Tech 1 Racing makes a low-key start to the season at the Paul Ricard circuit

Tech 1 Racing did not fulfil its objectives in the first round of the 2018 Formula Renault Eurocup. While its four drivers injected excitement into the races with a raft of overtaking moves, and both Neil Verhagen and Alexander Smolyar scored their first points, the Toulouse-based team is now focused on Monza where it has to achieve better results.

Tech 1 Racing launched its ninth consecutive Formula Renault Eurocup campaign in the South of France. The free practice sessions run in intermittent showers did not give a true picture of how the weekend would pan out. Verhagen, Smolyar and Thomas Neubauer took full advantage of them to progress and broke into the top 10.

On Friday evening, the first qualifying session gave a rather different picture as only Smolyar appeared in the top half of the time sheets. However, Simon Abadie’s men managed to turn the situation around in Q2. Thanks to their efforts the Russian, who is part of the SMP Racing driver development programme, and Verhagen both qualified in the top 5 in their respective groups.

The pace moved up a notch in the race. Verhagen, a young Red Bull driver, was on a charge and took advantage of every opportunity to move up through the field resulting in a seventh-place finish just in front of Smolyar. Neubauer and Frank Bird pulled back 10 and eight places respectively, but were not rewarded for their efforts as they finished just outside the points.

On Sunday the team was still in maximum attack mode. Smolyar was in 11th place on the grid and he fought his way up to sixth before his hopes were dashed by a broken throttle valve unit. Verhagen was in 16th spot and charged his way up through the field to clinch the points that went with ninth place. Neubauer also made a good comeback from the rear of the grid, passed 10 cars and finished in front of Bird.

After the first round Verhagen is the highest-placed driver of the team in ninth place overall. Tech 1 Racing came away from Paul Ricard in sixth place in the teams’ championship.

“This weekend was a big disappointment,” said Simon Abadie, the Tech 1 Racing team manager. “It’s the first time we’ve made such a mess of qualifying. From that point on we knew the weekend was compromised and that we had to regroup.

“On his debut Alexander drove two superb races. On Sunday, he set the fastest lap in the race before he had to retire with a broken throttle valve unit. It’s not the first time it’s happened and we know that other teams ran into the same problem. We’re expecting a reaction on the part of Renault as it probably cost him fifth place and big points that could have gone part of the way to salvaging our weekend.

Neil could have done much better in qualifying, but at least he scored points twice. I think it’s up to him to play down the pressure surrounding the start of the season. We’re convinced he’s going to bounce back and pay attention to the tiniest details. By doing this he can demand much more from the team, and vice versa, to achieve his aims.

“It’s a pity that Thomas accumulated so many errors in qualifying. We know he can do much better in this area. He showed this in the races as his times kept on improving. I’m expecting a reaction from Thomas and his team so that he can really unleash his full potential in qualifying.

Frank is probably the driver who came out of it best as he made fewer mistakes. Of course, we also expect more from him, but he’s in the process of rebuilding his confidence after a tough first season. He just lacked a little extra performance to break into the top 10 on the grid. That’s his aim and we’re convinced he can do it!

“We had a good winter, but things haven’t gone nearly as well since we restarted,” concluded Abadie. “We know the car and the quality of our drivers. We’ve got everything we need to win, but we really have to put our noses to the grindstone to avoid further disappointments. I want my team, my drivers and my engineers to do a much better job, to be more precise and rigorous and I expect a major reaction next weekend!

The next round of the Formula Renault Eurocup will take place at Monza this coming weekend.