Rookie Vladimir Atoev and 2015 runner up Matthieu Vaxiviere will contest the 2016 Formula 3.5 V8 championship for new team Spirit of Race, it has been announced.
A press conference run by Atoev's sponsors SPM Racing confirmed the two drivers for the 2016 season. The 16-year-old is relatively inexperienced but has enjoyed campaigns in both French F4 and SMP's own F4 series since graduating from karting I'm 2013. SMP will be a familiar name to followers of Formula 3.5 V8 – and its predecessor Formula Renault 3.5 – having sponsored the likes of Sergey Sirotkin and Arden Motorsport prodigy Egor Orudzhev in recent years.
Atoev's youth and inexperience will be juxtaposed by 3.5 litre veteran Matthieu Vaxiviere, himself a former runner up and three time race winner in the series. His career-best performance was not enough to eclipse eventual champion Oliver Rowland but the Frenchman will be among the favourites when he returns to the RPM-backed series next year. He is the first runner up to rejoin the championship since Daniel Ricciardo was beaten by Mikhail Aleshin in 2010.
Vaxiviere began testing with the Italian-owned, Swiss-based squad in October. AF Corse's owner Amato Ferrari bought the team to replace International Draco Racing on the 2016 grid. The newcomers can boast some strong form following a consistent campaign in post-season testing earlier this year which saw 21-year-old Vaxiviere lead the early sessions.
Upon joining the grid, Atoev and Vaxiviere become to the fifth and sixth drivers confirmed for the new-look season, joining Arden talent Orudzhev, the reigning Formula Renault 2.0 NEC champion Louis Deletraz and the AVF duo of Alfonso Celis Jr. and Tom Dillmann. Two teams, RP Motorsport and Teo Martin Motorsport are yet to debut but are expected to appear at pre-season next year, in time for the first season since Renault Sport left the series as co-promoters.