Archive: Motorsport

It is awful that, less than a week after the death of Dan Wheldon, another major motorsport star has been killed during a race.

Unlike IndyCar, I follow MotoGP quite closely and I have watched all of the races this year. I was a big fan of Marco Simoncelli. For me, Marco Simoncelli was the clear stand-out rider in a MotoGP series that is not as exciting as it once was.

Simoncelli had his critics. Some thought he was too aggressive. It is perhaps true that sometimes he stepped beyond the line. But he was still young. As this year progressed he was beginning to become a more measured rider — and he was no less exciting for it.

Simoncelli has single-handedly saved a few dull MotoGP races by actually doing extraordinary, exciting things. His talent was clear for all to see, and I personally thought he would become a World Champion in the future.

Sadly the journey came to an end today. What is especially sad is that in the lap or so up to his fatal accident, he was demonstrating exactly what made him such a wonderful spectacle in a brilliant ding-dong battle with Alvaro Bautista.

Thoughts must also go out to Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi, who collided with Marco Simoncelli. It must be an unimaginably awful experience.

It is always a hair-raising experience watching motorcycles race. It is clearly an especially dangerous form of motorsport. As we see time and again, when control is lost, a bike can go anywhere. Worse still, a rider can go anywhere too. It is always a heart-stopping moment when a rider goes down in the middle of the circuit as opposed to a run-off area.

The skill and bravery of motorcycle racers is one of the things that makes it such a draw. But today, there was another reminder that the quest for more safety can never stop.

Thanks for entertaining us, Marco Simoncelli.

I was very shocked and upset to learn about the death of Dan Wheldon.

I don’t watch IndyCar for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is the fact that I don’t have Sky. If I did have Sky, I probably would watch, and I certainly keep up-to-date with the news from IndyCar in general.

Nothing qualifies me to say anything about Dan Wheldon, as I have never watched him race. But I was fully aware of what he achieved in IndyCar. With 16 IndyCar race victories — two of which were the Indianapolis 500, arguably the most prestigious race in the world — and an IndyCar championship under his belt, it is clear that Dan Wheldon was a class act.

It is difficult to escape the impression that IndyCar is a particularly dangerous category in motorsport. There are some horrendous incidents in IndyCar with high-speed cars, narrow oval circuits and inexperienced drivers. All of these are currently being pinpointed as contributory factors towards Dan Wheldon’s death.

But it would be naive to imagine that accidents like this won’t happen in any form of motorsport. I don’t know how it would affect me if I were to watch a fatal accident unfold before my eyes live on television. It has never happened before to me. With drivers and riders that I know of and follow, in categories that I enjoy, it is difficult enough just to hear the news from a secondary source.

As fans of motorsport, we sit down to watch a race in anticipation of being entertained. Usually it delivers. But instead, it sometimes presents this.

I have heard it said that one reason we love motorsport is because it can cover the full spectrum of human emotions. If only that wasn’t true.

Last weekend my brother and I headed along to Scone Palace to witness the finish of this year’s Rally of Scotland, the penultimate round of this year’s Intercontinental Rally Challenge. Scone Palace is only about half an hour from where I live, and five minutes from where my brother lives. So it seemed silly not to go.

Neuville takes out a hay bale

I have a bit of an on–off relationship with rallying. I used to enjoy watching the World Rally Championship a decade ago, when Channel 4 had some excellent coverage. But even then, it was never as satisfying a television spectacle as watching circuit racing.

Often there is no footage of the major incidents in a rally, and you just have to take people’s word for what happened. Sometimes there is footage, but taken by a spectator at the quality of a You’ve Been Framed camcorder calamity.

This sketchy experience must be amplified if you are standing in the middle of a stage, somewhere remote, in the freezing cold, Thermos in hand, bobblehat on head. A car whizzes past, then you wait for a minute or so until the next one comes. All part of the experience I guess, and something I want to do in the future.

