Parente aims to secure title at home
For Alvaro Parente (Tech 1 Racing), the penultimate meeting of the season is an important one for a number of reasons. Not only will the Portuguese driver, who hails from Porto, be especially motivated to do well in front of his home crowd, the Estoril meeting could also see him crowned champion. If he manages to extend his lead over Ben Hanley (Prema Powerteam) to more than 35 points, the title will be his before the final meeting of the season in Barcelona. Filipe Albuquerque (Epsilon Euskadi) will also be striving for success on home soil as he battles for third place in the overall standings.
In ten days' time, the World Series Formula Renault 3.5 will have reached its conclusion. The season's final chapter will be written on the Iberian Peninsula, first in Estoril, then in Barcelona the following weekend, in a two-act finale which could see the title decided with time to spare.
To secure the crown in Portugal, Alvaro Parente will have to rack up the points and hope that Ben Hanley has a poor weekend. The only driver to have notched up two pole positions and two race wins this season, the Tech 1 Racing star also boasts the most points finishes (10 in 13 races).
But a handful of fruitless weekends, including Hungaroring and Donington, have enabled his rivals to stay in the hunt. Mathematically speaking, there are still fourteen drivers who could win the title! But realistically, there are only two men in it: Parente and Hanley. Utterly dominant in wet conditions at Magny-Cours, the RDD driver has closed the gap in the run up to the final two meetings. He will need to put in another big performance on Parente's home turf if he is to keep up the suspense.
Sebastian Vettel, who won a brilliant fourth place in the Chinese Grand Prix, is still sitting in third spot in the overall standings, but several drivers should go past him this weekend. Milos Pavlovic (Draco Racing) and Filipe Albuquerque will both be looking to get back to winning ways as they battle it out for a place in the championship top three. Buoyed by a roadshow in his home town of Coimbra this Sunday, Albuquerque, like Parente, can count on the local crowd to spur him on.
The competition is no less intense further down the table, as the drivers do their utmost to ensure that their names feature in the top 10 come the end of the season. Currently lying in sixth position, the very consistent Giedo van der Garde (Victory Engineering) is still waiting for his first podium finish. He faces stiff competition from Alvaro Barba (Draco Racing), who won at Donington, Julien Jousse (Tech 1 Racing), who recently achieved his first podium finish, Salvador Duran (Interwetten.com), who has been going through something of a barren period of late, and Guillaume Moreau (KTR), who won the last race at Magny-Cours. And we certainly should not write off Marco Bonanomi (RC Motorsport), Fairuz Fauzy (Cram Competition), Mikhail Aleshin (Carlin Motorsport) or Davide Valsecchi (Epsilon Euskadi).
There have been twelve different race-winners so far this season and there is every chance the list will get longer at Estoril. Jousse, Bonanomi and Fauzy are all likely candidates, as are Clivio Piccione (RC Motorsport) and Miguel Molina (Pons Racing).
It is worth noting a few changes to the starting line-up. Richard Philippe will return to action for Fortec Motorsport, while Robert Wickens, third in Formula Atlantic, will get his first taste of the category as a stand-in for Michael Ammermuller at Carlin Motorsport. Frederic Vervisch will also be making his comeback with GD Racing. The Belgian driver took part in seven races with the Italian team in 2005.