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Formula Renault 3.5

Having both appeared at the Formula One Young Driver Test at Silverstone, Antonio Felix da Costa and Jean-Eric Vergne were also on duty at the fourth World Series by Renault meeting of the season at the Red Bull Ring, where they had different roles to play.

As members of the Red Bull driver development programme for several seasons now, Jean-Eric Vergne and Antonio Felix da Costa have come across each other many times both on and off the track.

Still only 23, Jean-Eric Vergne has 29 Formula One Grands Prix under his belt already, while Antonio Felix da Costa, who turns 22 in August, is continuing to push for a place on the F1 start grid. Just as the Frenchman did, the Portuguese racer is hoping to make the breakthrough in the World Series by Renault, having moved up from Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 to play a leading role in this season’s Formula Renault 3.5 Series championship.

Stepping out of his Arden Caterham Formula Renault 3.5, Antonio shared a few memories with his Red Bull Racing RB7-driving counterpart Jean-Eric.

“I never raced against Jean-Eric in karting because I was always in the class below him,” recalled Antonio. “The first time I saw him was at his Red Bull driver development test at Estoril and we started coming across each other on the track a year after that.”

“I only appeared at three Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 meetings in 2008,” continued the Portuguese. “I remember that manoeuvre in the photo. It was at Estoril, my home race. I had the inside line on Jean-Eric, but he had more experience than me and forced me to lock up my inside front wheel. I ran a bit too wide and he got past me again.”

“You remember that?” asked Jean-Eric.

“Don’t you? I pulled up alongside you and you tugged on the steering wheel a little. I got a bit scared and locked up the brakes and you got past me again on the exit. I can remember it all.”

“I don’t remember races that well,” said Jean-Eric. “2008 was a pretty tough season for me, but in 2009 we managed to make the most of our strengths and gave our all throughout the season. I remember finishing behind Antonio at Spa, which was my first podium of the year. Things went better and better after that. I won at the Hungaroring, Silverstone and both races at Le Mans. I have to say I didn’t like Antonio too much at the time because he was with Motopark Academy (laughs). We got to know each other after that.”

That season Jean-Eric and Antonio ended on the same number of points behind Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 championship winner Albert Costa, with the Frenchman taking second place from the Portuguese by virtue of having scored more wins.

“We’ve had some good races in F3 too,” added Antonio. “And I’ve also got good memories of our first F1 test. I was driving for Force India and Jean-Eric was in the Toro Rosso. After two days of testing we had to catch a plane to Dubai en route to Macau.”

“We had to sleep on the plane,” said Jean-Eric, taking up the story. “We had to recover from two days of testing and arrive fit and ready in Macau for the F3 Grand Prix. We flew business class with Cathay Pacific and our eyes were wide open on the morning of the race.”

“We had a lot of fun playing around with the seats,” recalled Antonio. “I’ve still got a photo of JEV messing about with his seat, and we didn’t sleep. Forty-five minutes after landing in Macau we were in the seat of an F3 car! We finished sixth and seventh, which was pretty good.”

Having since climbed his way up to F1, Jean-Eric is now in a position to offer some advice to his younger colleague: “If you want to make it to F1, you’ve got to win races. We’re fortunate enough to be with Red Bull. We don’t need millions of dollars, we don’t have to fight to find sponsors or look for a big name to help us. All we need are results.

“We have to perform every time we are at the wheel. The objectives in the World Series by Renault and F1 are one and the same. They just want drivers that can win. If a driver has shown they can win in Formula Renault 3.5 Series or a lower class, they want to test them out to see if they can do it in F1. The key is to win races and championships.”

Jean-Eric’s story serves as an inspiration to Antonio, who said: “He’s come on a lot between his first and second season. I think it’s important to stay with the same team because you get to know everyone better and you can develop. Obviously I don’t spend every day with him and I don’t know everything that goes on, but I was with the team in Canada and I saw JEV have a great race.

“JEV and Daniel [Ricciardo] have had their ups and downs but I was really surprised to see the car performing so well in Canada. He led in Q3 and finished sixth in the race, half a lap ahead of Daniel. F1 can be a strange world when you’re on the outside looking in. When you’re watching qualifying or a race on TV you think you know what’s going on. But then when you see a Grand Prix from the inside you realise that you don’t know anything about F1. There are so many different factors to take into account and a lot of them are out of the driver’s control. The whole package has to be competitive and like JEV says, you have to be at your very best when you’re at the wheel. That’s what’s stuck in my mind.”

Official Renault Sport Press Release.

Posted: 24 July 2013
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