Getting to grips with a new track is always a challenge for teams and drivers, especially in a championship as tight as this season’s Formula Renault 3.5 Series. Sam Bird (ISR) and Robin Frijns (Fortec Motorsports), who are tied at the top of the standings on 86 points, will be attempting to break away from the bunch when World Series by Renault visits Russia for the first time. Hoping to stop them from doing that at what promises to be an unmissable meeting will be closest challengers Nick Yelloly (Comtec Racing), Marco Sorensen (Lotus) and Jules Bianchi (Tech 1 Racing), while a quartet of Russians will be out to impress on home soil.
Designed by the celebrated architect Hermann Tilke, the Moscow Raceway will provide the venue for the first ever WSR meeting in Russia. And for the home quartet of Daniil Move (P1 Motorsport), Nicolai Martsenko (BVM Target), Mikhail Aleshin (Team RFR) and Anton Nebylitskiy (Team RFR), success at this the first major international meeting to be staged in the country would be sweet indeed. Though the four Russians have made a faltering start to the season, the opportunity to compete in front of their own fans at this level is sure to spur them on.
The task of tackling a new circuit should give drivers and teams plenty to ponder. Having got a taste of the Moscow Raceway on the Ellip6 simulator set up in the paddock at the Nürburgring, the men behind the wheel are now ready for the real thing. Every lap of collective testing will be analysed in a bid to get set-ups right on a track that features everything you would expect of a modern circuit, with its long pit straight, fast corners and a series of slow turns.
The closeness of the championship race should ensure plenty of excitement in Russia, with six drivers (Bird, Frijns, Sorensen, Bianchi, Kevin Magnussen (Carlin) and Yelloly) having topped the podium so far this season, Yelloly doing so twice. Aside from those six, Arthur Pic (Dams), Nico Muller (International Draco Racing), Alexander Rossi (Arden Caterham) and Andre Negrao (International Draco Racing) have all featured on the podium at least once, as a result of which a mere 36 points separates first from seventh in the standings. With 25 points available for a win, the situation could change fast though.
Tied with Bird in first place, Frijns will be making his Formula One debut in the Russian capital, taking to the wheel of the RB6 for a Red Bull Racing demonstration drive. Following a shakedown on Friday afternoon, the 2011 Formula Renault 2.0 champion will perform his scheduled exhibition on Saturday afternoon, just a few hours after the weekend’s first race. There to pass on his advice will be Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo, a runner-up in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 in 2008 and again in Formula Renault 3.5 Series two years ago, who will be laying on the rest of the entertainment in the Red Bull Racing F1 Show.
While the 20-year-old Dutchman will be keen to enjoy his first laps in an F1 car, he will also need to stay fully focused on the battle for the FR 3.5 Series title and his bid to become the first rookie to win it since Robert Kubica in 2005, especially with his rivals ready to pounce at the slightest opportunity.
Formula One will be taking centre stage at the Moscow Raceway’s inaugural meeting, with Vitaly Petrov, the first Russian driver to compete in an F1 grand prix, also taking to the track in his Caterham F1 car. Petrov, who hails from Vyborg, will be performing two exhibition drives in all, one on Saturday and another on Sunday.