The field may have been small but the racing was still fierce in the World Series Formula V8 3.5 championship in 2017, with eight different drivers standing on the top step of the podium in eighteen races, and a deserving final champion in Pietro Fittipaldi.
It was an end of an era in 2017 when it was revealed the championship would not continue into 2018, but the writing had been on the wall for a little while, perhaps as far back as the end of 2015 when Renault pulled its support from the category that was once held in high regard by Formula 1 teams as they hunted for future talents.
Just six teams competed after the departure of 2016 champions Arden Motorsport and SMP Racing, and the year began at Silverstone with just a twelve-car field, but despite the lowly grid numbers, the standard of driving was high, and the results often unpredictable from one round to the next.
Fittipaldi starts as he means to go on
Fittipaldi, who switched from Fortec Motorsports to Lotus for his sophomore year in the championship, started the year in terrific fashion with a double victory at Silverstone, both from pole position, but it would not be until the second race at the Circuito de Jerez in round number four that he would see the chequered flag first again.
Alfonso Celis Jr, who had switched from AVF to Fortec Motorsports in 2017, took his maiden victory in the opening race at Spa-Francorchamps from pole position, while Matevos Isaakyan did likewise in the second race for SMP Racing by AVF as Fittipaldi endured a tough weekend with two sluggish getaways.
Rene Binder was fortuitous during the weekend at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza after inheriting victory in race one due to a penalty to on-track winner Roy Nissany, who was controversially handed a five-second penalty for gaining an advantage heading into turn one at the start of the race,
Binder was also relatively luck in race two, with the Austrian pitting at the perfect moment, just as the safety car was deployed, meaning he was well clear of the rest of the field when the pits reopened on the resumption of the race. It meant he left Italy with the championship lead, particularly as team-mate Fittipaldi had a tough weekend, finishing ninth in race one after an early puncture, and then fourth in race two after another sluggish getaway.
Nissany took his and RP Motorsport’s first and only victory of the season in the opening race at Jerez, withstanding pressure from Fittipaldi until the chequered flag, but it was the Brazilian who was victorious in race two, battling Egor Orudzhev for the lead on the opening lap before pulling clear from the SMP Racing by AVF racer.
Orudzhev gained some revenge in the opening race at Motorland Aragon by claiming his first win of the season, while Fittipaldi’s start line issues returned as he fell down the order at the start and collided with Konstantin Tereschenko at turn four to end his day altogether. However the Brazilian retook the championship lead with victory in race two as pre-race title leader Binder crashed out after a clash with Yu Kanamaru.
Alex Palou joined the field at the Nurburgring, joining Teo Martin Motorsport in place of Nelson Mason, and immediately found himself on pole position, but the Spaniard collided with Fittipaldi in race one to end his chances of points, with Isaakyan taking his second victory of the year, but a mistake from the Russian in the mixed conditions of race two gifted Palou his maiden victory.
The series made its debut at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico, and Fittipaldi did the race double, taking over the championship lead once again from Isaakyan in race one before coming out on top in an often chaotic race two ahead of Celis Jr., while Isaakyan collided with Nissany on the penultimate lap as they battled for the podium, gifting Tereschenko his maiden top three finish.
The series remained in North America for the penultimate round of the year with a first visit to the Circuit of the Americas, and Binder took a dominant third win of the season in race one ahead of Orudzhev, who fought his way passed Fittipaldi for second, although thanks to Isaakyan finishing fourth, the Brazilian edged out an eighteen-point advantage in the championship.
Fittipaldi saw his points lead cut however when he retired from race two, although Isaakyan could only finish sixth, with Orudzhev taking his second win of the year ahead of Palou and Diego Menchaca, who claimed his first podium of the year for Fortec Motorsports.
The season concluded in Bahrain, with Henrique Chaves joining the grid in AVF’s third entry and claiming a debut victory, but Fittipaldi’s second place was enough for him to clinch the title as Isaakyan suffered engine problems at the start and was not classified, while Binder led home a Lotus 1-2 in the final race of the year, with Tatiana Calderon claiming an impressive podium in her first race for RP Motorsport, the first podium for a female driver in the history of 3.5.
What happens next?
Unfortunately, RPM-MKTG pulled the plug on the championship, with the lack of entries alarming, particularly as in 2017 it was a support series for the FIA World Endurance Championship and took in some of the best circuits around the globe including their first ventures to Mexico, the United States of America and Bahrain.
Despite the lack of entries – the most we saw all season was twelve drivers on the grid – the racing did not lack entertainment, but there is no doubt Fittipaldi was a deserving champion, with six victories, four further podiums and ten pole positions, and it would not be a surprise if he ultimately becomes the next Brazilian on the Formula 1 grid, as is his aim.
But it was not all about the Brazilian, with the likes of Isaakyan, Celis Jr., Binder, Nissany, Orudzhev, Palou and Chaves all showing they’ve got something behind them, and although some are likely to end up with a roof over their head in 2018, wherever they end up will give their category something extra.
World Series Formula V8 3.5 may have seen its final race, but for those involved, the future remains bright.