1 January 1901
Four to the fore as title goes down to wire.
It might be a case of 'Advantage Parente' as the World Series by Renault championship battle reaches its decisive stage in Barcelona this weekend, but realistically as many as four drivers can still claim the crown in the season finale.
Alvaro Parente may not have enjoyed a dream weekend on home turf at Estoril last time out, but sixth and seventh places did enable the Tech 1 Racing star to score some precious points to give himself a bit of breathing space over key rival Ben Hanley in the drivers' standings heading into the last round. The only man to rival Sebastian Vettel over the early part of the campaign, the Portugese has displayed remarkable consistency throughout, finishing in the points twelve times in 15 races, while two pole positions and two race wins have similarly provided ample evidence of explosive raw speed. Impatience may have cost the former A1GP racer a few points on more than one occasion, but he will nevertheless arrive in Spain as the favourite to lift the laurels.
Prema Powerteam ace Hanley on the other hand, 22 points adrift in the battle, has it all to do. Even if the Renault Development Driver scores maximum points, he will still be up against it and requiring Parente to register 13 or fewer if he is to be crowned champion. Indeed, with five podium finishes under his belt, including victory at Magny-Cours, the Brit will be wary of repeating the mistakes of previous races as his current runner-up spot is far from assured.
Just nine points adrift of Hanley, Milos Pavlovic is determined to finish the season on a high, and like Parente has notched up four rostrum finishes and two wins – at Spa and Estoril – all from reverse race grids. Despite some below-par performances in qualifying, the Serbian Draco Racing pilot has drawn on all of his considerable experience to produce some very solid race showings, and on Sunday evening is set to become the first driver ever to have competed in every single race in a World Series Formula Renault 3.5 campaign. A brace of impressive showings at Estoril have also put Epsilon Euskadi star Filipe Albuquerque back in the running for a top three end-of-season finish, the Portuguese lying a scant four points behind Pavlovic.
Outside of the championship contenders, meanwhile, a number of other drivers have the potential to influence the battle for the top places. Miguel Molina would dearly love to produce a repeat of his superb victory for Pons Racing in Portugal in front of his home Spanish crowd, who are sure to offer him plenty of encouragement. Another Spaniard in the thick of the action is Draco Racing's Alvaro Barba, while having notched up three podiums since Donington Park and begun from the top spot at Estoril, Parente's Tech 1 Racing team-mate Julien Jousse is undeniably going from strength-to-strength as well.
Jousse sits sixth in the drivers' standings, level on points with Giedo van der Garde as the Victory Engineering ace continues to seek his first top three finish of the year, and Guillaume Moreau, Bertrand Baguette, Salvador Duran, Fairuz Fauzy, Clivio Piccione, Marco Bonanomi, Mikhail Aleshin and Davide Valsecchi will all have their sights set higher than merely a place in the top ten too. Expect fireworks!
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