Renault Sport Technologies, a breeding ground for F1 drivers
Scuderia Toro Rosso have named Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne as their drivers for the 2012 season, the first time two Formula Renault 3.5 Series rivals will be driving side by side for the same Formula One team. In taking the step up from the Formula Renault 3.5 Series to motor racing’s blue riband class, the Australian and the Frenchman are following the trail blazed by Robert Kubica, Sebastien Vettel and Jaime Alguersuari. Their promotion takes the number of drivers in the 2012 Formula One field who have earned their spurs in the World Series by Renault’s leading class to five, with world champion Vettel, Pastor Maldonado and Charles Pic the other members of that esteemed quintet.
The driver development programme put in place by Renault Sport Technologies continues to go from strength to strength, with the recent arrivals of Charles Pic, Romain Grosjean, Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo in Formula One cementing World Series by Renault’s reputation as the springboard for reaching motor racing’s top table. All four made their breakthroughs in Formula Renault 2.0, with Pic, Ricciardo and Vergne graduating to Formula Renault 3.5 Series, and Grosjean catching the eye in his Lotus Renault GP F1 demo drives for World Series by Renault, while also helping to bring the New Formula Renault 3.5 development programme to a successful conclusion.
The Formula Renault 2.0 and Formula Renault 3.5 single-seaters are both designed to prepare drivers for the rigours of Formula One. Learning the ropes in Formula Renault 2.0 national championships and then Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, budding young drivers also have the opportunity to shine in Formula Renault 3.5 Series and earn a place on the big stage. Out of the 21 drivers with confirmed places on the Formula One grid in 2012, no fewer than 12 have earned their spurs in a Renault Sport Technologies car. Among them is Felipe Massa, the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 champion in 2000, the same year that Kimi Raikkonen caused a sensation by securing an F1 drive on the strength of his Formula Renault 2.0 UK title win, a crown lifted three years later by Lewis Hamilton. For his part, Kamui Kobayashi took the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 crown in 2005, while Grosjean is himself a former winner of the French Formula Renault 2.0 championship.
Pic, Ricciardo and Vergne have also performed with distinction at the wheel of a Formula Renault 2.0, with Vergne taking the French title in 2008 and the Australian topping the Formula Renault 2.0 WEC standings that same year. Making the switch straight from Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 to Formula Renault 3.5 Series, meanwhile, Pic secured a stunning first win in the class on the streets of Monaco in 2008. Continuing their ascents, Ricciardo and Vergne then enjoyed a season apiece in England, Ricciardo lifting the British International F3 title in 2009 and Vergne succeeding him as champion a year later. Their next destination was Formula Renault 3.5 Series. The 2010 runner-up, the Australian has successfully combined his Formula Renault 3.5 Series and Formula One duties with HRT this year, while Vergne, who finished second in the 2011 Formula Renault 3.5 Series, earned his 2012 Formula One slot after impressing in testing.
The trio’s promotion to Formula One is richly deserved and puts Renault Sport Technologies’ development programme firmly in the spotlight. A selection of other drivers, among them Robert Wickens, are also in with a chance of joining them next season, and their progress will be monitored closely by all World Series by Renault stakeholders, who will continue with their task of nurturing the champions of tomorrow. In lining up for the 2012 Formula Renault 2.0 and Formula Renault 3.5 Series championships, those future stars will have no shortage of role models to emulate, with Pic, Ricciardo and Vergne the latest to show that anything is possible with enough hard work, dedication and the support of a programme tailored to helping drivers reach the peak.