Albert Costa (Photo Credit: Renault Sport)

Albert Costa (Photo Credit: Renault Sport)

Albert Costa scored his debut win after two years of toil in Formula Renault 3.5 with victory at his home event in Catalunya.

His was not the unconfined joy in Barcelona, though, as Robert Wickens took the title in a dramatic finale.

The Canadian, nor his team mate and championship challenger Jean-Eric Vergne, finished the racing following the damage they both sustained as they squabbled for position at the start.

On the run down into the first corner Costa just preserved his advantage from a fast-starting Anton Nebylitskiy, who even took to the grass such was his determination to take the lead.

Despite being passed by the Russian off the line, Wickens followed suit but cautiously entered the first corner allowing Vergne a chance to get ahead.

The Frenchman made a lunge at his Carlin team mate into turn one and they made slight contact.

With Wickens losing the car momentarily, Vergne carried more momentum and, whilst leaving room for his team mate, attempted to swoop around the outside of the second part of the Elf chicane.

Both made contact once again, this time substantially heavier, as Wickens' front wing clouted Vergne's left rear.

The Canadian lost steering as his suspension was badly damaged in the shunt, making him veer to the right which ended the luckless Nathanael Berthon's afternoon as he flipped over and into the gravel trap.

The incident also wiped out many of the midfield runners, as Jan Charouz, Lewis Williamson, Cesar Ramos and Nelson Panciatici all retired in the gravel.

This brought out the Safety Car, which remained until Lap 6, with the slightly unusual top five of Costa, Nebylitskiy, Nick Yelloly, Vergne and Daniel Zampieri.

With Wickens out, Vergne needed fifth or higher to take the championship but his pace was clearly restricted with a damaged car.

He was passed by Zampieri and Stephane Richelmi, leaving him a point short his the required target.

Then after dropping further down the order following his mandatory pit stop, he was punted out of the race by Fairuz Fauzy to end his title bid.

Therefore it was Wickens, the bridesmaid in F2 and GP3 over the past two seasons, who took the championship.

He said:  “I'm relieved that I'm the 2011 champion. It's definitely not how I expected to be crowned champion, or how I wanted to end the day, but I suppose it doesn't matter how you win, as long as you win at the end. It's a shame the season had to end the way it did for myself and Jev. We raced each other hard and fair all year which was great, so it's a pity that we ended the season with contact at the first corner. The contact could have been avoided and it's a shame that it wasn't.

“The team were flawless all year. We've had great team chemistry, the team operates very professionally; everything they do is first class. It's the reason I wanted to be with them at the start of the season and I've been given no reason to regret that decision. It was great having Jean-Eric as a team mate, he pushed me all year and I think I did the same to him, which why it came down to the two of us at the season of the year I think. At the end of the day I'm just happy I'm champion. A big thanks to the team and Marussia for making this possible.”

Despite taking both titles, it was a bitter sweet day for the Carlin team.

The inter-team battle inside the supreme Carlin team this season has often been harmonious and it was unfortunate that such a hard-fought title was virtually decided by contact between the two.

However, they can rejoice in the knowledge that they have won back-to-back FR3.5 titles after Mikhail Aleshin's success last year.

Team Principal Trevor Carlin said: “This afternoon's race was a complete emotional rollercoaster for the team. We knew that it would be difficult and that our emotions would be mixed for the driver that won and the driver who came second. Robert and Jean-Eric have raced extremely competitively and closely throughout the season and it's a pity that the season ended as it did. They would both have made a worthy champion but obviously we're delighted for Robert today.

“The entire team should be congratulated on the way they have handled such a close battle between the drivers. Throughout the season everyone has put in 100 per cent effort as a team, and that is reflected in our team's title and the amazing achievement of a 1-2 in the drivers' championship.”

Wickens may have won the championship, but the glory in the final race of the year went to Costa, who took his maiden win in the series for Epic Racing.

After the Safety Car pulled in, the Spaniard built up a comfortable lead over the chasing pack and his consistent pace thereafter saw him take the checkered flag by 4.468secs from Yelloly.

The result saw him springboard Daniel Ricciardo, who was competing for HRT at the Japanese Grand Prix, to fourth in the drivers standings but he just five points shy of Alexander Rossi, whose 7th place consolidated third in the championships as well as top rookie of the year.

Nevertheless, Costa was overjoyed with his victory.

He said: “This is my first Formula Renault 3.5 Series win and it's come at the right time. Epic Racing are a new team and a lot of hard work has gone into this. We've not had much success, though we could have had a few other wins along the way. I don't know how my future's going to pan out because I need to get a budget together. Winning here could help me with that.”

Yelloly tailed him home in second place to give Pons Racing their first podium of the season at their home event.

The Brit, who will drive for ISR in the collective FR3.5 test in Catalunya this week, was thrilled to bow out in style.

Yelloly said: “I couldn't have dreamed that I would have had such a fantastic result in only my sixth race in Formula Renault 3.5 and I must thank the team, Pons Racing for providing such a competitive car.

“It is particularly rewarding for them to have such a strong result on their home track and today especially the car was superb. We elected to make some changes yesterday and the team translated all of my requests into producing a perfect car for qualifying and the race.”

Brendon Hartley completed the podium after a determined drive from 13th on the grid, while Sergio Canamasas and Nebylitskiy completed the top five.

Oliver Webb ended a difficult weekend in six ahead of rookie of the year Rossi, while Walter Grubmuller, Daniel de Jong and Arthur Pic rounded out the top ten.

The wheels almost came off Wickens' title challenge, but he will savour his first single seater title since Formula BMW USA in 2006 and the chance to get behind the wheel of the Lotus Renault GP car at the F1 Young Drivers test in Abu Dhabi.

Getting behind the wheel of a Grand Prix car may now become a regular occurrence for the Canadian.


Race Two Results - 26 laps:

Pos Driver Team Time/Gap
 1.  Albert Costa       Epic             45m50.549s
 2.  Nick Yelloly       Pons               + 4.468s
 3.  Brendon Hartley    Gravity-Charouz   + 15.889s
 4.  Sergio Canamasas   BVM Target        + 17.538s
 5.  Anton Nebylitskiy  KMP               + 20.309s
 6.  Oliver Webb        Pons              + 20.945s
 7.  Alexander Rossi    Fortec            + 27.485s
 8.  Walter Grubmuller  P1                + 31.486s
 9.  Daniel de Jong     Comtec            + 40.242s
10.  Arthur Pic         Tech 1            + 41.678s
11.  Fairuz Fauzy       Mofaz             + 42.704s
12.  Daniel McKenzie    Comtec            + 44.879s
13.  Sten Pentus        Epic              + 50.451s
14.  Daniil Move        P1                + 54.630s


     Jake Rosenzweig    Mofaz               22 laps
     Daniel Zampieri    BVM Target          21 laps
     Stephane Richelmi  Draco               21 laps
     Adrien Tambay      Draco               18 laps
     Jean-Eric Vergne   Carlin              17 laps
     Kevin Korjus       Tech 1               7 laps
     Robert Wickens     Carlin               0 laps
     Nelson Panciatici  KMP                  0 laps
     Cesar Ramos        Fortec               0 laps
     Lewis Williamson   ISR                  0 laps
     Jan Charouz        Gravity-Charouz      0 laps
     Nathanael Berthon  ISR                  0 laps