Simraceway’s Long Race #1: 2011 Formula Renault 3.5 long-term review
Owned since: 2014
Mileage: around 1600km (around 1000 miles)
Many consider the Formula Renault 3.5 as a feeder series for F1. And of course, there is a lot of truth in that. As a series, it was specifically set to do just that, and it delivered (and still does). Sporting advanced downforce and nearly 500bhp from a thundering Nissan-sourced V6, this is as close as it gets without spending hundreds of millions for a season.
But in more than a year with the car, I found out that it was much more than an intermediary step between the much loved F3 and ballistic modern F1 cars.
For a long time though, I forgot a bit about this car. It’s not that I found it bad; but to me it felt a bit too easy and lacking feedback under the limit, and very snappy over it. And I’m sure many of you will agree with me on that one.
But as I got better and better as a driver, I came to love the thing more and more.
First of all, it’s incredibly competent. Faster than a Bentley Speed 8 around Watkins Glen, for example. And though it’s very very quick down the straights, it’s the cornering and the braking that will leave you breathless. But who doesn’t have an F1 car that can smash it in all of these areas?
No, what makes this car so special isn’t its speed. It’s the way it talks to you.
You see, while loving them for their insane speed in all areas, and the passion and drama that goes with it, I always felt wanting a bit more than what modern F1 can deliver. More involvement, more feedback, and maybe also more challenge. I mean, F1 cars are not easy to drive. It’s just that up to nine-tenth, it’s not the most hardcore thing to drive. Getting the max out of them is the core of the challenge, and what makes them interesting.
But the FR3.5 isn’t like that. While it shares most of what makes F1 good (downforce, low weight, and brakes that could stop Saturn V), it ads so much involvement that you really feel like you are a true racing driver. I suppose that this has a lot to do with the fact that it has slightly less downforce, while having a very characterful engine, and also a very stiff suspension setup. When exiting a corner, you really have to think ahead and be smart about applying power, because that V6 is a very spiky beast. Meanwhile, the stiff suspensions mean that you’ll have to react accordingly to every fluctuation of the track, but more importantly it means that every little thing you do will have an impact on how the car reacts. Whereas in F1 inputs tend to be watered down by the sheer amount of downforce produced, here the car is truly immediate and without any filters.
As to what I felt when first driving it, yes it tends to react very quickly when you go too far. But because the car is so direct, you’ll learn to feel where the limit is, and with more experience you can even stay there and enjoy it immensely.
Also, because it is a bit smaller and has less downforce, it’s a joy to race. The fact that because of how fast it is it feels as exciting on F3-sized cars like downforce as on some larger tracks like CotA or Silverstone only adds to the overall experience.
And of course, let’s not forget that it’s a lot cheaper than it has any right to be, thanks to the Progression Ladder.
No, the FR3.5 isn’t as fast or mind-numbing as an F1 car, while being much faster than the F3. But that doesn’t mean it’s just another step in the ladder.