The final round of Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup became one of the most exciting and hot events of 2016 season. The famous Hockenheim track met the young drivers with its traditional changing weather conditions. Lando Norris won his second championship this year and Russian Robert Shwartzman took his second victory during his rookie season.
It was a difficult year for Shwartzman who had to start the season with lack of experience unlike his rookie opponents who had multiple tests at winter. The SMP Racing driver had to adapt to the new class and the new car during the championship races. Several podiums and a victory at Nurburgring showed that he is a quick learner and ready to fight for the top positions in any conditions.
The St. Petersburg driver was one of the fastest in Hockenheim in the Friday practice sessions.
Saturday morning qualifying session didn’t go exactly as planned. It was a rainy session so the team had to choose the tire pressures. The track started to dry so Shwartzman was able to score P11 only. The second session was more successful as he used his new slick tires to set the fastest time overall and collect his first pole position in Formula Renault 2.0.
Robert Shwartzman: “First qualifying was not too successful. The track was drying and we made a mistake with our tire pressures – set it too high. I was fast at the first 5 laps, inside the top-3, but then the track started to dry and I burned my tires. I tried to cool it down but it was too late so the other drivers with lower tire pressure were able to drive faster lap times.
We got the new slicks in the second session so I was able to drive a very good lap – enough to take my first pole position. I was happy but not surprised. I knew I would be one of the fastest drivers on this track thanks to my team Josef Kaufmann Racing.”
Shwartzman had to start the Saturday evening race from P11 but was already in P5 after the first lap. Several crashes brought the safety car on track and a few minutes later the race was stopped with the red flags because of rain.
The team mechanics had to change tires on the start/finish straight to let the drivers once again have a restart under the safety car. Robert took P4 after the restart but another red flags signalized that the race was over.
The final results were decided by the previous laps before the restart so the SMP Racing driver was classified in P5 after only 4 laps of the rainy race.
Robert Shwartzman: “I started from P11 and was in P5 already after three corners. Then it was safety car because of the crash. We started again in the rain, I overtook Mirecki for P4 but the new red flags put me back to P5. I don’t know why we got full points for this race even though it was stopped by the red flags just like in Monaco.”
Second race in Hockenheim took place on Sunday morning and this time there were no weather surprises. Robert Shwartzman started from pole position and took the lead in front the championship runner-up Max Defourny. The Belgian driver was able to catch up Shwartzman at the last laps but the Josef Kaufmann Racing driver saved his lead and scored another victory for his team.
Robert Shwartzman: “The start was good. I was able to build a gap while my tires were fresh. Later on I had some problems with the tire degradation so Defourny closed the gap. 6 laps before finish he attacked me. There was a moment when we drove side by side, he tried to push me out to the grass but I managed to stay inside the track and in front.
He made a few more tries but calmed down when Boccolacci stopped his car in the middle of the track in the Stadium section. It was a bit weird but there was no safety car at that moment. In any case, I stayed in front and won the race without further troubles.
I’m very happy with this victory.”
Third race was not that successful for the SMP Racing driver. Soon after the start Shwartzman was pushed out to spin by one of the opponents. The Russian spent the rest of the race outside of top-10, overtook several drivers and set the fastest lap of the race.
Robert Shwartzman finished his Formula Renault 2.0 NEC season in top-3 rookie rankings despite the fact that he had to adapt to his new class during the season.
Robert Shwartzman: “I had a good start in third race, was already behind Defourny. I thought I could easily finish on podium but one of the other drivers pushed me out. Nobody got penalized for this and after that moment I was just able to overtake some drivers, set the fastest lap and finish in P13.”