Saturday 14 July 2012 is a day that will live long in the memory of Robin Frijns (Fortec Motorsports). After completing his maiden F1 drive in the Red Bull-Renault RB6, the Dutchman became the first driver to win an international race at a Russian track. Leading from start to finish, Frijns took the chequered flag ahead of Jules Bianchi (Tech 1 Racing) and Sam Bird (ISR) to move out in front in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series standings.
In a keenly contested qualifying session, Frijns secured his second pole position of the season ahead of Marco Sorensen (Lotus) and Bianchi. On a busy day for the 2011 Eurocup Formula Renault champion, he then became the first driver to take to the wheel of an F1 car at the Moscow Raceway, in front of some well-populated stands, before hopping back into his FR 3.5 at the head of the grid, ready for a race with a DRS time allocation of 400 seconds.
Making a clean start, the Dutchman led from Sorensen, with Bianchi holding off early challenges from Bird and Arthur Pic (Dams). The leading five quickly pulled away from the pack, which was headed by Antonio Felix da Costa (Arden Caterham), Jake Rosenzweig (ISR) and Kevin Korjus (Tech 1 Racing).
The highlight of the early stages was the battle for third between Bianchi and Bird, which allowed Pic to close right up on the duo. Up ahead Frijns and Sorensen were powering away, opening out a six-second lead over the rest of the field after ten just minutes.
Back in the bunch, Korjus moved up a place after Rosenzweig retired, and then closed in on Da Costa, while Alexander Rossi (Arden Caterham), Lucas Foresti (Dams) and Kevin Magnussen (Carlin) climbed back into contention to form a tightly packed chasing group. Korjus and Magnussen then jumped past Da Costa and Foresti to move up to sixth and ninth respectively.
In the meantime, Sorensen heaped the pressure on Frijns only to spin off, with Bianchi narrowly avoiding him as he slipped into second, ahead of Bird, Pic and Sorensen.
The safety car then put in an appearance as the cars of Carlos Huertas (Fortec Motorsports) and Nicolay Martsenko (BVM Target) were cleared from the track, the prelude to an accident-strewn finale. While Frijns remained in charge, a collision behind him involving several cars ended with Anton Nebylitskiy (Team RFR) going off and the safety car coming straight back out again. There was one lap to go when the race resumed and though Foresti, Magnussen and Rossi came together on the final corner, Frijns was clear of danger, the Dutchman claiming the win from Bianchi and Bird to move ten points clear of the British driver at the top of the championship standings.
What they said:
Robin Frijns: “To win a race on a track that’s new to everyone is a great sign for me. I knew that overtaking here would be very difficult, which made the start even more important. The duel I had with Marco Sorensen was tough but fair. He made the wrong move by braking on the dirty side of the track. It’s an important win for me, coming after my first Formula One drive, but I’ll need to do just as well tomorrow because Jules and Sam are right in there.”
Jules Bianchi: “We needed to score some points because we made too many errors at the start of the season. I’ve got a very efficient car and I had the means at my disposal to get pole this morning. I closed up on Robin before the safety car came out and that perhaps stopped me from getting an even better result. All the same, I needed these points.”
Sam Bird: “I made a mistake in qualifying this morning, and it was my own fault. The car was going really well at the start of the race but I never really had the chance to get past Jules. It’s good to get on the podium, though, and the fact that the points system is the same as F1 means that the standings can change really quickly.”