McLaren and Red Bull juniors aim to follow Magnussen and Sainz to F1

2015 Formula Renault 3.5 season preview

Posted on

| Written by

Since the curtain came down last year’s Formula Renault 3.5 season a trio of drivers have made the step up to Formula One.

Carlos Sainz Jnr set the bar high for those who intend to follow him by taking a record seven wins in last year’s championship – and then scored points on his Formula One debut with Toro Rosso.

But Will Stevens pipped him to a Formula One drive by making it onto the grid with Caterham at the final round of last year.

He has returned to F1 in 2015 with Manor where he is partnered by another Formula Renault 3.5 racer: Roberto Merhi, who kept Sainz under pressure for the title until the final race of 2014.

Surprisingly, despite gaining an F1 place with Manor, Merhi is still slated to race in Formula Renault 3.5 this year with Pons. It’s not clear how the logistics of this will be handled, as his first clash will occur at the second round in Monaco. The Barcelona-based team finished at the foot of the points table last year, but by luring the top driver to continuing in the championship they must expect a leap straight to the front of the field.

But the opposition at the front of the field is fierce. DAMS successfully defended their teams’ title last year while Sainz succeeded their former driver Magnussen as champion. It’s no surprise this team has been entrusted with two of the F1-backed drivers in the series.

McLaren junior driver Nyck de Vries concluded his third season in Formula Renault 2.0 last year by taking the Eurocup and ALPS titles. Nonetheless as he steps up to the bigger he must be aghast at the swiftness with which his younger compatriot Max Verstappen has made it into F1 courtesy of Red Bull.

De Vries shares the DAMS team with the newest addition to Red Bull’s junior team. At 24, Dean Stoneman is noticeably older than a typical Red Bull hiring, but his burgeoning career was dealt a blow in 2010 by a near-fatal brush with cancer. Now back in single seaters, he demonstrated what he’s capable of in a competitive car by taking two wins and a second in his first three drives for Koiranen’s GP3 squad at the end of last year.

While the DAMS duo are new to this category Fortec has opted for experience. Oliver Rowland was fourth in last year’s championship after two wins and a few unfortunate near-misses. Jazeman Jaafar toiled away in the sole ISR entry last year, and as he begins his third year at this level it’s high time he started producing the kind of results F1 fans have come to associate with his car’s silver and Petronas-turquoise livery.

Carlin makes a welcome return to the championship with a pair of cars whose yellow and red colour scheme will be instantly recognisable to European F3 fans. Indonesian tycoon Ricardo Geleal’s fried chicken franchise Jagonya Ayam continues to back the team whose roster includes his 18-year-old son Sean. While it’s a shame Geleal’s F3 team mate (and series runner-up) Tom Blomqvist hasn’t accompanied him on this step, the team has located another highly-rated Tom – Dillmann – and the GP2 race-winner can be expected to lead their charge.

Among those returning for another year with the same team are Mathieu Vaxiviere, who showed well in testing for Lotus, AVF’s Beitske Visser, who ended her first year in the championship with a strong fifth at Jerez, and Pietro Fantin, who had a single podium for Draco in 2014.

Accompanying De Vries in the move up from the 2.0 litre class are Bruno Bonifacio, Gustav Mallya and Aurelian Panis, son of 1996 Monaco Grand Prix winner Olivier. Spotters of ex-F1 talent’s offspring can also keep an eye out for Roy Nissany, although we’re stretching the definition of ‘talent’ here as his father is Chanoch Nissany, who was in the region of seven seconds off the pace in his sole appearance as a practice driver for Minardi in 2005.

This is the fourth season for the current iteration of the Formula Renault 3.5 Dallara chassis and its 530bhp engine which produces near-GP2 levels of performance. It’s hard not to recognise a certain amount of jealousy on the part of the FIA in the decision to award far fewer F1 superlicence points to competitors in this championship compared to GP2. There are 173 points available in the F1-supporting championship, while this series awards just 93, which is far too wide a gap given the comparable levels of performance.

Though the cars remain the same, the calendar has had a significant shake-up for the year ahead. While no one will lament skipping the expensive trip to Moscow for what was invariably two processional races, the loss of Monza is a double disappointment for as well as being an ‘old school’ track it also brought the cachet of being part of the grand prix calendar.

