For Will Stevens, the 2014 Formula Renault 3.5 Series season began perfectly, with the twenty-three-year-old taking his maiden victory in race one at Monza. But so far, that is the only win of the year for the Strakka Racing driver, a statistic he is rather disappointed with.
“The win in Monza was satisfying and demonstrated our capability but we all hoped for more wins by this point in the season,” said Stevens to The Checkered Flag. “The win was very satisfying. Now I’m only looking forward to achieving more wins and strong finishes this season.
“Together as a team, we haven’t always managed to extract the performance from the car, so we aren’t yet where we want to be in the Championship. I know I am capable of winning more races this year.
“I finished fourth last year and anything less than that will be very disappointing. Things can change quickly in the Championship, Roberto Merhi jumped from sixth to second after his good weekend in Moscow so anything is possible.”
Stevens believes the series is very competitive in 2014, and expects a few of the drivers in the series are heading into F1 at some point, including current championship leader Carlos Sainz Jr. He looks back at his main competition from twelve months ago, and feels happy that he was able to compete with the likes of Kevin Magnussen, Stoffel Vandoorne and Antonio Felix da Costa, who are now performing admirably in Formula 1, the GP2 Series and the DTM respectively.
“Formula Renault 3.5 is a very competitive series and this year is no different,” insists Stevens. “I think the 2013 grid was slightly stronger and having finished fourth in the Championship last year the target was to win the championship this year. It leaves us some work to do in the remaining races but it’s not impossible.
“[The level of competition in the series] is very high. Just look at 2013, Kevin Magnussen went straight to McLaren and has done well there, Vandoorne is winning in GP2 and Da Costa and [Nico] Muller have had some good performances in DTM.
“Given I was right amongst them last year I think I’m competing at the right level in the right series to further my career. The standard this year is also high, Carlos Sainz has really stood out and I suspect he is F1 bound, Roberto [Merhi] has a lot of DTM experience and [Pierre] Gasly won Eurocup, so there’s no doubting the ability.”
Despite admitting his disappointment in only winning one race so far in 2014, he feels that the team are right behind him and his team-mate Matias Lainé, and that they are all pulling together to work out the issues that meant the results were not as positive as they could have been.
“It’s very disappointing but in any one make series where the teams are so closely matched and with a good number of drivers capable of winning, it is extremely close and virtually nothing separates the front-runners,” said Stevens. “Everyone is pulling together to try to find the missing few tenths. We’ve been together now for two seasons, the team and both drivers so we are close. We win together and lose together and we’re all hurting from where we are this season.”
Stevens admits to still adjusting to life in the latest specification Formula Renault 3.5 Series car after a few minor tweaks over the winter meant he had to adapt that little bit more. He also admits that he has been hard at work over the recent summer break with his team to try and work on his qualifying pace, as a few times in 2014 he has found himself lower down the order than he would like to be.
“We are still learning all the nuances of the latest spec car – there were a few tweaks over the winter that we are getting to grips with on a consistent basis,” said Stevens. “We have spent a good deal of time sitting down with the engineers ahead of Hungary to look at every avenue to get us consistently on the podium.
“Over the summer we have been working hard together to get the most out of the tyres for qualifying and to extract that single lap pace. Good qualifying performances will help keep us at the sharp end in the second half of the season.
“We’ve worked hard during the summer to ensure we are back where we belong. No in-season testing and reduced free practice means track time is at a premium but we know we can do it and we are all capable of delivering the wins.”
Stevens admits that the three tracks on the Formula Renault 3.5 Series calendar he most enjoys racing on are the legendary trio of Monaco, Spa-Francorchamps and Monza. Having won in Italy, he finished eighth in Monaco, before claiming a seventh and a second place in Spa-Francorchamps this season.
“For me, Monaco, Spa and Monza are the iconic circuits that any driver wants to race on,” revealed Stevens. “The atmosphere at those circuits is different and those races are always special. Qualifying is so crucial at Monaco that if you miss a couple of tenths in qualifying then your weekend is always going to be difficult and it is a game of catch up. Spa is a circuit where I’ve historically always gone well and we got good pace on the Sunday and I secured another podium with second.”
At his stage in his career, Stevens knows how important every year is, especially with his career aim being a shot at Formula 1. He feels he has to perform well enough to warrant gaining that opportunity amongst the elite of motorsport.
“At the level I’m at every year is important,” insists Stevens. “The goal is to reach F1 and you have to perform to be able to be seen worthy of reaching that goal. Winning is critical and I am proving my capability, like through the F1 test I did as well as racking up mileage in an F1 simulators. They are also important in establishing that.”
Stevens joined the Caterham F1 Team’s junior academy midway through the 2013 season, and continues to be a crucial part of the teams’ set-up. He has spent hours in the simulator at their Leafield factory, and tested with the team at the post-Silverstone test that enabled the Briton to qualify for his Superlicence.
“Getting F1 mileage on track is crucial to back up the work I’ve done in their simulator,” said Stevens. “It helps the team calibrate the sim to the on track performance but it also gives me the mileage to qualify for my FIA Superlicence, which I’ve now done.
“I’ve done something like 10,000KM in the sim for Caterham but there’s nothing like getting the on-track experience. I got nearly 100 laps of Silverstone in on the test day so that is extremely valuable. The learning from working with the engineer’s real time is the key especially with the way the 2014 F1 cars operate.
“The 3.5 cars prepare you well for F1 but the technical level of F1 is now in a different league. For example, managing the recovery systems and working real time with the engineers to maximise performance is a skill that only comes with F1 mileage.
“Fortunately I’ve done so much time in the sim I was well prepared for the test so the transition wasn’t difficult. In some ways, the F1 car is easier to drive, certainly physically and the steering is a lot lighter.”
Stevens continues to be aligned with the Caterham F1 Team despite all the recent upheavals within the outfit, with Tony Fernandes selling to a consortium midway through the current year. He admits to discussing with the team about their future plans, and hopes to be able to move into F1 next year.
“The Silverstone test was under the new management and my work at the factory continues so to that extent, it hasn’t affected me,” insisted Stevens. “They have continued to make me feel welcome and part of the set up at Leafield. They will no doubt move the team forward and their goal is to move up the grid and changes will be made as we have seen.
“I want to be on the F1 grid in 2015 and we will see if I can figure in their plans going forward and our discussions are on going.”