Eurosport - Thu, 29 Apr 11:11:00 2010
Tech 1 Racing's Daniel Ricciardo arrives in Belgium for the Spa weekend leading the Formula Renault 3.5 championship without having won a single race.
On the tricky Spa-Francorchamps circuit, not only must the Australian contend with Carlin's Mikhail Aleshin and Fortec Motorsport's Sten Pentus, both race-winners at Motorland Aragon, but also with Pons Racing's Daniel Zampieri and International Draco Racing's Nathanael Bertheon, two rookies who have already set foot on the podium this season.
The first two races of the season at Motorland Aragon have been very instructive and Ricciardo confirmed in Spain that he was well and truly one of the favourites this season.
Fast in qualifying, and chalking up two pole positions, the Australian finished on the podium twice, with a third place on Saturday and a second place on the Sunday. It is thanks to this consistency that he currently leads the championship. He now needs a win.
That will be his goal at Spa-Francorchamps, a circuit on which he has already won races - in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 back in 2008, and last year in British F3.
There are a number of drivers who could unseat the Formula One Red Bull Racing team's number three driver, who shares those duties with Tech 1 team-mate Brendon Hartley, and Mikhail Aleshin and Sten Pentus are top of that list.
Bolstered by their success at Motorland Aragon, the Russian and the Estonian are looking to go one step further. Aleshin has already made a success of his return to Formula Renault 3.5 Series, while Pentus made a name for himself in winter testing and now has high hopes for the championship.
The rookies also made a good impression in Spain. Zampieri, a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, and Berthon have both climbed the podium already this season, while P1 Motorsport's Jan Charouz, reserve driver for the Renault F1 Team, showed his mettle when he qualified on the second row in Sunday's race.
Epsilon Euskadi's Albert Costa, the winner of the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 in 2009, is still troubled by a hand injury following an accident in collective testing during the winter but has come back fighting, claiming eight points last weekend.
The Catalan driver is counting on the hotly contested round at one of his favourite circuits, where he scored a double last season in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, to put him back up with the leaders in the points table.
The first meeting of the season was not so kind to everyone, and certain drivers are counting on the Belgian round to redress the balance. Brendon Hartley needs to score well to catch up with his team-mate, as does the ISR team's Esteban Guerrieri, who came away from Motorland Aragon without a single point to his name.
The Comtec Racing team's drivers find themselves in an identical situation. Greg Mansell and Stefano Coletti failed to make an impact on a circuit they were unfamiliar with. The drivers from Britain and Monaco arrive with high hopes at Spa, where the track is much more familiar.
In the teams' championship, Tech 1 Racing leads the way, followed by Fortec Motorsport and Carlin. The new teams in Formula Renault 3.5 Series this season have already made an impression, in particular Junior Lotus Racing, which already has 14 points thanks to Daniil Move and Nelson Panciatici. KMP Racing has also been rewarded at this early stage with its first point.
Saturday should be particularly interesting, as the cars use the light aerodynamics setup. With less downforce, the drivers will have to demonstrate all their dexterity in Eau Rouge, in the descent to the Pouhon or in the fast Blanchimont complex.
They can ill afford the slightest error if they are to shine on a circuit where driving skills always make the difference, especially if the rain is added to the mix. The crowds, traditionally large at the Belgian round of the World Series by Renault, will also be keen to see Jerome d'Ambrosio's display during the Renault F1 show.
For the first time in his career, the Belgian driver will drive an F1 car in front of his home crowd.
World Series by Renault – Spa Francorchamps:
Race 1 - Saturday 6.30pm on British Eurosport 2 (Sky 411 / Virgin 525) & Eurosport Player
Race 2 - Sunday 3pm on British Eurosport (Sky 410 / Virgin 521) & Eurosport Player