However two other F1 tracks make their return as the series will visit the Red Bull Ring and Silverstone. Meanwhile France’s round has moved from the rapid Paul Ricard layout to the more point-and-squirt Le Mans Bugatti track. For the second year in a row, F1 test venue Jerez will host the decisive final double-header.

2015 Formula Renault 3.5 testing pictures

2015 Formula Renault 3.5 calendar

2015 Formula Renault 3.5 coverage

I will be commentating on the Formula Renault 3.5 championship for BT Sport again this year. Both of this weekend’s races will be shown live. See the BT Sport television guide and BT Sport Extra schedule for more details.

Formula Renault 3.5

Browse all Formula Renault 3.5 articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

33 comments on “McLaren and Red Bull juniors aim to follow Magnussen and Sainz to F1”

  1. It’s pretty clear that this series is loosing its momentum; this is a pretty poor grid, compared to GP2. The DAMS fight will be very interesting though! I’m a fan of Ellinas and Visser, I hope they do well. Oh and is Zeta Course not racing this weekend?

    1. @jmc200 Zeta Corse will not run this weekend, they haven’t been able to secure drivers. They are aiming for Monaco.

      As for the grid, yes, it is poor compared to GP2. This is a direct consequence of the new FIA F1 super licence points system, which prompted a number of drivers to switch from FR3.5 to GP2. Of the notable ones, Lynn and Gasly were both moved from FR3.5 to GP2 by Red Bull.

      Of course the action in GP2 will prosper from it – at the expense of FR3.5. At least we still have Stoneman, De Vries, Merhi and Rowland. Especially Stoneman is a stand-out if you ask me.

      1. Lynn and Red Bull mutually parted ways in the winter, hence his new alliance with Williams and the rather more obvious lack of Red Bull branding on his DAMS car last weekend.

        1. @rjoconnell: I’m aware they parted ways, but that was after Red Bull moved the both of them to GP2.

  2. It’s not clear how the logistics of this will be handled, as his first clash will occur at the second round in Monaco.

    This clash is when F1 cars are racing at Monaco too. Is Merhi not able to race both on the same weekend or is that not possible due to his F1 commitments outside of the car?

  3. The definitive finishing school for future stars: a series with a proven track record in adding the final touches to future F1 drivers, and a series that always ranks talent over experience. This weekend, De Vries or Stoneman could win on debut, whereas in GP2, DAMS’ super-squad failed to score a point on a weekend that saw just one rookie in the top five over the two races.

    And yet, in spite of giving F1 Ricciardo, Kubica, Sainz, Magnussen and even Vettel, the FIA has vindictively chosen to kill off the series in its monopolistic crusade to control the path to F1. Clearly the FIA would rather see Renee Binder and Sergio Canamasas scrap over F1 prospects than perennially underfunded drivers like Olver Rowland and Tio Ellinas. Since this year’s 3.5 champion could be ineligible for a superlicense, unless the FIA is open to negotiation, 2015 may start to herald the beginning of the end for the most prominent feeder series in recent years.

    1. @countrygent Or even worse Leal…

      One could wonder though why there is a need for two ‘GP2’ series and not just one bigger with more races.

      1. @xtwl apparently there was a need for it, seeing how both Formula Renault 3.5 (and it’s lower series, FR2.0 and national FR1.6 series) and GP2 (and GP3) have had no problems filling up a full grid.

        FR3.5 was a good choice for drivers with less funding, being a lot cheaper than GP2.

        1. @mattds But with the current FIA points it’s only a matter of time before the FR3.5 series is dead as it offers similar experience to GP2 but nowhere near the license points needed for F1.

          1. I think that this is the idea behind the FIA’s ludicrous allocation of licence points. F3.5 is an excellent series with exciting racing & the very fact that several of last years alumni are now in F1 is testament to it’s kudos. Great commentary on BT Sport too. :)

          2. @xtwl I don’t think the series is going to die, but their position as a top-level feeder series is now almost unsustainable. They might have to reposition themselves as an alternative to GP3 instead of GP2.

