Formula Renault 3.5, Round 3: Spa-Francorchamps
Arthur Pic showed plenty of pace but ultimately left Spa-Francorchamps empty handed following a frustrating Formula Renault 3.5 round in Belgium this weekend.
After his battling drive around Monaco’s city streets seven days ago, the young Frenchman had to display similar combative qualities in the Ardennes after qualifying 10th for Saturday’s race.
Pic wasted little time moving up the order by claiming two positions on the opening lap alone before shadowing and then passing Jake Rosenzweig to claim seventh four laps later.
Such was his pace that it took the DAMS driver just a single lap to erode Carlos Huertas’ 1.5secs advantage and take sixth away from the Colombian.
Next up, but some 4.4secs clear, was Jules Bianchi who saw his gap slashed thanks to the intervention of a safety car. And when racing resumed again on lap 14, it wasn’t long before positions second to sixth were covered by little over one second.
As cars jostled for position, Pic was able to snatch fifth away from Robin Frijns and, with just three laps remaining, had homed in on Kevin Magnussen. But as the pair headed for La Source nose-to-tail, the Dane moved across into Pic’s path, puncturing his left-rear tyre and sending both onto the run-off area.
That saw Pic tumble down the order from a probable hard-fought fourth place finish to 15th overall and an extremely frustrating end to what had been a stunning comeback drive.
While Saturday had remained dry, Sunday brought with it the sort of soaking wet conditions that Spa is famed for.
A problem with his car’s all-important Drag Reduction System (DRS), as well as set-up issues, hampered Pic’s pace during a red-flag interrupted qualifying session that saw him set the 18th fastest time.
So poor were conditions by the afternoon that the race began behind the safety car. When it was finally withdrawn, Pic was amongst the first to make his mandatory pit-stop in the hope of picking up places later in the race. It would have been the correct call but just three laps later, in treacherous conditions, he was powerless to prevent the car from spinning into retirement.
Arthur Pic: “Friday’s free practice sessions went quite well and I had the pace to run in the top five. But we then went the wrong way on set-up for qualifying which is why, in the end, I was happy to line-up in P10. Fortunately I made a good start and gained a few places. The car felt good and I was amongst the fastest out there before the safety car period. It was obviously disappointing therefore to have the incident with Magnussen. I wasn’t trying to overtake him and maintained the racing line when he closed the door. Let’s just say we had a misunderstanding.
“Sunday’s heavy rain meant we had to find a new set-up during qualifying. A problem with the DRS made the situation worse, which explained our low grid position. Because of that we opted for an early pit-stop in the race. It would have been the right strategic call because I re-joined just behind Sam Bird who went on to finish fifth. The car still wasn’t quite right in those tricky conditions and, unfortunately, three laps later I span at Turn 9. It was my fault.
“Before the next round I will be at DAMS’ factory in Le Mans where we will have a proper debrief and try to understand our lack of performance in the rain. We have great dry pace but we are not as competitive as we should be in the wet. It is better to be prepared should that happen again this year.”
Pic will be back behind the wheel when Formula Renault 3.5 continues at the Nurburgring in Germany on June 30-July 1.