The inaugural Formula V8 3.5 championship went down to the wire in 2016, and it was Frenchman Tom Dillmann who came out on top when the chequered flag fell for the final time at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Despite Renault having withdrawn its backing of the championship at the conclusion of 2015, the first year of RPM Racing was a thrilling affair, and no fewer than eight drivers went into the season finale with a shot at the title, and the first six races of the year were won by different drivers!
There was a raft of team changes in 2016, with RP Motorsport, Teo Martin Motorsport, SMP Racing and the Durango Racing Team joining the field, although DAMS, Strakka Racing, Tech 1 Racing, International Draco Racing and Pons Racing all departed the championship, while Comtec Racing only made two appearances.
But despite this, eight different drivers took race victories in the eighteen-race championship, and it was a year to remember before the championship joins the supporting cast of the World Endurance Championship in 2017.
Consistency Pays Off for Dillmann
The season began at Motorland Aragon in April, and was won by rookie Louis Delétraz, which was a sign of things to come for the Swiss racer as he took a total of thirteen rookie class victories throughout the season, and the Fortec Motorsports’ driver was ultimately Dillmann’s closest challenger at the end of the season.
Dillmann’s consistency was fantastic during 2016, particularly in the early rounds as the AVF by Adrian Vallés driver took podium finishes in the first six races of the season, including a popular race victory at the Hungaroring, a day after seeing an almost guaranteed victory slide by with a mistake in the rain allowing Johnny Cecotto Jr through at the penultimate turn just after a mid-race safety car.
Only twice did Dillmann fail to score – twelfth place in race one at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza after an early pit stop and a retirement in race one at the Circuito de Jerez, the result of a controversial collision with title rival Delétraz, who earned himself a penalty and saw him drop out of the points. The loss of points for the Swiss driver would be pivotal in the final standings.
Delétraz himself had a strong year, with a second victory coming at Paul Ricard and seven further visits to the podium, and headed into the final race of the season leading the championship and on pole position, but a sluggish start and an outstanding race from Dillmann enabled the Frenchman to take victory and the championship by seven points.
Just the SEVEN Championship Contenders
It was not just a year about Dillmann and Delétraz, not by a long shot. As mentioned before, seven drivers went into the season finale with a chance of the championship, and although five of those were eliminated by the results of race one, it was still an extremely competitive year of Formula V8 3.5 racing.
Egor Orudzhev was victorious a season-high five times in 2016, but it was his results in the opening two rounds of the year that left him on the back foot and trying to fight back in the championship.
The Arden Motorsport driver scored only two points in the opening four races of the year, and three further retirements left him with too much to do, but despite this he still managed to salvage third place in the championship by the end of the year.
His team-mate Aurélien Panis also remained in the championship battle until Barcelona, and took two victories of his own at Motorland Aragon and more impressively at the Red Bull Ring, with a perfect pit stop enabling him to jump from fourth into the lead.
SMP Racing’s maiden campaign saw Matthieu Vaxiviere, a championship runner up with Lotus in 2015, join the outfit, and the Frenchman took two wins and five further podium finishes on his way to sixth in the championship, but the team were often blighted by the inability to convert strong qualifying performances into strong race results as they struggled to maintain good performance in their tyres.
Only once did Vaxiviere convert one of his three pole positions into a podium finish, with his wins at Spa-Francorchamps and the Red Bull Ring coming from behind.
Both Lotus drivers remained in contention until Jerez, but only Roy Nissany was able to take race victories, and the Israeli driver was the only driver all year long to win both races of a weekend when he did the double at Silverstone. He followed that up with another victory at Monza, but twice he stalled on the grid, once from pole position, that ultimately cost him valuable points, as did a double retirement at Spa-Francorchamps.
Team-mate Rene Binder failed to win but five visits to the podium and only three failures to score meant he stayed in contention for the title. He finished second to team-mate Nissany in race two at Silverstone and matched the result at Monza.
Best of the Rest
Two other drivers took victories in 2016, with RP Motorsport’s Cecotto Jr the first as he took the honours in race one at the Hungaroring after Dillmann’s mistake, but the Venezuelan’s season was over after just three rounds, with his team then giving Artur Janosz, Marco Bonanomi, William Buller and Jack Aitken an opportunity in the seat.
Matevos Isaakyan was also victorious, taking a deserving win at Jerez for SMP Racing. The young Russian endured a tough first half of the season where nothing seemed to go his way, but after the mid-season break he was in much better form, taking a maiden pole position and podium at the Red Bull Ring before taking advantage of team-mate Vaxiviere’s mistake at Jerez for the win.
Yu Kanamaru ended eighth in the championship standings despite failing to secure a podium, but the Teo Martin Motorsport driver was consistently inside the points, as was team-mate Beitske Visser and RP Motorsport’s Vitor Baptista, while both Alfonso Celis Jr and Pietro Fittipaldi took podium finishes.
Dillmann at Last
Tom Dillmann has long been regarded as a top line driver, but at twenty-seven years of age, he was not getting the recognition he deserved in the championships that mattered, but now he has added the Formula V8 3.5 title to his German Formula 3 Championship from 2010, more doors could open up, particularly in the world of endurance racing.
The popular Frenchman has shown good pace in every championship he has raced in, and Formula V8 3.5 was no exception. When it matters he excelled, and he was a deserving champion.