Another slight issue is the fact that the stage you attend is only a small fraction of the overall rally. If you attend a later stage, chances are that the rally has pretty much already been decided. Prior to Scone Palace, Andreas Mikkelsen had a 30 second lead. That is difficult to overcome in a couple of two minute long stages!

Andreas Mikkelsen drives to the podium

But Mikkelsen, driving for the Škoda UK team, was the chosen man for the win. So much was this the case that when we entered the area around Scone Palace we were approached by a girl handing out Škoda flags that said “Go Andreas!” She said that the flags were “for when he wins”.

I raised my eyebrows as there were still two stages to go, and anything can happen in rallying! But it must be said that as a PR exercise it worked out pretty well. Most people had these Skoda flags and were planting them in the grass. Couple this with the several representatives from Škoda staff, and you would be forgiven for thinking that Scone Palace is in the Czech Republic. Škoda had conquered Scone.

Thierry Neuville Supporters' Club

Having said that, the Thierry Neuville Supporters’ Club were also there to show their support for the Belgian Peugeot driver.

Škoda’s nice flags could have backfired. Guy Wilks was the perfect demonstration of the fact that anything can happen in rallying. He has had a pretty rotten season, and a pretty rotten Rally of Scotland. He hit a gatepost on the final stage and failed to finish.

As rally stages go, Scone Palace is compact and spectator-friendly. This stage was just two minutes long, and was repeated in quick succession. It also doubled up as the finish. So there was a reasonably large crowd, and commentary from Rally Radio on the loudspeakers.

Aside from the relatively sanitised main spectator area, there was a bit of scope to wander around and see further along the stage from a neighbouring field.

Guy Wilks blasts along the stage

Overall, I really enjoyed my trip to the rally. It was quite a different experience to the World Series by Renault, which I attended a couple of months ago.

The really striking thing was the sound of the cars, which is totally different to the TV. Something else, that I didn’t get so much at World Series by Renault, was the smell of the fuel wafting slowly up after a car has gone by. Worryingly, I felt myself starting to crave it!

After the rally had finished as the front-running drivers were preparing for the podium ceremony, the access was amazing. Top-class international rally drivers were just standing around chatting, and their cars were right there for all to see up close.

The top three at the finish

It is the first rally we have ever been to, and we certainly enjoyed ourselves. We plan on attending next year, perhaps even going to a stage further afield if we can plan ahead.

And congratulations to Andreas Mikkelsen. It may not have been clear from what I wrote above, but you cannot begrudge him this victory. He has come so close twice this year, only to be denied his first IRC victory. Then he came to Scotland and this time it was his rally.

Andreas and Ola, arms aloft

All my photos from the Rally of Scotland

Today it was announced that the Asian rounds of Superleague Formula have been cancelled. This is on top of the earlier cancellation of the South American rounds. The original 2011 calendar also contained races in Russia, the middle east, Australia and New Zealand. None of these took place.

In the end, the only two races that took place were at Assen in the Netherlands and Zolder in Belgium. This means that the championship was decided way back in July — but we only learned that today!

It was already quite an effort for those two races to take place anyway. Superleague had seemed worryingly dormant over the winter, and many suspected that it was dead.

Following in the footsteps of A1GP

The parallels between Superleague and A1GP (another failed attempt at an ‘F1 alternative’) have always been striking. Both have core concepts that are slightly alien to motorsport.

A1GP described itself as the “World Cup of Motorsport”. Drivers didn’t win races. Teams didn’t even win races. Nations did.

Meanwhile, Superleague was designed as a cross between football and motor racing. Drivers didn’t win races. Teams didn’t win races. Football clubs did. Any football fans I ever spoke to about Superleague were not very interested in the series. For this reason, the format was always going to be a loser.

But on the plus side for both A1GP and Superleague, they both provided some quite entertaining racing. And it is on this basis that they both attracted a cult following — a small but loyal fanbase. But this clearly isn’t enough of a fanbase to sustain a series for more than a few years.

