Formula Renault Eurocup headed to Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium for Round 5, Races 9-10 of the 2019 Championship.
Qualifying 1 took place in wet conditions on Thursday, with Frank Bird taking his best qualifying of the season so far – with a strong 5th fastest time for Arden. Teammates Sebastián Fernández and Patrik Pasma set the 18th and 20th fastest times respectively in the tricky conditions around the 7.004km Belgian circuit as both of their final laps were compromised on the drying track.
The second qualifying session took place on Friday morning, this time in dry conditions – which saw Fernández put in a brilliant performance to go 2nd fastest overall, narrowly missing on pole position by 0.015s!
Pasma also fared strongly with the 7th quickest time of the session, with Bird 12th fastest in a promising session for the team – which set the grid for the first race later that afternoon.
At the start of Race 1, Fernández had a difficult start – dropping from 2nd on the grid to 8th as his teammates both made good launches on the run into Turn 1, before Bird was pushed out wide onto the wet astro-turf and caused him to lose ground on the run-down to Eau Rouge.
At the end of Lap 1, Pasma headed the Arden’s in 4th position, with Fernández 8th and Bird 14th.
Fernández wasted no time in putting his great dry weather pace to good use as he started to battle back through the order picking drivers off using the long Kemmel Straight to slipstream his rivals and move up the order.
Five minutes into the race, Pasma and Fernández were lined up in 4th and 5th positions and in contention for podium finishes, with Bird recovering in 14th position.
Pasma pressured Lorenzo Colombo for 3rd position, as their battle raged on from the Kemmel Straight all the way to Pouhon corner, with the latter being able to just fight back and hold 3rd from Pasma.
This put Fernández right on the battle for 3rd position, just before a Safety Car was deployed with 10 minutes to go. Bird was running in 16th at the time, following a wide moment at the Bus Stop chicane which blunted his momentum after moving up to 13th earlier in the race.
The race restarted with 10 minutes to go with Fernández and Pasma swapping positions for 4th and 5th. Fernández kept up a relentless pressure for 3rd position, which paid off on the final lap, as he passed Colombo for the final spot on the podium into Les Combes – which he held to the finish.
Pasma took a solid 6th position and not far behind his teammate, with Bird completing the Arden runners in 17th.
The second race saw Bird make a solid start to maintain 6th position, with Fernández and Pasma starting their recovery from the rear of the field. Eight minutes in and Fernández had moved up to 15th position, Pasma just behind in 16th, while Bird still maintained a points paying position in 8th position.
By half distance, the Arden trio had to deal with avoiding various on track incidents and collisions to continue making progress through the field, with Fernández had moved himself into the points in 10th, whilst Bird was pitched into a spin by a rival driver, knocking him back to 12th in the heat of the action. Pasma suffered a similar fate and was pushed back to 18th which undid his good progress up the order.
Heading into the final lap, Fernandez had made an astonishing rise of 10 positions and was in 8th place when Piastri (4th) overtook Malvestiti (3rd) into Les Combes who in turn span his car trying to defend the position. Martins was clipped by the spinning Malvestiti and the innocent Smolyar was hit and dramatically rolled his car, the remainder of the field flashed by the incident while the marshalls ran to the scene and gave the thumbs up as they checked both drivers.
Martins car must have sustained some damage as he slipped down the order whereas Fernandez, now in 5th, was under the rear wing of Lorandi and lining up the overtake on the obviously slower car at this stage of the race, When, inexplicably race control decided to red flag the race…This meant the final results were counted from the lap before, meaning Fernández finished in 9th – banking a double points score across the weekend, Bird finished in 13th and Pasma rounded out the Arden trio in 16th position.
After the race Fernandez, disappointed with a 9th when it could so easily have been fourth said:
“It’s the first podium of the season. It’s good, because it shows Arden is catching the other teams. We’re improving every race, and hopefully for the next race we’ll be faster.”
The next round of the Formula Renault Eurocup takes place at the Nurburgring on the 30th August – 1st September for Round 6 of the 2019 Championship.