      2. F2 is to help constructors into F1 I think.

    2. [quote]This weekend, De Vries or Stoneman could win on debut, whereas in GP2, DAMS’ super-squad failed to score a point on a weekend that saw just one rookie in the top five over the two races.[/quote]

      Just to play devil’s advocate here: I agree that both could win, but rather because they are the obvious standouts in a field that is filled with rather mediocre talent (and yes, we have the FIA to “thank” for that). One year ago, the season opener in GP2 was won by a rookie – a very talented one at that.

      1. One year ago, the season opener in GP2 was won by a rookie – a very talented one at that.

        Arguably the best one since Hamilton himself. ;)

    3. I enjoy FR3.5, but it’s just as hit-or-miss as an F1 feeder category as GP2 has been.

      For one thing, most of the series’ top exports to F1 are former Red Bull Junior Team members, from Vettel to Sainz. Their backing of the series is an overwhelming factor in the series’ prestige and without them, they’d be in trouble.

      Sainz is also the only former FR3.5 champion on the F1 grid now with KMag discarded like a used tissue – compared to five active GP2 champions in F1, one of whom (Maldonado) used FR3.5 as a stepping stone just to get to GP2. So did 2008 champ Van der Garde. Three times in a row the champions of the series (Aleshin, Wickens, Frijns) were all passed up for F1 promotion the next year over the runner-up that year (Ricciardo, Vergne, Bianchi).

      Once you get past the elite level of talent in FR3.5, even going back before the SL points, there was a steep drop-off of talent and quite a handful of guys who had no business being up this high on the ladder except to fill seats. I think Philo Paz Armand has a cool name and he seems like an alright young man, but I don’t think he’s going to end up being vastly superior to Daniel de Jong on the other side of the fence.

      1. Aditya (@adityafakhri)
        23rd April 2015, 2:27

        And the young guy with cool name you mentioned before, I don’t even recognize who he is, even we shared same nationality.
        I still chuckled over Jagonya Ayam brands over there…
        It seems that our best bet would be in GP2 though…

        1. Well, Rio has more experiences, so he’s the best Indonesian single seater driver so far.
          About Armand, I guess didn’t subscribing Otomotif for a long time affect me.
          And KFC Indonesia with Carlin would be a better team name.

      2. @rjoconnell F1 promotional is a hit-and-miss venture, point taken. There are plenty of pay drivers out there, point taken, but you do not deny that FR3.5 represents a structurally superior system for completing those with F1 potential. If a series is measured in light of its ability to give a platform for the known talents, GP2 cannot compete with FR3.5 in the Pirelli era. Valsecchi, Leimer and Palmer’s careers represent stunning mediocrity prior to their GP2 triumphs. Can the same be said for Frijns, Magnussen and Sainz?

        Yes, there are more GP2 champions on the grid versus FR3.5 champions (only because budget, junior structure and the other multiplicity of salient factors deems this the case, i.e. this is no evidence of GP2 being preferred by F1 teams), but, other than Grosjean, there is no GP2 champion from the Pirelli era. By contrast the 2013 and 2014 champions were promoted from FR3.5, as well as the runners-up in 2011 and 2012, Q.E.D. the FR3.5 renaissance is only of four years duration.

        GP2 has seen plenty of drivers promoted too in the Pirelli era: Pic, van der Garde, Gutierrez, Chilton, Ericsson and Nasr, i.e. it is a good place to find pay drivers. But for rearing future stars FR3.5 has a recognised superiority over GP2, which is why McLaren and Red Bull have opted for FR3.5 since 2011 when selecting series for their juniors. But now FR3.5’s time in the sun is over, and we must once again try to comprehend who is doing the best job, relative to their series experience, in GP2. Pirelli has turned GP2 into pure maths, and the FIA has turned FR3.5 into a cul-de-sac.

  4. Junior category is a bit of a waste of time, 3.5 and GP2 prove that its results don’t prove one’s worth. These 2 categories cast a shadow in all motorsport, because even with equal machines there are significant discrepancies in performance and form. GP2 and 3.5 is all about DAMS every single year, if you don’t win with DAMS there’s no way you are F1 material and if you do you are only guaranteed to have become average.

    1. @peartree

      GP2 and 3.5 is all about DAMS every single year

      Maybe they usually attract the best drivers, so they get the best results, so the best drivers want to drive for them, etc. Chicken-and-egg situation.