A1GP lasted for four years. Cunningly, the series was run over the winter. Not very traditional for a motorsport series, but this meant that they could draw in motorsport fans suffering from withdrawal symptoms. It was moderately successful, and it led to GP2 (the closest thing there is to an official feeder series to F1) creating a spin-off GP2 Asia series that was run in winter. (GP2 Asia has since also been wound up, having had a troubled 2010–2011 season of its own when it was affected by the unrest in Bahrain.)

Not a super formula

When A1GP closed down, Superleague opened up and has so far continued for three seasons. Superleague runs with the same type of car, with the same type of drivers on the same types of circuits. For want of a better phrase, these are a B-class car, with B-class drivers on largely B-class circuits.

I have nothing against this personally, and I personally enjoyed watching A1GP and Superleague whenever I got the chance. But you have to question whether it is a formula for success in terms of bringing in an audience.

Sad but true: the standard isn’t high enough

There are lots of brilliant series below Formula 1 that provide real appeal. It is a sad fact that the motor racing world revolves around Formula 1, and the most successful sub-F1 open-wheel series are all about finding the F1 stars of the future. GP2, World Series by Renault, GP3 and the many Formula 3 series all stake their claim as being a testing ground for the stars of the future.

But series like A1GP and Superleague Formula cannot make this claim. As a result, their appeal is sadly limited. A series like Superleague is populated by drivers who aren’t good enough to progress further up the ladder. Some drivers almost made it to F1, but didn’t quite have the last bit that was required. If you’re lucky, there might be the odd ex-F1 driver like Jos Verstappen. But the world isn’t exactly set alight by the prospect of a battle between Neel Jani and Craig Dolby.

It is true that A1GP has been a stomping ground for a few future F1 drivers like Nico Hülkenberg. But these drivers had to make their way through GP2 aftewards to get to F1.

Because let’s be fair here. It is generous to describe the drivers in Superleague as ‘B-class’. B-class open-wheel racers can be found in IndyCar. IndyCar struggles enough to survive as it is. But at least some of its drivers are household names like Dario Franchitti or Takuma Sato. Jobbing open-wheelers whose sights haven’t extended to IndyCar end up in a series like Superleague.

While I have always found the concept of Superleague Formula to be shaky, I do hope that it is able to survive this embarrassing season and come back stronger in 2012. But I sadly doubt it will be the case.

Standing at Hangar Straight

The morning of Saturday 20 August 2011 at Silverstone was warm and sunny. It was difficult to imagine that the weather would be a problem. As I was staying in a campsite just a stone’s throw away from the circuit, I thought nothing of just heading there in a t-shirt.

The morning was brilliant. As outlined in a previous post, I had a brilliant time wandering around the circuit and watching the qualifying sessions that were taking place.

The big race that I was looking forward to, the Formula Renault 3.5 race, was approaching. A breeze picked up, and it even began to rain. There was no way I could nip back to the campsite to pick up some warmer clothes. I had to sit it out, high up in a stand, with the bitter wind blowing right through me.

I didn’t actually feel too cold. The buzz of watching the race allowed me to ignore it more than I otherwise would. I did have a cold for about a week afterwards. But it was definitely worth it.

We opted to sit in the stand at Maggotts, where you can see the cars twice a lap. Early on in the race one driver dropped back significantly, so for almost the entire race there was always something to see.

I had worried about what it would be like trying to watch a race from the side of the track rather than the living room. Television has the obvious advantage of being able to follow the cars all the way round the track, rather than simply making do with them blasting past.

Of course, watching a race in the flesh is an exhilirating experience. But it requires a bit of skill. Sure, there are are the commentators on the public address system. But you can’t hear that when there are cars in the vicinity. So it’s a matter of taking the bits you can see with your eyes, and the shards of whatever you hear from the commentators, and piecing them together.

