Established Formula One names Kimi Räikkönen, Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa and new arrivals Romain Grosjean, Charles Pic, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne all made their breakthroughs at the wheel of the Formula Renault 2.0. This season some 40 drivers will be lining up in the category with designs on following in their footsteps. Among them are Daniil Kvyat (Koiranen Motorsport), Stoffel Vandoorne and Alex Riberas (both Josef Kaufmann Racing), all of whom made an impact in the event last year but who are sure to face a stiff challenge this time around from a clutch of hungry newcomers out to make an instant impact.
Quality and quantity are the watchwords in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 this season. With 40 cars on the start grid, drivers will need to be consistent and keep errors to an absolute minimum to claim the 2012 title, which comes with a €500,000 grant and a place in next year’s Formula Renault 3.5 Series. And with only a second separating 20 members of the field in pre-season collective testing at Paul Ricard, Barcelona, Motorland Aragon and Navarra, the competition is sure to be intense.
The drivers who featured prominently last time out will be banking on their know-how to make an early breakaway in the standings. Third in 2011 and the winner of two races, Kvyat starts out as the man to beat. The Red Bull Junior Team man kicked off the new season in fine style with two wins at the first leg of the Formula Renault 2.0 Alps championship at Monza a few weeks ago. Crossing swords with the Russian for the second year running will be Vandoorne, Riberas, Paul-Loup Chatin and Oscar Tunjo (both Tech1 Racing), Timmy Hansen (Interwetten.com Junior Team) and Norman Nato and Javier Tarancon (both RC Formula), who all featured on the podium at least once in 2011.
Out of that group Vandoorne was the most consistent in pre-season testing. The RACB National Team driver, who has joined Josef Kaufmann Racing this season, underlined his fine form with two early Formula Renault 2.0 NEC wins at Hockenheim. And having seen Robin Frijns never finish lower than fifth in storming to the 2011 FR 2.0 title, the Belgian is well aware of the need to churn out the results.
After winning a race apiece at Catalunya last autumn, the Spanish duo of Riberas and Tarancon will be aiming to shine again on home soil when the lights turn green for the first race of the campaign at Motorland Aragon on Saturday 5 May.
For the rookies, meanwhile, they have the examples of Kevin Korjus and Frijns to follow, who both won the title on their first attempt, in 2010 and 2011 respectively, and have since moved up to Formula Renault 3.5 Series. High up on the list of debutants to watch out for is Oliver Rowland (Fortec Motorsports), last year’s Formula Renault UK runner-up, while the 2011 French F4 champion Matthieu Vaxiviere (Tech 1 Racing), 2012 Toyota Racing Series winner Nick Cassidy (Fortec Motorsports), Pierre Gasly (R-Ace Grand Prix) and Jordan King (Manor MP Motorsport) should all have something to say based on their showings in collective testing.
Last but not least, there is a posse of talented young karting drivers to keep an eye out for. Double CIK-FIA Karting world champion Nick de Vries (R-Ace Grand Prix) will be under close scrutiny, not least by the McLaren Driver Development Programme, of which he is a member. De Vries’ old karting adversary and Red Bull Junior Team driver Alex Albon (Epic Racing) is another rookie to watch, as are Stefan Wackerbauer (Koiranen Motorsport) and the 15-year-old Esteban Ocon (Koiranen Motorsport), who, despite being the baby of the grid, is already signed up to iRace Professional, Gravity’s Formula One development programme.