It was close at the top of the 2019 Formula Renault Eurocup championship, with two drivers – Australian Oscar Piastri and Frenchman Victor Martins – fighting until the final lap of the season for the title.
Both drivers were in their sophomore years, with Piastri had made the move from Arden to R-ace GP for 2019, with Renault Sport Academy racer Martins moving away from R-ace GP to MP Motorsport. Between them, they would take thirteen of the twenty victories on offer, with both taking a win apiece on the series’ first adventure outside of Europe at the end of the campaign.
Only three other drivers would stand on the top step of the podium, with both Aleksandr Smolyar and Lorenzo Colombo winning three times, while Ugo de Wilde won the opening race of the year but would not finish inside the top three again all season long.
Four Different Winners in First Six Races
De Wilde, a graduate of French Formula 4, took a surprise victory in the opening race of the season at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, the JD Motorsport driver leading home team-mate Leonardo Lorandi and Kush Maini of M2 Competition. Surprisingly, for the leading trio, it would be their only visits to the overall podium in 2019 as the established runners began to show their hands.
Race two at Monza saw Smolyar take his first win of the campaign, with Martins second ahead of his MP Motorsport team-mate Colombo, with Piastri scoring his first points of the year in fourth.
Whereas Monza was a disappointment for Piastri, he put in a much more impressive performance at Silverstone, with the Australian securing a double victory. Smolyar held the early lead in race one before he was forced to retire, handing Piastri the victory. He was followed home, albeit more than twelve seconds later, by JD Motorsport’s Joao Vieira and Bhaitech’s Petr Ptácek.
Piastri led from start to finish in race two, with Smolyar able to rebound from the disappointment in race one to claim second, with Martins finishing on the bottom step of the podium ahead of leading rookie Collet.
The now annual visit to Monaco saw Martins finally secure his first victory of the year in race one, the Frenchman beating Smolyar and impressive rookie Caio Collet (R-ace GP) to top spot. In race two on Grand Prix Sunday, Smolyar and Martins were in a race of their own at the front, with the Russian beating the Frenchman this time, with Vieira completing the podium.
Prior to a safety car intervention, Vieira had fallen twenty-four seconds behind the leading two, and in the final rush to the chequered flag, he lost eight seconds but was able to defend his podium position from Collet.
Colombo Shows Some Form
Lorenzo Colombo was highly tipped to fight for the championship in 2019, but the Italian was forced to wait until the round at the Circuit Paul Ricard to take his first victory of the season. The MP Motorsport driver finished ahead of Piastri in race one, with Martins completing the podium, with Colombo also victorious in race two ahead of Smolyar and Martins.
After two winless rounds, Piastri took victory in the opening race at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps ahead of Martins, while Arden’s Sebastian Fernandez drove strongly to complete the podium in third. Colombo then took his third win of the season in race two ahead of Collet, while Federico Malvestiti was a surprise finisher on the podium for Bhaitech. Such was the surprise, Malvestiti would only score points five times all season long, with his next best result being a fifth at Monza.
At the Nurburgring next time out, Piastri took both victories in a weekend, the second time in 2019 he achieved this feat. Arden’s Patrik Pasma was his closest challenger in race one with Smolyar completing the podium, while Alex Quinn took second in race two on his return to single seater racing, the Arden driver finishing ahead of Collet as Martins failed to take the start following a technical issue.
At the Hungaroring, it was Piastri’s turn to have a ‘did not start’ on his record as he was one of three drivers to spin out of the race – de Wilde and Brad Benavides were the other two – before it began in atrocious conditions on the way to the grid. The race was halted after just three laps behind the safety car with half points being award, much to the annoyance of race winner Martins and podium finishes Smolyar and Colombo.
In much better conditions on Sunday, Piastri took race two honours ahead of Smolyar, with Martins losing further ground in the championship despite finishing on the podium in third.
Martins’ Charge Comes Just Too Late
The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya hosted round eight, and it saw a double victory for Renault junior Martins as the Frenchman made a late charge for the title. In race one, he finished ahead of Smolyar and Quinn to edge closer to Piastri in the standings, the Australian suffering a nightmare first lap to fall to the back of the pack before finishing on the road in sixth. He was promoted to fifth thanks to a time penalty for Ptácek.
In race two, Martins again led from start to finish, while Ptácek claim a season’s best second place ahead of Piastri, despite almost race-long pressure from the Australian.
Just a week after their visit to Spain, the Eurocup drivers headed to the Hockenheimring in Germany, and Martins taking a third consecutive victory in race one despite being behind both de Wilde and Piastri early on. De Wilde faded away from the leading battle, giving Piastri vital points in second, while Collet clinched the rookie title in third.
The weather played its part in race two, and it saw Smolyar clinch his third victory of the season in treacherous conditions. However, it was not enough for the Russian to remain in the championship battle, as Piastri finished second ahead of Collet. Martins’ run of wins ended with a fifth-place finish behind Maini.
For the first time in Eurocup, the championship went to the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi for the season finale with Piastri and Martins in contention for the title. The first race of the weekend saw Piastri put one hand on the crown as he beat Martins to the line, with Colombo playing the team game in third.
Despite winning the final round of the season, Martins would be denied the title by just seven and a half points as Piastri’s fourth place finish ensured the Australian would be the 2019 champion. Colombo ended the final race in second, while Collet’s impressive rookie campaign ended with a sixth outright podium.
Piastri vs Martins Livens Up 2019
It was clear that Oscar Piastri and Victor Martins were the standout drivers of 2019 as they secured thirteen victories, twelve additional podiums, fourteen pole positions and eleven fastest laps between them. Both would have been worthy champions, but ultimately the Australian had the edge when the final chequered flag fell in Abu Dhabi.
“It was extremely competitive all season long and the 7.5-point gap means little in the end,” said Piastri at the end of the season. “R-ace GP and MP Motorsport were the two teams to beat this season, which made life easier for me to move up the order when we were struggling.
“Victor and I had rather similar campaigns. I was a bit faster in the middle of the year while Victor finished strong. I think that we were the two that got the most out of the new Formula Renault. However, we were able to capitalize when we were on form and limit the damage when there were difficulties or when we made mistakes.”
In the rookie class, only Ugo de Wilde took an outright victory, but throughout the year it was clear that Caio Collet was the standout rookie, scoring more than double the amount of points of his closest rival in the rookie standings, Kush Maini.
Fourteen drivers stood on the podium during the season, some multiple times, others only once, with drivers like Patrik Pasma, Joao Vieira, Leonardo Lorandi and Federico Malvestiti all having the odd stand-out performance in an otherwise mediocre campaign.
A mention also to the FA Racing by Drivex squad that came into the year with aims of big things following the news that Fernando Alonso would oversee the squad. It was not the year that they had hoped, with six drivers taking their turns in the car, with only two – Callan O’Keeffe and Alex Karkosik – scoring any points. It’s uncertain where this team will head in 2020.