October 11th 2015: The Formula One paddock is eagerly anticipating the second ever Russian Grand Prix. 24 year old Dutchman Robin Frijns is eagerly anticipating race day. But whereas Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez steal the headlines in Sochi, Frijns is racing hundreds of miles away from the F1 paddock at the Zandvoort track in his native Holland. Now, you may ask what is surprising about this seemingly innocuous fact. A look at his junior single seater racing CV will tell all as to why this is a very strange occurrence indeed.
Frijns was a regular go-karter in both France and Belgium, finishing his final year of karting in 2008 coming third in the highly competitive KF2 European championship and second in the French KF2 series. Having shown his talent on the highest level of junior karting, logically the next step was a move into cars.
Before Max Verstappen blazed a trail last year by jumping straight from karting to the phenomenally difficult FIA European F3 championship, Frijns raised eyebrows in 2009 by making a similarly difficult step up to the Formula BMW Europe series. The series list of champions reads like a printout of the 2015 Formula One grid.
Despite being a rookie Frijns made his mark on the series, finishing the year third in the points with one win and five further podiums. At age 18 Frijns had marked himself out as a young driver to watch in the motorsport universe. 2010 saw Frijns return to the series with the same Josef Kaufmann Racing team that propelled him to third the year before.
Frijns was considered the pre-season title favourite, but he found himself in a close title battle all year with British driver Jack Harvey. Six wins and a penultimate race retirement for Harvey meant Frijns was crowned the 2010 Formula BMW Europe series champion by a scant margin of 11 points.
Having taken the title in front of the Formula One paddock, Frijns was moving up to the next rung of the single seater ladder. Frijns had shown further proof of his talent with a guest appearance in the equally competitive Formula Renault 2.0 category. In a one-off outing for Kaufmann in the offshoot Northern European Cup series at Spa, Frijns made up for his lack of experience by claiming a second,fifth and a win in the three races.
It was time for Frijns to move into the Formula Renault category full time in 2011, sticking with Josef Kaufmann racing to compete in the super competitive Formula Renault Eurocup. As a rookie Frijns once again left the motorsport community drooling, claiming the title in his first year with five wins and four other podiums. It’s notable that he beat current F1 drivers Carlos Sainz Jr, Daniil Kvyat and Will Stevens along with the F1 bound Stoffel Vandoorne to win the title, with all of them being Eurocup rookie’s.
With Renault providing significant support through a scholarship scheme it was a obvious Frijns would be stepping up to the Renault World Series for 2012. With 3.5 litre engines and tons of downforce the series is seen as a rival of the GP2 series, the predominant F1 feeder series.
The established Fortec motorsport team were the one’s to sign Frijns, with a top five in the championship the target for the talented rookie. Whilst the Eurocup title success had been a surprise, winning the Renault World Series title as a rookie shocked the single seater community. A third and a win on his debut weekend was a statement of intent, something he followed up with two further wins and four podiums.
The final round at the Circuit de Catalunya was a three way title showdown between Frijns and the more experienced duo of Jules Bianchi and Sam Bird. His two rivals were both vastly more experienced and were closely affiliated with F1 teams. With the title coming down to the final race of the season, fireworks were predicted.
Late on, the race exploded into life. On lap 21 Bianchi found his way past Frijns at the first portion of the lap, with Kevin Magnussen close behind. Several corners later Magnussen attempted to also pass Frijns, who moved to block him passing. This quick change of direction left him nowhere to go as it then appeared he pushed title rival Bianchi into the gravel trap as he attempted to stay on the track.
This highly contentious collision led to a 25 second time penalty for Frijns, dropping him out of the points. In the end this penalty had no effect as Frijns was still able to claim the title over a disappointed Bird and furious Bianchi. Allegations were made by Bianchi post-race that Frijns deliberately made contact with Bianchi to push him off the track, allegations were were not investigated and furiously denied by Frijns himself.
