Carlin team-mates Robert Wickens and Jean-Eric Vergne produced a dominant display at Formula Renault 3.5’s second round at Spa-Francochamps, taking a pole position and a win apiece at the legendary Belgian circuit.
Wickens – who is backed by Virgin Racing investors Marussia and races in the Anglo-Russian team’s red, white and black livery – landed P1 in qualifying for the opening race, just as he did last time out in Spain.
However after making a costly error there, locking up in to turn one and effectively handing the lead to Alexander Rossi, Wickens was in no mood for mistakes at Spa.
The 22-year-old and Red Bull-backed team-mate Vergne were in a class of their own during Saturday’s race one, the Canadian comfortably holding the lead whilst the Frenchman passed EPIC’s Albert Costa to take second early on. From there they quickly scampered off in to a clear lead, at times running well over a second faster than their nearest competitor.
But there was no dice for the win, with Vergne sometimes closing on Wickens but never getting close enough for the lead to change hands. The Canadian looked comfortable throughout and was always set for the victory he eventually claimed. Costa completed the podium with a distant third place.
Vergne then landed pole for race two with Wickens third on the grid. A good launch quickly elevated Wickens to P2, and so once again the Carlin cars were one and two and looking almost oblivious to their competitors presence.
The gap remained small throughout the first stint, but Wickens was able to leapfrog his team-mate thanks better in and out laps during the pitstop phase. However Vergne worked hard to eliminate the deficit, and eventually closed up on the Canadian.
Vergne got a run through Eau Rouge and nailed Wickens in to Les Combes, the Canadian locking up spectacularly as he attempted to hold on to the lead. The faces on the Carlin pitwall said it all.
Vergne was then able to pull away and take the win, his first of the season, and kick-start his bid for the title. Wickens followed him home in second.
Third went to Kiwi racer Chris van der Drift, a brilliant performance from a man who landed his deal to contest this year’s FR 3.5 championship at the 11th hour. The fact that he is still recovering from his monster shunt at Brands Hatch last year makes his achievement all the more impressive.
Whilst one Red Bull-backed former British F3 champ was ruling the roost another endured a muted weekend, as Toro Rosso tester Daniel Ricciardo struggled to run at the front-runners’ pace. He went backwards from sixtth on the grid in race one, eventually finishing tenth, and could only take ninth in race two. Having missed the opening race to run FP1 for Toro Rosso in China the Aussie is already well adrift in the championship standings.
These are now headed by Wickens, who has taken an impressive 71 points from a possible 100, with Vergne leaping up to second on 57. The next race takes place at Monza in two weeks time.