Twenty-two-year-old Norman Nato is competing in his second season of the Formula Renault 3.5 Series with the DAMS team, and currently sits tenth in the championship having taken his maiden series victory in the standalone race at Monaco in May. The Frenchman admits to feeling disappointed with his overall results in 2014 despite the victory, believing he could have made a genuine challenge for the title.
“In terms of results, the season has been inconsistent so far,” said Nato to The Checkered Flag. “We can be unbeatable in Monaco and almost the slowest on track in Moscow after being P3 in free practice. We are working very hard to gain a consistent pace throughout the race weekend.
“I’m quite disappointed because I have the feeling that something was possible this year. Compare to last year nobody has really dominated the championship, and that is why I insist we have to be more consistent for the last 3 race meetings and I’m sure we are able to finish in the top 5 at the end.”
Nato arrived at Monza for the opening round of the Formula Renault 3.5 Series hopeful of building on his experience from 2013, but was surprised to find himself struggling, and ended up failing to score any points all weekend.
“I was really surprised to be that far [down the order],” said Nato. “I had high expectations coming to Monza, it’s a track where I showed in previous categories I was able to be fast. It has been quite hard for everybody, we had to work twice more to understand and fix problems as soon as we could.”
After scoring his first point of the season in race two at Aragon in Spain, the round in Monaco, the only time all season where Formula Renault 3.5 Series supports Formula 1, Nato was unbeatable. He was fast all through practice, took his second series pole position (after race two at Aragon in 2013), and strode to a dominant maiden series victory.
“We all knew that we were able to make a good result in Monaco,” insisted Nato. “Last year was my first experience in Monaco, and I managed to be P3 after FP1 and P7 in qualifying. So we just tried to capitalize on last year and adjust what needed to be improved.
“I managed to find a good pace early in the free practice which allowed me to push to the limits during quali and set the pole position. During the race, I pushed the first 5 laps to make a gap over [Marco] Sorensen, and then I controlled the race not to make any mistake.
“Each time you cross the line on that track it’s like a dream. Winning the race was unbelievable, especially because my hometown is very close. All my sponsors, family and friends were there.
“It had been a perfect week-end from the beginning until the end. So when I crossed the line, first I was asking myself if it was really finished, I realized it when the team congratulated me through the radio. To be honest the only word I was able to say was ‘thank you’ as I was crying.”
The trip to Spa-Francorchamps the following week saw the Frenchman secure more points as he finished fifth in both races. He felt his season was really about to start as he rose to fifth place in the championship following the races in Belgium.
“We can say that Spa was not a bad week-end, we scored important points after Monaco, that was my goal for the season,” said Nato. “I started from the middle of the grid but thanks to two good races, I left Spa in fifth position in the championship. At this time in my mind, the season was finally started.”
After the highs of Monaco and Spa, Moscow was perhaps the lowest point of the season for Nato. The Frenchman was initially quick in practice, but the team lost their way on set-up and Nato struggled for pace all of the way through Saturday and Sunday.
“Our pace on free practices in Moscow was really good,” stated Nato. “My team-mate struggled but from my side, I was quite happy, we were running top 3 each time I was on track.
“Unfortunately during qualifying, our car set up didn’t fit the track evolution and my team-mate and I finished 16th and 19th. At the end we scored zero points, and I would say it was very frustrating and disappointing. The team did not find the solution to improve our pace, it is very rare but it can happen sometimes in motorsport.”
Race 1 at the Nurburgring in Germany saw Nato once again miss out on points as the pace of the car was not strong, but for race two, he was able to score points for sixth after climbing through from fourteenth after being twice baulked in qualifying by his team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr.
“Nurburgring is one of my favorite tracks, I always have been on the podium in the past when I raced there,” stated Nato. “We had a really difficult Saturday, our pace was not strong. On Sunday I was quite happy to see the rain. After the first set of new tyres I was P3. I was not able to improve on the second set of new tyres as my team-mate blocked me twice in the last chicane at the end of the session when the track was drying out.
“At this time I was really p****d off because I was in the top 3 all session long until the two last laps. We had a discussion about this issue with the team and Carlos to make sure it will not happen again.
“Starting from 14th on the grid, a strong race pace allowed me to overtake and finished 6th.”
Nato believes his efforts in qualifying have been a factor in his relatively disappointing points tally, where he has only scored 54 points in the opening eleven races compared to Sainz’s 157. He believes once his qualifying woes are forgotten, he can fight once more for wins, much like he did in Monaco.
“Of course it’s a big handicap to start from behind,” said Nato. “It’s clearly our problem today. We keep working on it and I’m sure we will find a way for the last 3 race weekends. I felt confident with the car in Monaco, it makes a difference on this kind of track.
“We showed that we are able to be fast on any conditions, once the qualifying issue will be solved, we have the potential to win races and come back in the top 5 of the championship.”
Looking ahead, Nato insists he will continue to race to the best of his ability in the remaining races in at Hungaroring, Paul Ricard and Jerez, and the Frenchman believes he has learnt a lot from racing in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series during the past two seasons.
“This championship is one of the best to be prepared for F1,” insists Nato. “For sure it’s a high level of competition and gaps are very close, and I’ve learnt a lot driving in this championship. The remaining races of 2014 will be as important as the others. I will do my best as I always do.”