Season Preview Formula 3 Euro Series, Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup & West European Cup Doubling up for a triple challenge SG Formula is one of the top teams in Formula Renault 2.0. Every season since it started back in 2004 the team has always...
Formula 3 Euro Series, Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup & West European Cup
Doubling up for a triple challenge
SG Formula is one of the top teams in Formula Renault 2.0. Every season since it started back in 2004 the team has always had one of its drivers crowned French champion or take the runner-up's spot. Likewise, it has always managed to place at least one of its drivers on the Eurocup final podium ever since its first full season in 2005.
So moving up to a higher category was always going to be the next logical step. But no-one could say that SG Formula took the easy option by going into Formula 3 Euro Series! They had to get the engineering sorted out, take the best options in a series which is not single-make, attract good drivers and set up a new organisation to race alongside an existing one that still aims to shine in Formula Renault 2.0, and which will be going for more wins and titles.
A triple hand of Dallara-Mercedes cars for France's third F3 team
How do you go about turning a team accustomed to winning in Formula Renault 2.0 into one that is also capable of winning in Formula 3 Euro Series? That's what the team has been working on this winter, as the team's trio of managers explained.
Gerard Paviot: "We have taken a massive step up, both in terms of investment and manpower. If we take both categories together, we now have over 30 people with us. Our priority was to sign the right drivers under the right type of contract, both in F3 and Formula Renault. I think we have managed to do this, and out of nine drivers five of them are part of an F1 make-backed junior program. I believe SG Formula is now on a solid footing financially. With Stephane and Thibaut, we have a complimentary skill set that has enabled us to build an efficient organisation. We won't be overlooking Formula Renault just because we are racing in F3. Quite the opposite in fact. We are looking to build a foundation that will enable us to test and select new drivers, and help them get started in this excellent training ground."
Stephane Guerin: "Our first idea was to promote some of the 2007 season's brilliant crop of young guns to race for SG in F3. But for a number of reasons it didn't work out. On the other hand, we are pleased to welcome back with open arms two of our "old timers" from previous seasons.
The choice to race Dallara/Mercedes cars was made because they offer us the smoothest passage into such a tough category. It will be up to us to get the most out of the new Dallara chassis. Mercedes-HWA have promised a lot of changes to the engine so it will remain competitive in 2008. There will be stiff competition this year from another engine-maker so Mercedes will be keen to maintain their supremacy.
Our workforce has been considerably strengthened. Our chief engineer Thibaut de Merindol will be working with Henki Waldschmidt, and we have taken on two young track engineers, one each for drivers Tom Dillmann and Yann Clairay. A new position has been created for a glass-fibre designer, and we have recruited a specialist from the boat-making industry to fill it. His first job is to work on the rear moulding. Each team has its own design for this vital piece in the car's aerodynamics. The rules in F3 allow teams to design quite a few vital parts of their own, such as the brakes, running gear and airfoils. We have invested heavily in highly- sophisticated new computer simulation software, which we will also be able to use in Formula Renault. We will soon be running wind tests on scale models."
Thibaut de Merindol: "Two of us have already worked in F3 although I must admit we are starting from scratch here. We've had to build an entire F3 team from the toolbox up. We had to get a new trailer, reorganise the workshops, recruit new personnel. Our feet hardly touched the ground during November and December as we fought to get the new Dallara ready in time to test at Nogaro at the end of the year. Only one car was given to each team so it wasn't easy to prepare three drivers under such conditions. We would have liked to have a bit more track time.
As far as team organisation is concerned we will be picking up the challenge of racing in F3 with a good dose of humility and without seeking innovation over tried and tested methods. The way we rotate our engineers from meeting to meeting in Formula Renault pays dividends because it helps young drivers and engineers alike gain experience and make progress. But for our debut in F3 we will be adopting a more traditional approach, with the same engineer accompanying each driver throughout the season, because it helps foster a close understanding between the two without compromising the cohesion of the team as a whole. So today we have both the human and R&D resources in place and we are looking forward to putting it all into practice, first of all in Valencia and then over in Estoril and in Magny- Cours. I'm fortunate in that since the team was first set up I have acquired enough experience to know which way to go and how to move forward. We're ready to go. Although we'll be aiming for top-rate performances, we realise we might not be fully competitive at the start of the season."
