Champion! Robert Wickens is quickly enjoying the word having wrapped up the 2011 Formula Renault 3.5 Series title in Spain on Sunday, beating France’s Jean-Eric Vergne to the crown by nine points, 241 to 232.
The 22-year-old Canadian, a reserve driver for Marussia Virgin Racing in Formula One, is celebrating his first European open-wheel racing championship after finishing runner-up in the F2 Championship and GP3 Series in 2009 and 2010 respectively.
Wickens’ title triumph, his first since winning the 2006 Formula BMW USA Championship, comes with the prize, courtesy of Renault, of a half-day test in the Lotus Renault GP R31 Formula One car. The Toronto resident will participate in the scheduled ‘F1 Rookie Test’ at the Yas Marina International Circuit next month immediately following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Spain’s Circuit de Catalunya played host to the Formula Renault 3.5 Series finale with Wickens holding a slender two-point lead over Vergne entering the weekend. He successfully extended that to nine points by capturing the pole, his seventh of the season, and by dominating Saturday’s 29-lap race. The Marussia Motors-backed racer put in a championship drive, steering his Carlin entry to the checkered flag with a commanding 21-second advantage over Vergne, who took second to guarantee the title fight would go all the way to the final race of the season.
Wickens was again a man on a mission in Sunday morning’s qualifying outing, securing a front-row slot alongside Spain’s Albert Costa on pole with Vergne down in fifth. At the start Robert dropped a spot to third on the run to Turn 1. With Vergne up to fourth, the title rivals fought under braking with the Frenchman’s car collecting Wickens, damaging the Canadian’s right-hand track rod in the process. Unable to turn right and then hit violently from behind on the left-hand side by Nathanael Berthon’s entry, Robert’s race was done on the opening lap, his title hopes on hold.
Vergne, who needed to finish fifth, then struggled with an ill-handling car, dropping down to 12th after the mandatory pit-stops. Out of the points and with his championship hopes gone, he eventually retired on lap 17 ensuring Wickens would lift the title despite his own earlier retirement. The 26-lap race was won by Costa followed by Britain’s Nick Yelloly and Kiwi Brendon Hartley.
“Well it’s not the way I wanted to seal the championship but I’m happy to be champion," stated Wickens in Spain. “I’ve been fast here all weekend, I think yesterday’s race pace demonstrated that. It’s obviously a shame we didn’t have the opportunity to demonstrate that in today’s race but it really does come down to the whole season and overall it’s been a good year.
“It was great to have a competitive team-mate like Jean-Eric Vergne this season. I think we raised our levels to compete against each other and it’s certainly why the championship went all the way to the wire. I also really have to thank Marussia Motors for their support this season and also to Carlin for providing me with a great car. Everyone on the team’s worked so hard and it’s been so competitive that we couldn’t afford to let up at any point. I’m just really happy to have won the title!"
Wickens lifts the 2011 Formula Renault 3.5 Series courtesy of a season that included a total of five victories (Spa-Francorchamps, Nurburgring, Silverstone (x2), Catalunya), seven pole positions and 10 podium finishes. The Canadian lifted his title on the same day Germany’s Sebastian Vettel, who was propelled straight into Formula One from the Formula Renault 3.5 Series in 2007, claimed his second successive Formula One World Championship Drivers Title at the Japanese Grand Prix.
Robert will immediately head to Korea to reunite with Marussia Virgin Racing ahead of next weekend’s Korean Grand Prix, Friday 14th – Sunday 16th October. He will return home to Canada to celebrate his Formula Renault 3.5 Series on Monday 17th October.
2011 FR3.5 Series Top-5 Driver Standings (R9/9): 1st – WICKENS (CAN) 241pts, 2nd – Vergne (FRA) 232pts, 3rd – Rossi (USA) 156pts, 4th – Costa (ESP) 151pts, 5th – Ricciardo (AUS) 144pts