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Formula Renault 3.5

Day one of collective testing at Paul Ricard saw some convincing performances, with 13 drivers eclipsing last year’s fastest qualifying lap. Topping the timesheets were Stoffel Vandoorne (Fortec Motorsports) and Antonio Felix da Costa (Arden Caterham), who went toe to toe on a day on which 12 drivers finished within a second of each other.

The 26 drivers arriving at the Circuit Paul Ricard for the start of the second round of pre-season collective testing saw both sides of the track on challenging day. Soaking wet in the morning, the French circuit offered an altogether more welcoming appearance in the afternoon as the sun came out.

Soggy conditions had the cars aquaplaning as the morning session commenced, prompting the 13 teams who will contest this year’s championship to fine-tune their wet set-ups. Kevin Magnussen (Dams), Antonio Felix da Costa, Stoffel Vandoorne and Mikhail Aleshin (Tech1 Racing) were the first drivers to impress. As conditions improved and the cars dried the track, the times began to tumble, with the slicks out in force as the end of the session neared. Making the most of the situation were Antonio Felix da Costa and Kevin Magnussen, who both dipped under the two-minute mark.

By the team the field returned from lunch, the temperature had risen to a pleasant 18°C, while a dry track promised much more in the way of performance. The first to prove the point was Antonio Felix da Costa with a time of 1:47.279, beating Jules Bianchi’s 2012 qualifying record of 1:48.103. The Arden Caterham man was over a second faster than the rest of the field, led by Stoffel Vandoorne, Daniil Move (SMP Racing by Comtec), Andre Negrao (International Draco Racing), Will Stevens (P1 Motorsport), Oliver Webb (Forect Motorsports) and Norman Nato (Dams), all six of these drivers posting times in the 1:48s.

In time-honoured tradition, the drivers bolted on new tyres at the end of the afternoon and set about shaving even more time off the clock, Antonio Felix da Costa setting the standard once again with a lap of 1:46.773. A final caution period did little to dampen the spirits of his closest pursuers, however, and it was Stoffel Vandoorne who won the day when he took the chequered flag a mere 28 thousandths quicker than the Portuguese. Finishing third and fourth on the timesheets were Will Stevens and Marco Sorensen respectively.

What they said:

Stoffel Vandoorne: “I didn’t expect to be first. Obviously I was looking to put down a time but as soon as I went out on new tyres there was a red flag. The car performs very well in qualifying conditions, and tomorrow I’ll be using a race set-up more often. I was very well placed in the rain this morning but I spent most of my time working on pit stops, which are new to me. It’s a part of the race where you can lose a lot of time and you need to know what you’re doing.”

Antonio Felix da Costa: “It’s been an excellent day overall. We were quick in the wet and quick in the dry too. Stoffel beat me by three hundredths in the end but I’m not too worried about that. It’s a really nice car to drive and very efficient too. If the weather holds, we’ll be able to go even faster tomorrow.”

Marco Sorensen: “There were a lot of puddles at the start of the session and the most important thing was just to stay on the track. We did a lot of in-depth work to prepare for the race weekend at Paul Ricard and went through a few different set-ups. Things went well today in all conditions and it was very encouraging. We can concentrate on performance tomorrow.”

Nico Muller: “We stuck to our programme and didn’t have any technical problems, which is great. Things went really in the rain and our car’s got a solid base. We’re trying to make it even easier to drive, and on a dry track it’s absolutely essential to go flat out. I’m hoping for good weather tomorrow. It’s always good to finish in the top five, even if that wasn’t our main objective today."

Official Renault Sport Press Release.

Posted: 08 March 2013
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