Meet SG Formula's triple trio of aspiring heroes
Here is SG Formula team manager Stephane Guerin's assessment of his drivers, as they prepare to take on Europe's best in F3. "Tom Dillmann raced for us in 2006 before joining the Red Bull Junior team at the start of 2007. The experience of Yann Clairay, who was with us in our first two seasons, will also be a great asset to us. They will both be keen to progress after their debut season in F3 Euro Series last year. Different they may be in age and personality, but they both know the value of teamwork and share a winning mentality. Henki Waldschmidt is a new favourite of mine. He caught my eye at the wheel of a kart in the year he became champion of France. He made a big impression on me and I have been tracking his progress ever since. He had a hard time last season, after being considered to be one of the favourites. Henki has settled well into the team. I'm convinced he's got it in him to join the long list of rookies who have come to prominence with SG. He is part of Toyota Driver Program, a set up with which we are establishing strong ties. The idea with Toyota is to forge a solid, long-term relationship."
Six SG Formula drivers will be chasing six Formula Renault 2.0 crowns this year: the Eurocup and West European Cup driver and team trophies as well as the best rookie and French Champion titles. The latter is a last minute addition by the FFSA (French Motor Sport governing body) and is open only to drivers of French nationality. The crown will go to the driver who gets the best results in the five WEC races scheduled to be run in France and Belgium this year.
The season opened with two days of practice in Valencia, during which the fastest time was clocked by SG Formula's man from Australia, Daniel Ricciardo. The team has a decidedly cosmopolitan flavour to it this year. Apart from Ricciardo, it includes Anton Nebylitskiy from Russia, who already turned out for SG Formula at the end of 2007, Canadian Ramez Azzam, who lives in Dubai, and Andrea Caldarelli from Italy, not forgetting the two Frenchmen, Jea-Eric Vergne and Nelson Lukes. Apart from Lukes, who will focus on the European championship, all the drivers will be taking part in both the Eurocup and the WEC. The Formula Renault 2.0 squad, under the expert guidance of engineer Yannick Hubert, will have two rookies in its midst in the guise of Vergne and Azzam, both of whom having graduated through the Auto Sport Academy.
Ex-SG Formula drivers - where are they now?
Out of the total of 23 drivers who have sat behind the wheel of an SG Formula racing car since the team opened its doors in La Rochelle back in 2004, only one has left the circuits. Six of them are continuing their careers in the Touring, GT or Sports prototype categories; two are still racing in Formula Renault 2.0 while the other fourteen continue to ascend through the echelons of the motor sporting firmament at the wheel of a single-seater car.
In the upper spheres we find Romain Grosjean, France's only representative in the 2008 GP2 Series. Romain was, of course, champion of France in 2005 driving an SG Formula car. Today Romain is also the first SG Formula graduate to become a Formula 1 test driver. Under the wing of the Renault Driver Development Program, the reigning F3 Euro Series champion has joined the Renault F1 team.
Six former SG Formula drivers race in the Formula 3 Euro series. Yann Clairay and Tom Dillmann, of course, and also Franck Mailleux (Volkswagen works driver), Jean-Karl Vernay (Red Bull Junior Team) and rookies Jules Bianchi (managed by Nicolas Todt) and Jon Lancaster. Also in F3 but over in Japan this time, Carlo Van Dam has been taken on by the famous Toyota Team Tom's, the premier outfit in the Land of the Rising Sun. Nelson Panciatici is expected to be one of this season's rookies racing in the Spanish F3 championship. Fabio Onidi has decided to try his luck in the Formula 3000 Euroseries.
France has four entrants in this year's World Series Formula Renault 3.5: Julien Jousse, Charles Pic, Guillaume Moreau and Alexandre Marsoin. They all came to prominence racing for SG Formula in the Formula Renault 2.0 category.
This year's official FFSA national team will include Romain Grosjean, Jean- Karl Vernay, Charles Pic, Jules Bianchi and new SG Formula recruit Jean- Eric Vergne.
As the season opens in Nogaro, thoughts will return to the 2004 edition of the Easter Cup and SG Formula's first crop of pole positions, victories and podiums places. How far they have come, the 'dream team' of that year - Guillaume Moreau, Yann Clairay et Romain Grosjean!