Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson once sang “the best things in life are free” but I didn’t believe them until I attended my first World Series by Renault event at Donington Park during its debut season in 2005. Since then, the wallet-friendly series has continued to gain credibility and popularity among drivers and spectators alike.
For those unaware, the World Series by Renault (WSR henceforth) is a 100 per cent Renault race meeting that features the flagship Formula Renault 3.5 series, Formula 2.0, and also tin-top racing in the form of the Eurocup Megane Trophy and Eurocup Clio categories.
Predominately a European racing event, the series paid its annual visit to Silverstone last weekend and once again proved to be a huge hit with the British public, drawing in 120,000 motorsport fans through the turnstiles; taking full advantage of free admittance.
As a venue, Silverstone has an inherent problem: the place is so vast that you can sometimes feel like you’re never truly involved. It always feels empty without a capacity crowd. Never the case when Renault is in town, however, for they know that getting bums on seats and faces behind the fences are what form part of the spectacle.
With attractions and events for all the family, the WSR is a true success as far as the spectator experience is concerned. The atmosphere is almost tangible, and it has none of the stuffiness that surrounds Formula 1, as race fans have easy access to the teams and drivers in the paddock – just as it should be.
The star attraction of course is the racing itself. The 2.0 and 3.5-litre single-seater championships are fantastic categories to follow, both trackside and from the comfort of your armchair. They also go hand in hand with one another and act as pyramid system, leading all the way up to F1.
You only have to look at the calibre of driver that has been nurtured through either category to realise their importance on the motorsport career ladder.
Those that have honed their skills in FRenault 2.0 include Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa and Kamui Kobayashi, whilst FRenault 3.5 can boast the likes of Heikki Kovalainen, Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel as proof that Renault’s single-seater championships are of significant importance in a driver’s progression to the top echelon of the sport.
FRenault 3.5 is the perfect springboard to GP2, and more often than not, to F1 itself. It’s considerably cheaper than F1’s support series – in some cases to the tune of £800,000 – and, as the race weekends don’t clash, a driver can also benefit from being on F1 reserve duties. It’s no wonder it’s quickly become Red Bull’s preferred choice for developing their upcoming drivers.
With most of the 26 drivers on the verge of realising their F1 ambitions – and make a name for themselves in front of the thousands of spectators and potential sponsors – the quality of racing is more often than not of a high standard.
Okay, so the two rounds at Silverstone last weekend were hardly a hotbed of overtaking. But that’s more to do with the nature of the circuit than the standard of drivers on the grid. Unquestionably the star of the show was Robert Wickens, who bounced back from his Hungaroring blip by scoring two pole positions and two race victories – his only failing all weekend was being stuck in traffic on the A43 as qualifying commenced on Sunday morning!
Wickens now leads erstwhile championship leader Jean-Eric Vergne by 34 points, but with 100 still up for grabs, this year’s championship looks set to reach a thrilling conclusion as the series visits Paul Ricard and its native home of Catalunya.
Both popular and credible, the WSR is now firmly implanted on the world motorsport landscape, and there’s every sign of greater things to come next year.
First of the changes on the horizon is a brand new car for 2012. The new Renault racer will feature a chassis built by Dallara and a new engine from Zytek. The bespoke 3.4-litre V8 will produce 530bhp compared to the current V6’s 425bhp. The car’s main innovative feature is its Drag Reduction System (DRS) – similar to that used in F1 – and will take the category even closer to GP2 in terms of performance.
The other big news is that the series has just announced that they are looking to add both Russia and Brazil to next year’s schedule. Ambitious and ground-breaking (it will be the first major international single-seater championship to visit Russia), there’s no stopping the WSR as it continues its quest to increase enthusiasm for motor racing across the globe, and for that, Renault is to be applauded.