Carlos Sainz Jr. has taken a huge step towards winning the 2014 Formula Renault 3.5 championship after winning the first race of this weekend’s double-header at Circuit Paul Ricard in France.
The Renault-backed championship acts as a feeder series to Formula 1, but unlike GP2 is does not regularly appear on its undercard. In recent years, it has produced drivers such as Kevin Magnussen, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, and the class of 2014 also has many promising drivers.
Sainz has been vying for a seat in F1 for some time now, and was widely expected to join Toro Rosso until 16-year-old Max Verstappen was given a shock promotion.
However, he has continued to impress in Formula Renault 3.5, and took a big step towards the title by winning today’s race from pole position, leading every lap to win ahead of Pierre Gasly and Mathieu Vaxiviere.
As a result, Sainz can win the championship in the second race on Sunday if title rival Roberto Merhi fails to finish inside the top seven.
“It is an incredible day,” the Spaniard said after the race. “We needed this victory at this time of the season. Friday was a difficult day, but we did what we needed to do in qualifying, then kept the lead at the start and restart which wasn’t easy as I had opened a gap before the safety car. Then, we won the race!
“Pierre and I had similar pace, which meant I wasn’t allowed a mistake and I had to keep the lead above two seconds to keep him out of my tow!”
Merhi, who recently took part in F1 practice for Caterham at the Italian Grand Prix, could only finish fifth, allowing the gap to Sainz at the top to grow to 31 points.
If Sainz wins tomorrows race and Merhi fails to finish inside the top seven, he will win the Formula Renault 3.5 title with one round to spare.