In what will be the series final year under the Formula Renault 1.6 banner, the French F4 Championship signed out with a bang as the title went down to the final race, decided as a mistake by Victor Martins left the door open for Arthur Rougier to clinch the crown by a meagre four points.
2018 will see the series switch to FIA F4 regulations after three years of holding on to their independence. More surprisingly, the news came in the second-half of the 2017 season, having only introduced their new generation car that year.
This means that not only will Rougier go down as the last champion of the Formula Renault era, but also the only champion in the Formula Renault Signatech 1.6L 2017 car, walking away with the €100,000 prize.
Moves up to Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 will be on the cards for many drivers, as a number made their debut during the season.
Starting on the right foot
As the WSK European Karting champion, all eyes were on V. Martins in the opening round, leaving with a clean sweep of race one and three. Two wins, fastest laps and pole positions were only curtailed by a poor reverse grid encounter where he dropped a place from his starting position and failed to score a point.
Pierre-Alexandre Jean, a familiar face to the paddock after 2016, was his nearest compatriot during the weekend as Charles Milesi proved to be one the best overtakers, finishing in the top four for each race.
Overtaking overall was at a minimum though and while qualifying would often shake up the order for many drivers, getting past a car after the opening two laps had proven to be quite difficult.
Rougier Pulls Ahead
While going international was not uncommon for the series, 2018 marked the first time in its current format that French F4 visited Italy with a trip to Monza giving the drivers a chance away from their comfort zone.
Martins continued his win run in race one, as a double podium for Florian Venturi ensured he emerged as one of the championship contenders along with Jean who won the reverse grid event. A poor start and collision in the final race saw Martins excluded from the weekend finale.
Rougier had come away with two podiums and the most points from Monza. This gave him second in the standings, but he would soon find himself as the favourite as Martins struggled around the wet Pau streets, while Rougier picked up a win in race one and three.
Elsewhere, Thomas Drouet proved how difficult it was to overtake, winning from reverse grid pole and recording more points in that one race than the rest of the year combined.
Rougier was not one to lose momentum though, extending his lead at Spa-Francorchamps after a triple victory. Javier Gonzalez‘s double podium would be his last points of the season as Martins attempted to reduce the damage.
Martins Fights Back
As the season entered its second-half, Magny-Cours was the first opportunity for Martins to hit back. It did not go as planned though, losing the first race to Marvin Klein while failing to beat Milesi in the third.
Milesi had been an outside contender for the championship, but missing Spa and Formula Renault commitments ensured he had no restraints in upsetting the title battle. A triple podium would highlight his return to form, while Stuart White also enjoyed his best weekend with a reverse grid win.
It had been the first time Rougier had failed to picked up a podium during a weekend all season and no wins at Circuit de Catalunya should have played into Martins hands again. Martins would gain full points in two races as Milesi (and Gonzalez) was unable to record points due to the fact they’d raced there earlier in the year.
Going into the final round, Martins had 252 points, five ahead of Rougier, despite the latter having more wins. Paul Ricard though would throw up the biggest upset in the championship to date.
Experience vs Youth
Having lost the lead to Hugo Chevalier (who wasn’t eligible for points that weekend) Martins held second for the majority of the opening race, with Rougier only able to run in third, some six seconds behind. Martins would get too greedy though.
On the final lap, he dived to the inside through Beausset having got a tow along the back straight. Chevalier didn’t see the move with Martins spinning and hitting the race leader.
Martins crossed the line seventh, with Rougier taking the full 25 points for second (as Chevalier won). Martins had a chance to redeem himself in race two, but dropped a place as Rougier put in the drive of his life to jump from ninth to third.
The 15-year-old had finally composed himself for the last race, winning without a challenge, but by now the damage was done, with Rougier cruising home in second to take the championship crown.
Elsewhere, Venturi’s poor middle of the year finally came back to him in the closing rounds, recording three podiums in four races. Despite almost crashing out of the finale, he still took third in the overall title fight just six points ahead of Jean who had failed to record a top three finish after Spa.
The battle of the midfield turned into one of the more interesting prospects as the season drew to a close, with Milesi eventually dropping to seventh due to the fact he couldn’t score points in the final two rounds.
This left the door open for Jean-Baptise Mela, who won the reverse race at Catalunya and recorded full points at the same race in Paul Ricard, to take fifth, just two points ahead of Christian Munoz.
Like Milesi, Chevalier enjoyed a miraculous end of year flurry, yet his absence from the points during the final round ultimately cost him the most, finishing ninth behind White.
Rounding out the top ten would be Klein, failing to make an impact outside of his one victory in what seemed like a repeat of 2016. Gonzalez, after being unable to score in Catalunya, missed the final event, falling to eleventh as Casper Roes Anderson and Aldo Festante left the series after Spa.
Struggling to score for most of the season, Ugo de Wilde had a surge in form for the final two rounds, with two podiums and twelfth in the standings, while Drouet still finished fourteenth despite his one win.
Completing the order would be Amaury Cordeel, who spent his year at the back of the grid, with Anthione Horemans making an appearance at Spa. Pierre-Louis Chovet joined as a guest for the final three events, taking one win while Noah Watt and Adam Eteki had more low-key guest drives.
The calendar for the new year has also been announced, with the season starting in Nogaro on the Easter weekend before the typical trip to Pau. They’ll travel to Spa on the first of June before a debut at Dijon on 13-15 July. They’ll end the year visiting Magny-Cours, Jerez and Paul Ricard in October.
After winning the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium’s National Competition, the prize that launched Stoffel Vandoorne‘s career, Ulysse De Pauw was the first driver named for 2018, with Chovet and Theo Pourchaire announced last week. But with only three names on the rostrum and most of the 2017 field in their second year car racing, we could see a very different grid come March.
TCF’s Review of the International F4’s can be found here.