Norman Nato took his first Formula Renault 3.5 race win in style at Monaco this morning.
Piloting his DAMS machine, the Frenchman led from start-to-finish, beating Tech 1 racing rival Marco Sørensen, despite the Dane applying pressure for the duration.
Nato had much of the start pressure removed from his shoulders when fellow front row man Jaafar pulled slowly away from the line. With the Malaysian adrift in 3rd, Sørensen slipped into 2nd spot and immediately began to pressurise Nato for the lead.
The 21-year-old held his nerve however and, apart from the occasional blip, the gap stayed between 1.1s and 1.8s for much of the running. As happens at Monaco, lapses of concentration resulted in brief losses – both Sørensen and Nato suffered these on laps 10 and 11 respectively and again on laps 20 and 21 – yet neither ever looked so lairy that the could throw their machines off the road.
With each tour, the gaps held and Sørensen discovered – as many have before him – that overtaking at Monaco is as close to impossible as you can get in motorsport.
It was a stellar drive and deserved victory for Nato and one that may finally lift his season out of the doldrums.
Jazeman Jaafar led a three-car battle with Carlos Sainz Jr and Oliver Rowland to secure his second Monte Carlo podium in the category.
Meanwhile, behind the leading pair Jaafar did have a touch of luck on his side. Despite his sluggish start, the ISR man was unchallenged once Sørensen had slipped through.
In Jaafar’s mirrors, Sainz Jr and Rowland were side-by-side in St Devote, with Rowland momentarily gaining the upper hand; however with Sainz Jr’s wheel encroaching upon the Fortec machine, Rowland pulled slightly wide on the exit, allowing Sainz Jr back through. The pair continued to tussle through Massenet and through Casino Square, but as the racing line evened out toward Mirabeau, Sainz Jr solidified his advantage.
Thereafter the trio played a game of Ping-Pong with the gaps, but – as with the battle for the lead – finding a useable space to pass was rare. Remaining close to the finish, Jaafar headed Sainz Jr and Rowland, with the 3rd, 4th and 5th place battle covered by a mere 1.7s at the line.
Zoël Amberg (AVF) continued his steady improvement with his fourth points finish in five races. The Swiss racer battled hard to keep Pierre Gasly (Arden International) at bay, with the latter unable to force a way through into 6th place.
Will Stevens drove a lonely race to 8th position for Strakka Racing on a day when he desperately needed to better championship leader Sainz Jr. Roberto Merhi took 9th place; both unchallenged from behind and unable to challenge ahead, unlike Meindert van Buuren who fought over 10th place and the final point with Pietro Fantin until the final lap, when a mistake by the Brazilian dropped him out of contention.
On a day when all his main title rivals finished behind him, Sainz Jr managed to open up his points lead even further. With a tally of 74 points from five races, the Spaniard now leads Rowland by 15 points, with Gasly an addition eight adrift and Stevens another seven behind Gasly.
They will not have to wait long to do battle again. In a series of extremes, the Formula Renault 3.5 series moves to Spa-Francorchamps next week, where the battle will reconvene in the forests of the Ardennes.
2014 Formula Renault 3.5 Series (Rd 3, Monaco) Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Norman Nato DAMS 30 laps 2. Marco Sorensen Tech 1 +0.790s 3. Jazeman Jaafar ISR +12.228s 4. Carlos Sainz Jr DAMS +13.268s 5. Oliver Rowland Fortec +13.960s 6. Zoel Amberg AV Formula +20.962s 7. Pierre Gasly Arden +21.395s 8. Will Stevens Strakka +31.911s 9. Robert Merhi Zeta Corse +38.853s 10. Meindert van Buuren Pons Racing +50.019s 11. Marlon Stockinger Lotus +55.954s 12. Oliver Webb Pons Racing +1m00.594s 13. Matias Laine Strakka +1m00.803s 14. Luca Ghiotto Draco +1m00.874s 15. Pietro Fantin Draco +1m03.676s 16. Will Buller Arden +1m04.448s 17. Beitske Visser AV Formula +1m14.137s 18. Andrea Roda Comtec Racing +1 lap 19. Roman Mavlanov Zeta Corse +1 lap Retirements: Sergey Sirotkin Fortec +24 laps Matthieu Vaxiviere Lotus +29 laps