For Saturday’s Formula Renault 3.5 race I could almost never hear the commentators. My interest in the race did not wane though.

The main interest at the start of the race was watching Jean-Eric Vergne make his way back through the field. Vergne had to start from the pits after an apparent electrical problem on the grid. But his class was clear to see as he was able to make up several places during the race.

A clear top three emerged, with Robet Wickens, Alexander Rossi and Daniel Ricciardo opening a significant gap to the next small group of cars. For a couple of laps it looked like Rossi was capable of passing Wickens. But in the end, Ricciardo in fact got the better of Rossi, and the promising American had to make do with third.

I assumed that Wickens had won, because I couldn’t hear the commentators and we were nowhere near the finish line. I was only while I was walking round the circuit again after the race that I managed to find out for sure!

(I trudged back to the campsite to retrieve my jacket. Right on cue, the blazing sun came out again.)

It was a crushingly dominant weekend for Robert Wickens. He turned up late for Sunday qualifying after being stuck in traffic on the way to Silverstone, but that still didn’t stop him from taking pole and another win.

For Sunday’s race we opted to sit on the outside of Copse, opposite the sole television screen in the circuit. The idea was to get a fuller picture of what was going on in the race. This location has the added bonus of being at the pitlane exit, so we saw the moment when the weekend got from bad to worse for Jean-Eric Vergne!

Vergne breathes down Ricciardo's neck

The start of the race went well for him, as he was running in second place. But a wide range of different strategies were used by the drivers, and Vergne ended up behind Ricciardo after his pitstop. The pair had a pretty good battle, and Vergne had a good look at Ricciardo going into Copse.

They were so close that it was impossible to imagine any car separating them. So imagine the sensation when Nathanael Berthon emerged from the pits just in front of Vergne! From looking set for second, Vergne ended up in fifth! Definitely a weekend to forget for Vergne.

But a weekend to remember for Robert Wickens and his team, Carlin. They wrapped up the Teams’ Championship at Silverstone.

Formula Renault 3.5 wasn’t the only category to provide major excitement though. After our visit to the village, we emerged to see Mégane Trophy Eurocup cars completing their qualifying session. They were instantly captivating. For me, these cars were the surprise highlight of the racing action.

The championship may be crushingly dominated by one man, Stefano Comini, who has won 10 of the 12 races so far this season. But that doesn’t matter because these cars are so entertaining to watch. They look fantastic, but best of all they sound fantastic.

Later on in the day we watched race from Vale. Stefano Comini had a poor getaway but soon made his way up to second, behind his teammate Niccolò Nalio. The battle was hugely exciting to watch. Comini was clearly superior on the brakes, and I am sure at one point they even touched here at Vale.

Comini finally passes

It was only a matter of time before Comini would pass. In fact, I wondered if Comini’s advantage was only at Vale, because it was inconceivable that he could be so clearly superior, yet still unable to pass.

I later spoke to someone who watched the race from another part of the circuit, and he confirmed that Comini also looked stellar there as well. It just goes to show. Catching is one thing. Passing is another matter.

Comini did manage to pass Nalio in the end. A class act in the Méganes.

The new qualifying format for the World Touring Car Championship was revealed today.

The format used in 2011 was simple. For race one, drivers had to draw a number between one and ten, multiply it by 2×Π, then aim to complete their lap in that many seconds. The grid was based on how close to the time drivers got, with faster drivers being penalised extra. Race two used the same system, but with an upside-down grid for the top seven.

However, this system was not deemed successful enough. So for 2012 the system is being revised.

The new format will see drivers do a handstand for 30 seconds before they start their hot laps. Anyone deemed to be going too quickly will be given a five place penalty. However, to give drivers an incentive to perform well nonetheless, they will be given points for the style of their handstands. Race two will be an inside-out grid.

As I described in my previous post, early on Saturday morning we ventured underneath the tunnel at Copse to head towards the World Series by Renault ‘village’. This is where all the bustle is.

