Pre-season collective testing in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series came to an end today in pretty much the same way as it started a few weeks ago, with Robin Frijns (Fortec Motorsports) heading a cramped field in which 15 drivers lapped within a second of each other. Intriguingly, a rookie driver headed of the timesheets at the end of each of the six days of testing at Paul Ricard, Barcelona and here at Motorland Aragon, suggesting we could be in for an unpredictable season, one that gets under way in a little over a fortnight’s time.
It was back to school for the drivers as the final day of pre-season collective testing began at the Spanish track, as they were given a surprise written test on their knowledge of the regulations, an attempt on the part of Renault Sport Technologies and motorsport authorities to find out the areas they need to focus on in the briefings.
Surviving one examination, the 26 drivers headed for another on the track, setting a sharp pace from the off. Frijns picked up where he left off on Wednesday by setting a benchmark time of 1:39.791 only ten minutes into the session. The Fortec man was then upstaged by iRace Professional’s Richie Stanaway (Lotus), the 2010 Formula Master champion and 2011 ATS Formel 3 Cup winner going fastest with a time of 1:39.259.
Frijns hit back immediately, however, taking to the top again in 1:39.223. Following the briefest of showers the Dutchman went even faster, ending the morning session in dominant style by going round in 1:39.105, with Stanaway, Jules Bianchi (Tech 1 Racing), Arthur Pic (Dams) and Will Stevens (Carlin) behind him.
The afternoon began with the teams practising their pit stops and tyre changes, though the cacophony of wheel guns and screeching tyres was interrupted by a storm, with drivers and teams bolting on the wets and getting back to work as soon as the clouds had passed.
The last sets of new tyres went on as conditions dried in the final hour. Bianchi briefly took over at the top before Nico Müller (International Draco Racing) posted the session’s fastest time of 1:39.497, still short of Frijns’ morning mark. The question now is can the Dutchman carry his pace forward to the first two Formula Renault 3.5 Series races of the season, at Motorland Aragon on 5-6 May?
What they said:
Richie Stanaway: “I’m making my debut in Formula Renault 3.5 Series and I think I’ve still got a lot to learn. We’ll only really know more at the end of the first race because it’s difficult to draw conclusions on who the frontrunners are going to be from these tests. We know the experienced drivers are going to be in the mix, but with this new car the rookies are also going to have something to say. I’ve gone two years without winning a championship and if I’m going to win this one, I’ll need to be consistent”
Jules Bianchi: “We’ve looked over all the conditions we should come across this season. We’ve worked on the races, qualifying, the pit stops and the starts, in the dry and in the wet, and I feel that we’re ready. All we need to do now is put it all into practice. What with Formula 1 and Formula Renault 3.5 Series, you really need to take a lot of things into consideration and focus on your objectives. I’m not going to the Bahrain Grand Prix because I want to devote all my attention to the first World Series by Renault meeting.”
Kevin Magnussen (Carlin): “Looking at the tests overall we can be pretty pleased with our preparations. It’s only been here where things haven’t quite gone to plan because we’ve had a few technical problems. The main conclusion we can draw from it all, aside from our understanding of the car, is that there’s going to be a real battle for the championship. Carlin know how to win a title better than anyone, and I’ve also got the experience to do it. It’s all set up for us to do well.”