The 2014 Formula Renault 3.5 Series season saw a great year of racing with Spaniard Carlos Sainz Jr taking the title as Red Bull Junior drivers claimed first and second in the championship.
Six different drivers saw the chequered flag first during the year, all of whom took their maiden wins in the series, with Will Stevens, Sainz, Oliver Rowland, Norman Nato, Roberto Merhi and Sergey Sirotkin all standing on the top step of the podium.
Sainz took a series record seven victories during the year, and it could have been more but for a few unfortunate issues, such as the car failing to get off the line in the opener at Monza after the Spaniard dominated qualifying. The DAMS driver got his season back on track in race two, and then won at Motorland Aragon, before taking both victories on offer at Spa-Francorchamps.
He and his team were uncharacteristically off the pace at Moscow Raceway, but he was back to his winning ways in race one at the Nurburgring, although his race two was over at the first corner after being in the wrong place at the wrong time when Oscar Tunjo and Rowland came together.
His performances at Paul Ricard in September took him to the brink of the title after two dominant victories, and when Roberto Merhi was eliminated at the first corner in the opener at Jerez, it was confirmed that Sainz was the 2014 champion, and he could afford two point-less races that weekend.
Roberto Merhi, driving for Zeta Corse was his closest rival for much of the season, and although he ultimately dropped behind Arden Motorsport’s Pierre Gasly in the championship, the second Spaniard in the field took three wins on his return to single seater racing after two years in the DTM Series.
Merhi began his season with a runners-up spot at Monza, but won races at Moscow Raceway, the Nurburgring and the Hungaroring, and was in with a chance at the title right until the races at Jerez, where he endured a nightmare finale, retiring twice. Despite this, his career was back on track, and he even had some free practice outings for the Caterham F1 Team during the year.
Pierre Gasly claimed second in the championship despite not winning a race all season, but took eight podium finishes, including on his series debut at Monza. The 2013 Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 Series champion only finished outside the points twice all year, and his consistency paid off to pip Merhi into second place, but was 35 points shy of his fellow Red Bull Junior driver Sainz.
Oliver Rowland, who finished second to Gasly in the Eurocup series last year, was fourth in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series standings in 2014, taking two wins at Motorland Aragon and Jerez, but the Fortec Motorsports driver was one of the unluckiest drivers of the year, with a few issues costing him valuable points and possible wins, especially at Spa-Francorchamps when he was leading heading into his pit stop but suffered a mechanical issue.
Sergey Sirotkin was also a race winner in 2014, taking the chequered flag first in front of his home fans at Moscow Raceway, but finishing fifth in the championship was not what the Russian driver was hoping for. As well as his win, he took three other podium finishes at Monza, the Nurburgring and Jerez, but was 49 points shy of team-mate Rowland at the end of the year.
Will Stevens started the year with his maiden series win at Monza, but had to wait until race one at Jerez to win again, with the Strakka Racing driver struggling for pace during qualifying that often compromised his race efforts. He ultimately finished sixth in the standings, but was once again the main points scorer for his team, and made his Formula 1 debut for Caterham in Abu Dhabi.
Norman Nato was the other driver to take victories during the season, but remains an enigma, with the Frenchman winning and dominating the Monaco race, but too often was fighting for places outside the points. He also took the chequered flag first at the Hungaroring, but other than his two wins, his best results were a couple of fifth places at Spa-Francorchamps.
Outside of the race winners, we saw a number of great performances from the young drivers. Matthieu Vaxiviere took two podium finishes, at the Nurburgring and Paul Ricard, on his way to eighth in the championship for Lotus despite missing the rounds in Belgium and Russia due to a back injury. His replacement for those two rounds was New Zealander Richie Stanaway, who also took a podium for the team in race two at Moscow Raceway. Marlon Stockinger in the other Lotus also stood on the podium twice, at Monza and the Nurburgring, but was ultimately outscored by Vaxiviere.
Jazeman Jaafar was another to secure two podium finishes during the year, and this was even more impressive as he was the sole driver for the ISR Racing team all season long. He finished third at both Monaco and race one at Spa-Francorchamps, and was often in the battle for points despite the lack of a team-mate.
Another driver to stand on the podium was Zoel Amberg of AVF, who had a much better year than any of his previous two seasons in the series having switched from Pons Racing. He was a contender for points for the majority of the season, finishing on the podium at Moscow Raceway. His team-mate, Dutch female driver Beitske Visser might have failed to get on the podium, but improved substantially throughout the year, and secured her best result of the year at Jerez when she finished fifth in race one.
Marco Sorensen was the sole driver for Tech 1 Racing for the majority of the season, but secured a podium finish of his own at Monaco. Mexican Alfonso Celis Jr joined him at the team for the races at the Nurburgring, and then for the final three rounds by Canadian Nicholas Latifi, who ended the year with a podium in race two at Jerez.
There were also podium finishes for Pietro Fantin of International Draco Racing, Arden Motorsport’s Will Buller and Comtec Racing’s Nikolay Martsenko, who dropped out of the series after taking a runners-up spot at Motorland Aragon when his backers pulled out just when it seemed the Russian had turned a corner in his career.
We also saw points scored by Strakka Racing’s Matias Lainé, International Draco Racing’s Luca Ghiotto and Pons Racing duo Meindert van Buuren and Oscar Tunjo, while Comtec Racing gave Frenchman and FIA European Formula 3 Champion Esteban Ocon his debut at the Hungaroring where he scored points for ninth place.
But 2014 was Carlos Sainz Jr’s year, and no one can deny he didn’t deserve the championship. He now steps up into Formula 1 with Scuderia Toro Rosso, and it will be interesting to see who in the field of 2015 is able to follow in his footsteps.