In photos: Rise and fall of Formula V8 3.5
20 November 2017 – World Series Formula V8 3.5 has closed its doors after two decades of competition, bringing down the curtain on a category that catapulted several young talents to motorsport's top echelon, including Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo. GPUpdate.net charts the rise and fall, and golden years, of the division.
World Series by Nissan evolved out of the Spanish Formula Renault Championship, and was run by Jaime Alguersuari Sr.'s RPM organisation, with a Coloni-designed 2.0-litre engine used by drivers. Marc Gené claimed the inaugural 1998 championship, kick-starting a career which involved F1 races for Minardi and Williams, a lengthy Ferrari test deal, and victory for Peugeot at Le Mans. In 1999, a teenager called Fernando Alonso was crowned champion, while Antonio Garcia (2000) and Franck Montagny (2001) emerged on top of the pile in those respective years.
For 2002, the series stepped up a gear, with a new Dallara-designed car, featuring a 3.5-litre V6 engine, attracting drivers knocking on the door of Formula 1. Ricardo Zonta – having already raced for BAR – beat Montagny to the title, before the Frenchman fought back in 2003, while in 2004 future Renault and McLaren racer Heikki Kovalainen took the honours.
Renault replaced Nissan for 2005 as the World Series by Renault package was introduced, featuring 2.0- and 3.5-litre races, typically on the same weekend. Robert Kubica captured the 2005 title, ahead of his Formula 1 graduation with BMW, while Axl Danielsson and Álvaro Parente won in 2006 and 2007 respectively. However, in the latter campaign Sebastian Vettel held a comfortable points buffer until he was called up to race in Formula 1 – and the rest is history. Giedo van der Garde (2008) and Bertrand Baguette (2009) also added their names to the championship trophy.
Red Bull frequently preferred to place its youngsters in FR3.5, though in both 2010 and 2011 Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Éric Vergne missed out to Mikhail Aleshin and Robert Wickens respectively in dramatic last-round showdowns. In 2012, the controversy reached its peak, when title challengers Robin Frijns and Jules Bianchi clashed in the decider – and the outcome favoured the Dutchman – in a field which featured António Félix da Costa, Kevin Magnussen and Alexander Rossi.
The final Renault years
The talent watermark perhaps peaked in 2013, with Magnussen triumphant, beating standout rookie Stoffel Vandoorne and Félix da Costa, while in 2014 Carlos Sainz Jr. used the category as a springboard to Toro Rosso, bouncing back from initially being overlooked by Red Bull to force his way into a Formula 1 seat when one arose. Oliver Rowland comfortably took the honours in 2015, though at the end of the year Renault pulled the plug, ending its 11-year association with the series.
Decline and demise
The series suffered a sharp fall in entry numbers, from 20 to the lower-mid teens, for 2016, through a combination of Renault's exit and the FIA's distribution of Super License points. Tom Dillmann ultimately beat Louis Delétraz to the title, but numbers continued to dwindle in 2017, as the quality of the field worsened, in spite of the series aligning itself with WEC. On Friday, series officials duly confirmed its absence in 2018, and later the same day Pietro Fittipaldi was crowned champion, in a race which featured just 10 drivers.