World Series by Renault is as much a festival of motorsport (or, more accurately, a festival of Renault) as a day at the races. That is underlined in this ‘village’. There is so much to do here. World Series by Renault is a great event for families, with plenty of stuff for kids to do.

There is a Renault F1 area, where they fire up the engine and get it to ‘sing’ God Save the Queen.

It’s mildly entertaining the first time you hear it. But this engine is so loud you can hear it for miles away and the novelty soon wears thin!

Étoile Filante

Another draw in this area is the stand of classic Renault Sport cars. The highlight is the awesomely streamlined-looking Étoile Filante, an experimental car that drew heavily on aeronautic technologies.

Mégane Trophy V6
Renault Fluence ZE concept car

Across from the classic cars is a stage with display versions of each of the Renault cars that were racing at Silverstone that weekend — Formula Renault 3.5, Formula Renault 2.0, Mégane Trophy V6 and the Clio. Alongside them are a couple of concept cars. These are a bit too stylish-looking for their own good, but interesting to see anyway.

Romain Grosjean signing autographs

I was beginning to wonder quite why this area was so crowded. Someone was banging on about how if I wanted autographs I need to join the queue at the back. A little while later I turned round, and there was Renault F1 reserve and test driver Romain Grosjean shaking a Sharpie around!

I am quite sure that, even across two days, we did not see everything that was worth seeing in the village.

Just next to the village is the paddock, where you can wander pretty freely. Here there were loads of Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup cars parked up after their qualifying session.

A moderately expensive car park

I was tempted to stick my head into the Fortec Motorsports garage. But just as I was about to crane my neck, an angry mechanic stormed past me and slammed the door behind him! I played things more conservatively from then on.

Côme Ledogar waits in the pitlane

When we visited the paddock again on the Sunday, I managed to have a peek into the pitlane. There we saw Côme Ledogar waiting to go out during the qualifying session. He always seemed to be on the verge of getting going, but never did while I was there.

The World Series by Renault organisers also put on a great show on the track in between the races. The schedule is jam-packed on both days from 9am until after 6pm. The track is almost never empty. Combined with the attractions in the ‘village’, there is no way a petrolhead will get bored. This is especially brilliant considering the tickets are free.

Between races, a number of demonstration runs take place. There were at least five demonstration runs of the Renault R30 F1 car, driven by Romain Grosjean and Jan Charouz. It is the first time I have ever seen an F1 car driving at speed, and it is quite something else in comparison to everything else I saw during the weekend.

Doughnuts

Romain Grosjean put on a good show, doing lots of doughnuts for the fans on the pit straight. Unfortunately I never managed to get myself in a really good position to see it. I managed to get a slightly hazy photo from Copse.

There is also a ‘Renault Sport Show’ (which is basically synchronised swimming on wheels) and Jean Ragnotti doing his automotive magic tricks in his Renault 5.

But the main draw of the weekend is of course the racing itself. That will be the subject of my next post.

Last month I attended the World Series by Renault event at Silverstone. I have become a big fan of the World Series by Renault. I have already recently enthused about its centrepiece event, the Formula Renault 3.5 series. So I was pretty excited to go and see it for real.

Despite having been massively interested in motorsport for over 15 years now, I have never managed to get myself to any kind of motorsport event before. I haven’t even been to watch a race at Knockhill, which is an hour down the road. So I was pretty excited to be making a trip to Silverstone to see some top-class international motorsport action.

First glimpse of the Wing

We entered the circuit on Saturday morning at the new Wing pit complex. It is a very impressive building to see in real life.

Daniël de Jong goes for a spin

While this is the location of the new international pit straight, World Series by Renault was using the old start–finish straight, so there was no bustle here. But the first piece of excitement was watching Daniël de Jong spin at Club corner during Formula Renault 3.5 qualifying.

