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Formula Renault 3.5

France’s Jules Bianchi (Tech 1 Racing) made the most of home advantage to win at Paul Ricard on Sunday and move five points clear of Robin Frijns (Fortec Motorsports) in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series standings. The Dutchman could do no better than ninth on a damp track, while Antonio Felix da Costa (Arden Caterham) backed up his fine recent form with second place and Sam Bird (ISR) kept his flickering title hopes alive by finishing third.

Conditions were dry for the qualifying session, much to the delight of the drivers, not least Jules Bianchi, who made it pole number four of the season ahead of Sam Bird, Nico Muller (International Draco Racing) and Kevin Magnussen (Carlin), with championship frontrunner Robin Frijns languishing in a lowly eighth.

The rain was falling by the time the race came around, however, leaving the field with no option but to put the wets on. Unperturbed, Jules Bianchi made a flawless start, followed by Sam Bird. In contrast, Nico Müller slid down to eighth to allow Kevin Magnussen into third, ahead of Antonio Felix da Costa, Robin Frijns, Nick Yelloly (Comtec Racing) and Aaro Vainio (Team RFR).

Nick Yelloly showed his ease in the wet by pushing past Robin Frijns on lap two, just as Antonio Felix da Costa relieved Kevin Magnussen of third place. A lap later the Portuguese found himself in second after negotiating his way past Sam Bird at Sainte-Beaume, and it was not long before the Red Bull Junior Team man, who was lapping a second quicker than everyone else, pulled right up on Jules Bianchi. Inevitably, the lead was his on lap five when Jules Bianchi ran wide at the Beausset double right corner.

Sam Bird was the first to make his compulsory minimum-two-tyre pit-stop, while Robin Frijns lost ground when Aaro Vainio, Nico Müller and Marco Sorensen (Lotus) all found their way past to leave the Dutchman eighth on his way into the pits.

Andre Negrao (International Draco Racing) and Kevin Magnussen were the only members of the leading pack to opt for slicks, a daring choice given the conditions. Up ahead, Antonio Felix da Costa found himself second to Jules Bianchi as he exited the pits, with Sam Bird, Nick Yelloly and Robin Frijns behind him. Marco Sorensen and Aaro Vainio then heaped further woe on the championship leader by relegating him to seventh.

Jules Bianchi was in a class of his own out front, however, reeling off several fastest laps to clinch his third victory of the year from Antonio Felix da Costa and Sam Bird. With Robin Frijns only ninth, the Ferrari Driver Academy member now has a five-point cushion at the top of the standings, while his Tech 1 Racing stable are 19 points ahead of Fortec Motorsports at the top of the team championship.

What they said:

Jules Bianchi: “I wasn’t quick enough at the start and though I managed to pick up the pace, it was in the pits that I won the race. It’s nicer to be going to Barcelona in the lead. We know how reliable Robin Frijns is and he’ll fight all the way to the end. The stakes are high but I can’t let that get to me.”

Antonio Felix da Costa: “I knew this car was quick in the rain and I was happy the conditions were wet. I made a fast start to the race, maybe too fast because I knocked my tyres around. I didn’t make a perfect pit-stop and that’s something I need to work on.”

Sam Bird: “We’ve struggled all weekend to be quick in the wet, which is disappointing because it’s been one of our strong points up to now. It’s good to be on the podium, even if we got there on the defensive. The championship isn’t lost yet but it’s going to be tough for me. I’ll still be giving it everything though.”

Official Renault Sport Press Release.

Posted: 30 September 2012
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