Antonio Felix da Costa (Arden Caterham) notched his fourth Formula Renault 3.5 Series win of the year ahead of Team RFR duo Mikhail Aleshin and Aaro Vainio, who gave the Franco/Russian team something to celebrate in their final race. Yet the man of the hour was Robin Frijns (Fortec Motorsports), who became the first driver to win the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 and Formula Renault 3.5 Series titles back to back, despite being penalized from Sunday’s race following a collision with championship rival Jules Bianchi (Tech 1 Racing). In reward for his success, the Dutchman will carry out a day’s testing with Red Bull Racing at the Abu Dhabi young drivers’ test in November. On the day when their man Jules Bianchi missed out on the title, Tech 1 Racing earned some consolation by landing their fourth team crown.
A rain-affected final qualifying session of the year proved harder to predict than usual, with Mikhail Aleshin reminding everyone what he can do by taking pole position in front of Arthur Pic (Dams), Antonio Felix da Costa and points-leader Robin Frijns, whose only objective was to finish ahead Jules Bianchi (Tech 1 Racing) and convert his narrow four-point lead into another title. Sixth in qualifying, the Frenchman lined up on the third row.
Though a shower hit the Catalunya track before the start, the sun soon returned, prompting the field to stick with their slicks. Antonio Felix da Costa was quickest out of the blocks, sprinting into an early lead from Mikhail Aleshin, Robin Frijns, Arthur Pic and Jules Bianchi. Starting from 16th, Sam Bird (ISR) was in among the points after just two laps.
As Antonio Felix da Costa made his escape, Mikhail Aleshin kept Robin Frijns, Arthur Pic, Jules Bianchi and Aaro Vainio at bay. That is how the race order remained through to the compulsory pitstop, the Portuguese extending his lead over the five-car train.
Robin Frijns and Jules Bianchi were the first to stop. They emerged from the pitlane bumper to bumper, the championship-leading Dutchman lying fourth, just in front of his title foe, with Mikhail Aleshin and Aaro Vainio up ahead of them and Kevin Magnussen (Carlin) and Sam Bird just behind.
Race leader Antonio Felix da Costa was uncatchable up front and cruised home for his fourth win of the campaign, more than any other driver in the field. To his rear, the Team RFR twosome fought it out for second, while Robin Frijns and Jules Bianchi were locked in an even tenser tussle, one eventually joined by Kevin Magnussen as the race neared its end.
On lap 20 Jules Bianchi barged past Robin Frijns only for the Dutchman to repass on the very next turn. The two then came together, with the Frenchman ending in the gravel trap, his title challenge in tatters, leaving the sixth-placed Robin Frijns to coast home and add the 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 Series title to the Formula BMW and Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 championships he won in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
What they said:
Antonio Felix da Costa: “It’s been a perfect weekend. Unlike the rest we went out on brand new tyres and that helped me widen the gap. After a good season in GP3 Series, which gave me the chance to break into the Red Bull Junior Team, I’ve worked really well with Arden Caterham. My main objective is the Macau F3 Grand Prix, though I really hope to be in Formula Renault 3.5 Series next season.”
Mikhail Aleshin: “Getting two men on the podium is a great way for Team RFR to wind things up. Antonio was on a different planet but the battle with Aaro Vainio as a very sporting one.”
Robin Frijns: “As for the race, Jules Bianchi overtook me and I did everything I could to repass him as quickly as possible. There was contact between the two of us, and I just thought it was your average racing incident. I’m the first rookie since Robert Kubica to win the championship, and we’ve got here thanks to the fantastic work we’ve done with Fortec Motorsports since the winter tests. My objective now is Formula One, starting with the tests with Red Bull Racing and Sauber. Nothing gets given to you in this world and nothing is easy, even when you win three titles on the bounce. We’re working on it though.”