      However it’s not true that such is the case every single year. Take GP2: sure, last year was won by a DAMS driver but in 2013 they were only fourth in the team standings. The two years before that a DAMS driver took the title, the three years before that not.
      As for this year, I don’t see a DAMS driver taking it. Gasly has now raced the last 4 GP2 weekends and he hasn’t gotten into the points yet, while Lynn looked out of his depth the past weekend and looks like he’s going to have to take a while to get used to the tyres before he is to become a contender.

      In FR3.5 we don’t have that much data as DAMS has only ran for 3 years up until now. They have had 2 titles out of these 3 years but then again they probably had the best drivers as well (series experience combined with talent).

      1. @mattds No that’s simply not true, DAMS are the most coveted and expensive team on the GP2 and 3.5 grids, there’s a reason for that DAMS is the most advanced team. That guy that lost driving a DAMS was Erikson.. Lynn at the moment hasn’t got the tyres sorted out anyhow he must up his game because DAMS owns GP2 and 3.5 and eDams.

        1. @peartree: what is “simply not true”? I posted 3 paragraphs and most of it is factual, so please be more specific.

          There is not one “the guy that lost driving a DAMS” – plenty have. Two of them are Kobayashi and Nasr, I think there will be a lot of people that don’t agree with your statement that these drivers were/are not F1 material just because they didn’t win with DAMS.

          1. @mattds 2 dams guys can’t win the championship on the same season… Davide and Felipe… It’s is factual as you pointed out that Kobayashi failed to win the championship in 2008 during the bridgestone and previous car era, which is totally irrelevant to modern day GP2. Ever since the introduction of the current car and the Pirelli tricky tyres back in 2011, DAMS has been on top form and on top of the championships, 3/4 drivers and 2/4 teams, failing as I said on Ericsson’s year… He’s such a talent…
            Most people agree with what I’ve just said now, surely you do too.

          2. @peartree no, 2 drivers of the same team can’t win the championship in the same season. That much is true. But it’s not like they have come in 1-2 each and every year either.
            You point to a previous car era, makes it a bit arbitrary, but I’ll go along with it. So it’s 3/4 and 2/4 – which shows that it’s not ALL about DAMS. And further more, I’ll go ahead and risk a bit by saying this year the drivers championship will not go to DAMS either, and unless both drivers get the hang of it (Gasly did race a few times in 2014 too) they won’t win the teams championship either. If I’m right that’ll make it 3/5 and 2/5.

            I’m not saying they are a bad team or that their experience counts for nothing, but most of the time they are running the most talented and/or experienced drivers, and I do feel that adds to the image people have of DAMS.

            In any case, you stated that it’s “all” about DAMS “every single year” and that is not true.

          3. DAMS is not running the most talented drivers all the time. DAMS is the strongest team and the reason why many have won. You don’t agree that’s okay, I’ve shown you why I think this is the case, I’ve shown some data including a correlation between the previous era and the current one which puts much more emphasis to the teams. You are limiting yourself to just say no, you don’t even say why you don’t agree.
            Here’s another view for you.

            Frenchman Alesi also thinks he made the right choice to direct Giuliano into French F4, “because there are no teams — the 20 cars are all operated by the French academy that launched Bourdais, Grosjean and Vergne”.

            “So there are no excuses,” Alesi added, “it is the driver making the difference and not the team.”

  5. Good luck to ANY young driver trying to break in from ANY series….unless you got a Daddy Warbucks who will outbid the current pay drivers. Bernie has left F1 in such a state that only the top 3-4 teams can afford to pick drivers based on talent anymore. :(

    1. Which is exactly why Carlos Sainz, Max Verstappen, and Felipe Nasr are all racing for last year’s 7th and 10th best teams.

  6. Watch out, the Pastor Maldonado of GP2 in recent seasons (Johnny Cecotto Jr.) Could be joining, it must just be a Venezuelan thing in a lack of clean racing

    1. Don’t be racist, my friend..!!

      1. @ernietheracefan: I’m pretty sure “Venezuelan” is a nationality, not a race.

  7. Keith, it’s Gelael, not Geleal.

    1. was about to post the same thing :)

    2. ps it’s the Indonesian franchise of KFC

Comments are closed.