Tech 1 Racing got down to the nitty-gritty from Wednesday onwards at the final round of the year. During the four-hour test, and the two 50-minute sessions on Friday, the team’s four drivers fought their way up the time sheets with Neil Verhagen and Alexander Smolyar finishing in fourth and sixth places overall before qualifying.
On Saturday morning, the drivers had to cope with a drying track and Smolyar, Frank Bird and Verhagen made the most of these tricky conditions to claim places in the top half of the grid. In the first race the Russian gained a position and took the chequered flag in sixth spot in front of Verhagen who had started twelfth. Bird clinched the point that went with 10th place while Thomas Neubauer overtook nine cars!
The next day Verhagen improved in qualifying to clinch fourth in his group. The Red Bull Junior team driver who was seventh on the grid scored another six points in the race. Smolyar finished just outside of the top 10 and both Bird and Neubauer failed to see the chequered flag. The British driver was punted off while battling in the mid-field and the Frenchman had to retire two laps from the end.
In the final overall classification the points scored in the two heats promoted Tech 1 Racing to fifth place in the teams’ ratings.
“This weekend we were able to draw a line under what’s been a very challenging season,” stated Simon Abadie, the Tech 1 Racing team manager. “For the first time in almost fifteen years we didn’t manage to score a victory or a podium finish. It’s never happened before and it’s out of the question for us to continue fighting for fifth place. Mistakes were made and we have to rethink certain aspects. For example, this will involve much more drastic and successful choices in all areas than those we’ve been making up till now.
“Neil never managed to fulfil his potential. Perhaps we made the mistake of giving him too much responsibility when he wasn’t ready to cope with it. He didn’t manage to seize the rare opportunities that arose and we’re as sorry for him as we are for ourselves that our partnership didn’t bear fruit. Motor racing is a much more complex sport than people think and above all it requires team work where we win or lose together.
“Alex had a solid first season in the category even if the fact that he’s very young led to him committing a few errors. He’s got enormous potential and I hope that we can continue to work together and make the most of it. If that’s the case he should take on the role of leader and up his game a few notches. I have every confidence in his ability to do so.
“This weekend we also finished our adventure in Formula Renault with Thomas. During our two seasons together he made a great deal of progress even if this didn’t seem apparent and wasn’t rewarded with good results. He, unfortunately, has to deal with the fact that he’s very tall and this costs him three to five-tenths-of-a-second a lap. It’s a very big handicap in single-seaters, and even more so in a category where every tenth-of-a-second can prove very costly in terms of grid places.
“Frank was the pleasant surprise of our season. We’re very happy with the work we did together and he improved throughout the year. He really started with a big handicap because of his lack of experience. But he’s a hard worker who gives everything; he’s able to unite people around him and create with them. We hope that he’ll keep these assets for the rest of his career; it can only bring him positive results.
The end of the 2018 season saw the current generation of Formula Renaults reach the end of its cycle and next year it will be replaced by new cars powered by a 1.8-litre turbocharged engine. Tech 1 Racing is already committed to this new adventure!
“Our aims for 2019 are clear,” summed up Simon. “We’ve been racing in the categories organised by Renault for many years and we want to continue alongside them. We firmly believe in the project built around a single-seater complying with the F3R regulations, and the work done by the customer racing team leads us to believe that Formula Renault will blossom again. All this gives us confidence in the future and the whole Tech 1 Racing team reckons that it’s important to be involved right from the very beginning of this new chapter.”
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