As Formula 1 winds down its 2011 season to the three final flyaway rounds, and with both the drivers' and constructors' titles already clinched, the focus is shifting somewhat to who might be moving around or up to the championship come 2012.
One such contender is Canadian youngster Robert Wickens, the 22-year-old Marussia Virgin Racing reserve driver whose four-year stint in Europe after moving from North America ended with his most successful season in 2011. Wickens took home the Formula Renault 3.5 World Series championship, one of the most coveted titles in European junior formulas.
Wickens drove for Carlin Motorsport and edged teammate Jean-Eric Vergne by nine points after nine race weekends and 17 races (all except Monaco are doubleheader rounds). It was an intense battle between the two, each of whom won five rounds and pushed each other throughout the year, as Wickens told RACER.
“The perfect competitor had to be my teammate, Jean-Eric Vergne,” Wickens says. “He was a very good teammate to have, very strong, and he made my life both very easy and very difficult at times!”
Vergne has Red Bull support aiding his track to F1 – three free practice 1 outings in the final four races for Scuderia Toro Rosso bears that out. Because of the Frenchman's innate speed, Wickens had to dig deeper at each round.
“You always had good data because he was quick all the time,” Wickens explains. “When a teammate is always quicker than you, it's almost better than a teammate who's always slower.
“You have to treat your teammate different than a normal driver. At the end of the day, it was more productive I had a teammate as quick as he is. It brought up both of our games. For instance, there were some qualifying laps I did where I wouldn't have been expected to do the times I did.”
Asked to expand on his best weekend, without hesitation, Wickens said everything went perfectly at Silverstone. Wickens posted the only doubleheader sweep of the year by any driver, and the maximum 50 points to Vergne's 12 was the biggest results gap between them on any weekend in the season.
The field he beat this year was fairly deep, Vergne joined by Australian ace Daniel Ricciardo (LEFT) – who split his 3.5 duties with his promotion to HRT in F1 – and American hopeful Alexander Rossi (PODIUM, RIGHT) all in the top five. Others who have been linked to F1 testing roles within the last few years – Fairuz Fauzy, Jan Charouz and Adam Carroll among them – made starts in the championship this season.
It's been a long road for him to get here. A Formula BMW USA championship in 2006, then 17, was followed by a year with some success but shy of the title in the Atlantic Championship. Wickens moved to Europe and ran in 3.5 in 2008, with constant speed but a propensity for getting involved in accidents. He ran in Formula 2 in 2009 and GP3 in 2010, finishing runner-up in both championships.
Through those years, Wickens has developed in several ways. He describes his evolution from his first year learning the European ropes in full to this stage in his career.