers. Indeed, no FR 3.5 Series driver has won at Spa in their debut season since Boja Garcia in 2006.
Dutchman Robin Frijns, currently second in the championship and first in the Rookies division, will be out to put that statistic right on a circuit that lies just a matter of kilometers from his homeland. He will have his work cut out, however, as the championship favorites are gradually climbing up the table. Nick Yelloly, who won the first race of the season, picked up valuable points in Monaco. Alexander Rossi (Arden Caterham) scored his first podium finish of the season in the principality to put his team, in their first year in the FR 3.5 Series, firmly on the title trail. Tech 1 Racing’s drivers are also gathering momentum. Kevin Korjus lies fifth having scored points consistently, while Jules Bianchi proved on the streets of Monaco that he has the desire to mount a title challenge.
The situation in the Teams championship is every bit as tight. Fortec Motorsports, thanks to the efforts of Robin Frijns and Carlos Huertas, are currently top with a narrow lead over ISR and Tech 1 Racing, with Comtec Racing and Carlin completing the top five. Carlin dominated at Spa last season with one-twos in both races, Robert Wickens winning the first from Jean-Eric Vergne, and Vergne taking victory ahead of Wickens in the second. Trevor Carlin’s team are sure to be in the mix again this year, with their duo of Kevin Magnussen and Will Stevens joining a long list of drivers targeting victory in Belgium.
Mikhail Aleshin (Team RFR), meanwhile, has the advantage of already knowing the circuit. The Russian is the only driver in the field to have won a FR 3.5 Series race at Spa, in 2010, and he recently scored his first points of the season in Monaco. Aleshin, along with several other drivers, will be hoping for a strong display in Belgium to really kick-start his season.
The 26 drivers competing in the FR 3.5 Series will be cheered on by a special guest at Spa in the shape of Daniel Ricciardo. The Scuderia Toro Rosso driver never won at Spa during his spell in the FR 3.5 Series, but he will no doubt find time between his two Formula One exhibitions for Red Bull Racing to watch his former rivals in action.