Twenty-four-year-old Matias Lainé is competing in his second season of the Formula Renault 3.5 Series in 2014 with Strakka Racing, and currently sits just outside the top ten in the championship. The Finn, from Joensuu in Finland, admitted to hoping for a better start to his season, but feels that as the year has progressed, so has he, and the results are beginning to come.
“The start the season was more of a challenge than we hoped for,” said Lainé to The Checkered Flag. “At the start, I wasn’t getting the results I was thinking were possible but in the most recent races we have made good progress through improving my driving and getting more out of the car.
“We had some technical problems but my driving is improving all the way. I’m happy about that and the way that is developing through the season. It is a little disappointing not to be at the sharp end every round but we have improved so much since Monza and each time we make another step forward.”
After a tenth place finish in the opening round of the year at Monza, the Finnish driver went on a run of four consecutive races without adding to his points tally. Round four at Spa-Francorchamps would change all that, with the former GP3 Series race winner taking his best result of the season in race one with fourth, and only losing a podium finish on the final lap to Jazeman Jaafar.
“Spa is a mega track and the car was very good,” said Lainé. “I really like that track a lot and we were on it from the start of the weekend. I think we could have got a bit more on reflection but it was a good weekend.
“[I am not as disappointed] as you might think because I knew he had a set up that was so much faster on every straight. It would have been nice to finish on the podium but we have more opportunities to get this after the summer break.”
Heading into Moscow, Lainé continued his scoring run, finishing eighth in race one after being stuck behind Lotus driver Richie Stanaway for a good portion of the race, and then followed that up with a seventh place in race two.
“The [Moscow Raceway] track is really good,” insisted Lainé. “I did get bottled up behind Richie Stanaway but got by for eighth four laps from the end and ultimately pace was good. I set a best lap of the race that was quicker than race winner Sergey Sirotkin.
“That was a good weekend and its weekends like that where we show potential that push me on to do a better job with my driving and get more out of the car.”
The last race weekend before the summer break was at the Nurburgring in Germany, and in race one, Lainé secured another good haul of points with a sixth place finish after qualifying in the same position. Unfortunately his Sunday race was over before it really began, with the Finn being caught up in an accident that meant he was forced to retire for the first time in 2014.
“Mixed is best description I think,” said Lainé of his Nurburgring weekend. “During Saturday morning’s qualifying session, I got my best qualifying with sixth fastest time and missed out on pole position by 0.2 seconds!
“Sunday was over quickly. We overheated the brakes in Sunday’s session, which meant we started in among the pack. Unfortunately, that meant I got tripped up and had my first accident of the year and had to retire.”
Looking ahead to the remainder of the season, Lainé insists there is still plenty to play for as he aims to improve on his current eleventh place in the championship. He currently has 37 points, but is only 17 points away from the top ten.
“There is still a long way to go and plenty of points on offer,” insists Lainé. “We have been improving all the time so can’t wait to return to the track. I have been busy training and using Strakka’s in-house simulator. Those sessions together with the great support from the team is helping to unlock the speed that I know is there. With more of this before Hungary we should be in good shape.
“Every race is important but people always remember your last one! So we have to perform and continue to improve in the next few races. Strakka is P4 in the Teams’ point’s table so I have a job to do there as well as my own performance. With some more strong results we can start to think about next year and continuing to progress.”
Lainé believes the level of competition within the Formula Renault 3.5 Series is extremely high, and feels that the series has the best drivers on show compared to other junior categories to Formula 1.
“I honestly think after F1, FR3.5 is best place to be and if you look we have the top drivers in FR3.5,” insists Lainé. “You only have to see what the graduates are achieving in F1 to realise how they stack up against drivers at the pinnacle of the sport. That shows that FR3.5 is really competitive and tough championship to perform in.”
Looking at the team he drives for, Lainé only has praise for his Strakka Racing outfit, and enjoys being a part of the team and feels they are helping him develop as a driver. He also draws on the experience of team-mate Will Stevens, who Lainé believes is assisting the whole Strakka Racing team to perform at a higher level.
“Strakka is truly professional team and they are providing all the support to make best car for the drivers,” said Lainé. “I really like to be part of the team and have a great relationship working with my engineer Jay Davenport in and out of the car. It’s important you get on well and have an understanding of what each of other is saying. He also supports me on the simulator too so we can correlate what we see on the weekend. That is good as we can learn from the previous race and try different things out.
“The key thing is that Strakka is helping me to improve all the time. Having Will in the team is a huge bonus. Obviously his experience in the category and what he is doing with Caterham is something I can draw upon. We work well in the garage and don’t have any secrets. His knowledge of the car is helping the whole team to perform.”