Brendon Hartley challenged strongly for a podium finish in the first of two 3.5 World Series Renault races at the Hungaroring circuit near Budapest at the weekend
The New Zealander’s Red Bull car qualified third but was beaten into the first corner by Sten Pentus and spent the rest of the race shadowing the Estonian’s every move.
Hartley got alongside several times and the gap was never more than 0.5 sec. However, Pentus held on bravely to take third spot on the podium. For Sunday’s ‘pit stop’ race Hartley was disappointed to qualify only tenth and had a frustrating run, losing time after the mandatory pit stop when he rejoined the track in traffic.
In the closing stages his efforts to pass a slower car resulted in Hartley spinning and stalling his car across the track. That brought out a red flag and race was called; Hartley being credited with ninth place on the count back.
“It wasn’t a good weekend,” said Hartley who has now dropped to sixth in the WSR points with just three race weekends remaining. “On Saturday I got a good start and followed Aleshin into the first turn but I was stuck on the inside of the corner and that allowed Pentus to go round the outside of me.
“For the Sunday race we simply lost pace. Both my team mate Daniel Ricciardo and I were struggling for speed, which was confusing because we had a good set up for Sunday’s ‘high downforce’ race during the Friday testing.
“I pitted early but came out again in traffic and lost time. Then I was struggling behind Jake Rosenzweig and stayed down in ninth place. We had shown a lot of potential in testing and the Saturday race, but it just wasn’t there on Sunday,” said Hartley.
Ricciardo claimed his second Formula Renault 3.5 win of the season with a dominant drive on Saturday. From his fifth pole of the year, the reigning British Formula 3 champion finished 13.7 seconds ahead of Carlin's Mikhail Aleshin and recorded a fastest lap six tenths quicker than anyone else.
After a strong start from the front row, championship leader Aleshin threatened to take the lead at the first corner. However, apart from for another brief opportunity on a restart from a safety car period, the Russian was unable to get on terms with the Australian.
The closest scrap among the frontrunners was between Pentus and Hartley for third place. Fortec's Pentus passed Tech 1 driver Hartley on the run down to Turn 1 at the start, but was forced to spend the rest of the race defending his position.
Pentus' Fortec team-mate Jon Lancaster also attacked Hartley at the start, only to encounter trouble and drop back to 16th at the completion of the opening lap. The safety car was called out when Sergio Canamasas spun on lap four. Ricciardo lost a 3.1s lead as a result, and allowed Aleshin a send overtaking attempt.
In Sunday’s race Sten Pentus scored his second victory of the Renault 3.5 season to move into third place in the drivers' standings. The polesitter was in control throughout, only losing the lead during the mandatory pitstop sequence.
The race was red-flagged on lap 26 when Hartley's Tech 1 machine stopped in a dangerous position at Turn 3. The result was declared after 24 laps, with Pentus holding a 6.2-second winning margin over front row starter Albert Costa.
Pentus had held a 3.5s lead over Costa when the Spaniard made an early pit call on lap five. Although the gap was reduced to just over a second when Pentus emerged from his own stop on lap eight, the Estonian was once more able to pull away.
"It was easier out in front today rather than following someone," said Pentus. "Yesterday, I saw that Hartley was so much quicker than me and I wanted to find out why. We analysed the data and found it. I've had a difficult couple of months, and it has taken time for everything to stand up again."
Mikhail Aleshin fought off a determined challenge from Daniel Zampieri to seal third place. The Carlin driver has extended his lead in the championship to 11 points over race one winner Daniel Ricciardo, who could only manage sixth place for Tech 1 in the second race.
From fourth on the grid, Greg Mansell negotiated the first two corners in attacking fashion to rise to third. The Comtec man was chased by Aleshin and Zampieri in the early laps, before opting for a late pitstop strategy. Aleshin jumped Mansell during the pitstop phase, while Zampieri took fourth after finding an opening on lap 20. Fifth place equals Mansell's highest finish of the season.
Formula Renault 3.5 now has a nine week summer break before the next round at Hockenheim on September 4-5.