It was a mixed weekend for the DAMS team as the Formula Renault 3.5 Series resumed after its mid-season break in Hungary. Whereas Norman Nato was romping to his second victory of the season on Sunday, current championship leader Carlos Sainz Jr saw a good proportion of his lead cut by Zeta Corse driver Roberto Merhi.
Nato secured his second victory of the season in race two, adding to his Monaco win in May. He qualified fourth for race one but dropped to eighth after a slow getaway, but all that was erased on Sunday. Qualifying third, he made a great start to jump into the lead, and apart from during the pit stop cycle, would never relinquish it, holding off Merhi until the flag.
“I am absolutely delighted with the win, both for myself and the team,” said Nato. “It has totally erased the disappointment of Saturday’s race. The start was crucial, and laid the foundations for my victory. My getaway was superb and I was able to jump into the lead by taking the outside line into turn one. The only moment of panic came immediately after the Safety Car period, but I managed to control the race to the finish.
“I’d also like to thank the entire team for doing a great job during my pit-stop, which allowed me to retain the lead. I’m now feeling more motivated than ever ahead of the next round at Paul Ricard.”
Team-mate and current championship leader Sainz Jr had a disappointing Saturday qualifying, but climbed to fourth after starting fourteenth in the race. He qualified on the front row for Sunday’s second race, but a problem with the anti-stall cost him some positions, and he finished sixth. With his main rival for the championship Merhi finishing first and second, Sainz has seen his lead cut to just sixteen points with four races of the season remaining.
“Firstly, I would like to extend my congratulations to Norman,” said Sainz Jr. “Personally, everything looked promising after free practice, but my flying lap during Saturday’s qualifying session was ruined by red flag; we were just caught out by the red flags and did not get in the time when it counted, P14 was a bit of a disaster.
“My race that afternoon was good. We made up a lot of places to fourth but finally I couldn’t get any further because of tyre degradation. I had put everything into it and it certainly salvaged some points form a bad situation.
“Qualifying 2 was good in mixed conditions and we were really looking forward to the race from the front row. Encountering more problems on Sunday was unfortunate. As I changed from first to second coming out of the first corner the anti-stall cut in and I was stuck in neutral for a couple of seconds and lost three places.”
“I got going but was soon having brake problems, Even coming round behind the safety car for the restart I knew that there was something not right with the brakes and as soon as I started to push I was in trouble, I just had to back out of the battles or I was going to be in big trouble.”
“We’ll have to analyse what happened but it was nothing to do with the other brake issues that were discussed this weekend. We didn’t have any problem with the new brakes while some people complained. Anyway, we had all swapped back to the old system so this was just one of those things that can happen,”
“Despite choosing an aggressive strategy with the team, I wasn’t able to regain lost time and return to the front. The overall result is mediocre, but I won’t give anything away, especially in France in a fortnight.”
Managing Director Francois Sicard was happy to see Nato finally demonstrate just how good a driver he is after a number of unlucky weekends, but was disappointed seeing Sainz’s lead in the championship reduced by Merhi.
“Our Hungarian weekend yielded mixed emotions,” said Sicard. “On the one hand, Norman’s joyous victory demonstrated his true potential. The entire team and I congratulate him on his achievement. We also strengthened our lead in the Teams’ Championship, and hopefully we can carry the momentum into Paul Ricard.
“However, Carlos’ various issues meant he lost quite a few points in the Drivers’ Championship battle. We’ll certainly need to pull ourselves together in the final two rounds.”