My friend’s mission was to walk round the perimeter of the circuit, which I was all for. For this World Series by Renault event, you can freely walk in and out of almost any grandstand you choose. So during the qualifying session we made our way round the circuit, travelling anti-clockwise (the opposite direction to the cars).

Here is me posing at the bridge at Hangar Straight as though I am standing next to the pyramids of Egypt.

Standing at Hangar Straight

It is amazing how close you can get to the circuit at some points. I was dead proud I managed to take this photograph of Felix Serralles at the apex of Aintree during the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup qualifying session.

Felix Serralles

We continued on to Copse. Here there is a tunnel that goes underneath the circuit and leads to the inside. This is where most of the World Series by Renault action takes place. World Series by Renault is as much a festival of motorsport (or, more accurately, a festival of Renault) as a day at the races. That is underlined in this ‘village’. But I will write about that in a separate post.

After visiting the village, we walked along the national pit straight. All of the World Series by Renault pitlane action happens here. However, it is very difficult to see what is going on in the pitlane, even from high up in the grandstands.

But a little creative thinking enables you to see what is going on in the reflections from the pit building! This photograph is of Kevin Korjus being wheeled into his garage following Sunday’s Formula Renault 3.5 race.

In the pits

Bridge corner

We then went round Woodcote to visit the old Bridge corner. We were able to freely walk around this disused part of the circuit. It is pretty cool to walk across such an amazing, historic corner.

But it is also a bit sad. While I was taking a photograph of Bridge, I didn’t notice that a wheelie bin would be the most prominent feature of the photo! It kind of sums up what has become of Bridge.

I found the newer parts of the circuit harder to access. When walking round the perimeter, it is easy to completely skip past the new inner section. We didn’t manage to properly explore the Loop section until late on in the day.

You might wonder if we managed to watch much racing given all this wandering round! That will be the subject of a separate post to be published in the near future.

But the wandering round was certainly beneficial. We got a good feel for the best places to view. I can’t imagine there is a better place to sit than the stand at Becketts.

Views from the stand at Becketts

This photograph doesn’t demonstrate the best view available from this stand. I later discovered that by sitting further to the right, it is possible to see the entry to Maggotts, through Becketts, Chapel and the first part of the Hangar Straight. Then you can also see the ‘opposite’ end of the circuit, when it doubles back on itself at the Loop, then all the way along the full length of the Wellington straight. The end of the Wellington straight is very far away, but you can see it nonetheless.

When we sat up here for Saturday’s Formula Renault 3.5 race, there was almost always a car in view. Neatly, these two parts of the circuit are at exact opposite ends in terms of lap time, so you get an update on a car’s progress twice a lap in an even fashion. Brilliant stuff.

Yesterday Toyota pulverised the electric car lap record around the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife with its TMG EV P001 driven by Jochen Krumbach (via Axis of Oversteer).

Peugeot’s old record of 9:01.338 is in the bin. The new benchmark is 7:47.794. To put it in perspective, the official lap record for any car round the Nordschleife is 6:11.13.

It is not difficult to guess what Toyota’s goal might be with this project. As their press release says:

Such performance shows TMG’s electric powertrain is ideal to power any future single-make electric motorsport series…

With the FIA planning its Formula E Championship for electric cars, due to start in 2013, who can bet against Toyota playing a role?

Many wonder if the lack of noise would be a turn-off to motorsport fans. But I think the sounds of electric cars are fascinating. Everything is not drowned out by the engine sound. There are new sounds to be mesmerised by. Listen to tyres squeal. The wind rushing past! To my ears, it sounds more dangerous and exciting.

And what about the crashes?!

There is a surfeit of motor racing championships that aim to usher in the next generation of Formula 1 stars. But only a few are worth paying serious attention to.

GP2 — the ‘official’ way to progress to F1

The most well-known by a long way is GP2. Backed by Bernie Ecclestone, GP2 is the closest thing there is to an ‘official’ feeder series to the pinnacle of motorsport.

