10. Brendon Hartley
A year that promised much for the talented Kiwi was marked by a mid-season split from the Red Bull Junior programme. Overshadowed by rookie Tech 1 team-mate Ricciardo (who out-qualified him 7-4), there were still days when Hartley shone; such as at Spa where a challenge for victory ended with electrical failure, and at Monaco where he posted a charging drive. Aware that Red Bull had being sharpening the axe for some time, Hartley appeared more confident on resurfacing with P1 Motorsport at Silverstone, perhaps exhibiting the relief of at last knowing where he stood. After qualifying on the front row, a clumsy overtaking attempt on Aleshin undid the good work. Hartley has reunited with P1 in testing and posted competitive lap times.
The 2009 Italian Formula 3 champion had a rollercoaster season, but there were enough signs from the Roman to point to real skill - not least a string of impressive wet-weather drives. Zampieri took second at Spa, despite receiving a drive-through penalty for changing tyres on the grid after the authorised deadline. Strong points went begging by spinning out of third behind the safety car in Barcelona, and a strong second at Hockenheim was lost when his Pons machine was found to be marginally underweight. Has probably done enough for the Ferrari Academy to keep the faith, but his paymasters in Maranello will want to avoid any repeat of the embarrassing argument with ISR team boss Igor Salaquarda that resulted in exclusion at Silverstone.
Vergne wasted no time in getting up to speed with his former Formula Renault 2.0 team SG Formula in pre-season testing. When the French outfit went bust, cynics suggested that the performances had been merely to generate interest from potential backers. That notion was swiftly dismissed by Vergne's superlative displays in British Formula 3 and three subsequent World Series outings with Tech 1 Racing. An inherited victory at Silverstone was a precursor to a stellar weekend at Barcelona. Having missed practice on Red Bull Formula 1 simulator duties, the Frenchman only arrived at the circuit in time for qualifying. Vergne went on to finish on the podium in race one, and take second in his first wet-weather drive in the car in race two. A potential champion if he continues in the series in 2011.
Straight out of Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup, Berthon did an impressive job with the 2009 champion Draco. A strong second to Guerrieri at Brno was a prelude to a maiden victory on home ground at Magny-Cours, in which he had to contend with severe pressure from Ricciardo in the closing laps. Berthon fared less well in the season's Saturday low-downforce races, the team replacing his chassis late in the year in a bid to shore up form. Seventh, against generally more experienced opposition, was a solid return for his rookie season in the category.
At the beginning of year it appeared only a matter of time before the Monegasque chalked up his first win. A likeable, relaxed personality out of the car, five well-deserved podiums would suffice for his season's haul. Suffered from a malaise on Saturdays, and shared a frustration at Comtec's low-downforce set-up with team-mate Greg Mansell. Coletti's starts to race weekends were sometimes hindered by the odd practice shunt. Comtec was convinced of its man's talent, but sometimes felt Coletti needed to work on hooking all his best sectors together in qualifying if he was to realise his potential.
5. Albert Costa
Costa bounced back from a nasty pre-season testing shunt to finish the season as top Formula Renault 2.0 graduate. The outgoing Catalan's preparations were disrupted by a hand injury, but things came good with third at Monaco. The year's highpoints were second at the Hungaroring and Silverstone. At the former venue Epsilon Euskadi was mildly frustrated that Costa had missed out on pole, such was its expectations of the 2009 Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup champion. Diminutive in stature, Costa worked hard on his fitness as the season wore on. Recently tested Tech 1's GP3 car, but is "90 per cent sure" to remain in Formula Renault 3.5 in 2011, when he should win races.
4. Sten Pentus
Easily the most improved driver. After a solitary podium in 2009, Pentus worked hard over the close season, even taking in the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand. The Estonian signalled his intent by topping this year's pre-season Motorland test. The promise was realised with victory in the opening round, and backed up by a runner-up position next time out at Spa. Although a slight drop off in competitiveness followed, another confident win, from pole, was delivered at the Hungaroring. Having competed in Formula Baltic in an antiquated Ralt RT35 just five years ago, it will be intriguing to see what further progress Pentus can make. On this evidence, turning 29 in November should bode no encumbrance.
A stunning season from the experienced Argentinean. Team boss Igor Salaquara rates his charge as the year's moral champion, and would find many in the paddock in agreement. Guerrieri was not entered in three races, and non-started a fourth following a qualifying accident, yet remained in the title race until the last round. Scored a series record six victories, and has a 23.3 per cent race win percentage - only bettered in series history by Robert Kubica. Guerrieri was also disqualified from win number seven at Silverstone for having a non-performance enhancing piece of adhesive tape on his car. Has a history of struggling to raise budgets, it would be almost criminal if his career didn't go further.
Absolutely lived up to his billing as British F3 champion and Red Bull F1 reserve driver. The Australian's raw speed was evident by a record eight pole positions. Enjoyed a fantastic rookie season in which he came within three laps of the finish of the last race to taking the title. Won many admirers with his manner out of the car and sporting behaviour. While generally superlative, Ricciardo could look back at a costly problem with his pitlane speed limiter at Hockenheim and qualifying crash at Spa as expensive incidents in his title campaign. If he continues in this vein, an F1 career beckons.
Harnessed his round one success at Motorland and maintained the momentum throughout the season. Aleshin's performance is difficult to criticise when he led the championship from the second round at Spa in May. Although there were no 25-second winning margins like Ricciardo or Guerrieri produced, the Russian demonstrated that when he needed to deliver, to claim the mid-season Formula 1 prize test or stave off Ricciardo's challenge, he could step up a gear. After four years in the category, his Carlin team feels the new Formula Renault 3.5 champion has developed all the attributes necessary to be a success in GP2.
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