Despite the contentious nature of the victory, it was nevertheless a huge achievement for Frijns to win the Renault World Series title in his first season. This title win propelled Frijns into Formula One community. After a stellar junior racing career with little financial support, it at last appeared that Frijns was destined for F1.
Frijns took part in the post-season F1 young driver test for the small Swiss Sauber team in Abu Dhabi, impressing enough on his day in the car to be announced at the team’s reserve driver soon after. Whilst it was not a race drive, it was a way to impress the F1 paddock with his time in the car throughout 2013.
Both Frijns and Sauber were keen for him to continue racing in 2013, but with little financial support it was tough for him to progress into GP2. Impressive pre-season tests for the Trident and new Russian Time team showed Frijns deserved to be on the grid, but a lack of funding kept him off it for the opening round in Malaysia.
For the second weekend of the season in Bahrain it was announced that Frijns would join the new Hilmer Motorsport team for a number of rounds. He qualified a respectable 10th on his debut, but an accident and his struggles adapting to the Pirelli tyres prevented him from attaining a good result.
With a race by race shoestring budget Frijns was confirmed for the next round in Spain, and he showed his talent by claiming the feature race victory, cementing his status with a second in the shorter sprint race on Sunday morning. With the weekend supporting the Spanish Grand Prix, Frijns had once again shown the F1 paddock his talents as a driver.
Alas, budget concerns and the lack of experience from the new team hindered Frijns for the rest of the season. He was only able to produce two more points scoring finishes as he completed only six of the eleven rounds in the championship.
2013 can be seen as the year his career momentum stalled, with a part GP2 season not offering much and his opportunities at Sauber were severely limited thanks to their grave financial concerns. He was not in the car much and at the end of the season was dropped because of his lack of funds he could bring to the team.
Despite his turbulent 2013 season Frijns was allowed a glimmer of hope going into 2014. His F1 career was rescued thanks to the back marker Caterham team, who appointed him their reserve driver. Whilst it must of been frustrating to have Swede Marcus Ericsson ahead of him in a race drive, considering he’d beaten him on occasion in GP2 the year despite his lack of budget, he could at least say he remained in F1.
Sadly for Frijns his bad luck from Sauber followed him to Caterham, as he only drove in two practice sessions for the team. He drove in Bahrain and Britain, yet the team were taken over mid-season with chronic financial issues. This left Frijns washed up and seemingly out of F1 for good now.
Whilst the future in single seaters looked bleak for Frijns at the ripe old age of 23, his talent would take him in a different direction. He was handed a lifeline by the Belgian WRT GT racing team, who offered him a test at the end of 2014. His impressive showing was enough for WRT team principal Vincent Vosse, a former GT driver, to offer him a drive with his Audi works supported team.
Partnering fellow single seater convert Laurens Vanthoor for the Blancpain Sprint Series and Jean Karl Vernay supporting them in the Blancpain Endurance Series, he was for the first time in his career a professional racing driver. After a small hiccup at the opening round of the Sprint series, Frijns took to GT racing and his Audi R8 LMS like a duck to water.
Ably led by Audi GT superstar Vanthoor, Frijns was able to secure the combined Blancpain GT series title at Zandvoort last Sunday, despite missing Vanthoor thanks to an injury several weeks ago which prevented him from claiming the title with Frijns.
Now is where we go full circle, as I mentioned at the start of the article. Whilst Frijns was claiming the Blancpain GT title last Sunday, his talents should have propelled him to a place on the Russian Grand Prix grid last Sunday. Thanks to extreme bad luck and a lack of funding it hasn’t happened for Frijns in F1 yet. For now his story joins a long list of very talented young drivers who should reach F1, but don’t for whatever reason.
For now Frijns must be content with a growing reputation in GT racing with WRT and Audi, along with a recently announced drive for Andretti Autosport for the second season of the Formula E championship. This new electric series is growing and could offer Frijns a chance to showcase his talents to the single seater community. One thing is for sure though. Motorsport fans will hear a lot more about Robin Frijns for the duration of his career.
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