Since its inception in 2005, GP2 has been a stepping stone for some of F1′s biggest names. With a solid F1-style car and a unique status as the support race to almost every European grand prix (thereby giving drivers vital experience at many F1 circuits), there is no doubt that GP2 is a strong category.

The main alternative: World Series by Renault

World Series by Renault logo

But beyond the ‘official’ routes to F1, World Series by Renault (sometimes known as Formula Renault 3.5) has established itself as a series to take seriously.

No fewer than 18 F1 drivers have raced in World Series by Renault or one of its earlier incarnations. Among them are Robert Kubica, Heikki Kovalainen and Kamui Kobayashi. In 1999, World Champion Fernando Alonso also won what was then the Euro Open by Nissan series.

Most impressively, in 2007 Sebastian Vettel was leading the championship when he became an F1 driver mid-season. We all know how that story ends.

Strong drivers in World Series by Renault

This year’s World Series by Renault field has some very strong drivers in the field. Two of the favourites for the championship, Daniel Ricciardo and Robert Wickens, are currently already F1 test drivers, for Toro Rosso and Virgin respectively. These drivers are so hotly tipped that both have been rumoured to become race drivers before this season is even finished. I will certainly eat my hat if they are not racing in F1 in 2012.

The pair put on a wet weather masterclass in Race 1 at the Nürburgring two weekends ago. In changeable conditions, they had the measure of the rest of the field while engaging in a tense battle for the lead.

The talent doesn’t end there. Other current F1 test drivers participating in World Series by Renault include Fairuz Fauzy and Jan Charouz (both for Renault F1).

Meanwhile, Jean-Eric Vergne is next in the queue behind Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull Young Driver sausage factory, and rightly so. His performances at Spa-Francorchamps were at times jaw-dropping.

Young Estonian Kevin Korjus (Race 2 winner at the Nürburgring) has also turned heads in his rookie World Series by Renault season.

Scrappy driving in GP2

When you compare it with this year’s GP2 field, the ‘official’ feeder series seems to lack that edge slightly. No driver has managed to take full control of the championship — nor has anyone shown signs that they deserve to.

Romain Grosjean has come the closest. But you could argue that he ought to be. He is highly experienced compared to most of his competitors, and even has some F1 races under his belt. He is this year’s Giorgio Pantano. He has been involved in some questionable incidents. He managed to crash into his teammate at Barcelona. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he then climbed all over him as part of the truly farcical scenes in the qualifying session at Monaco.

Meanwhile, the hotly-tipped Jules Bianchi (who is a Ferrari test driver) has been surprisingly clumsy, lurching from needless crash to avoidable gaffe. After a promising (albiet curtailed) GP2 Asia campaign last winter, Bianchi currently languishes in 15th in the championship, having managed to score points in just two of the eight races so far.

Giedo van der Garde has arguably been the most consistent, but still manages to make needless errors. In Valencia, he was penalised for overtaking under yellow flags.

Beyond this, it is difficult to see where the F1 stars of the future are in this year’s GP2 field.

A good alternative for both viewers and drivers

Moreover, the World Series by Renault season has been more action-packed for my money. This season’s calendar visits seven current Formula 1 venues, including some of the best circuits in the world. Spa, Monza, Silverstone and even Monaco all have slots in World Series by Renault. The calendar is refreshingly light on Tilke designs.

The Formula Renault 3.5 cars themselves are impressive, providing an ideal bridge between the well-established Formula Renault 2.0 cars. They typically run just a few seconds a lap slower than GP2 cars.

From next season, the car will step up a gear with a more powerful engine and greater downforce. But most eye-catching is the introduction DRS-style moveable aerodynamics. It could well be that the new Formula Renault 3.5 cars will prepare drivers for F1 better than a GP2 car can.

The combination of superb F1-style cars, excellent circuits and promising drivers is creating great entertainment. For me, it is the feeder series to watch.