GP2 grid taking shape
The 2011 GP2 grid seems to be developing into one of the most interesting seasons for a number of years. This year, for one, sees the introduction of a new car, which will take an appearance more like that of the current breed of F1 car, with a wide front wing, narrow rear wing, and no winglets. It’ll be interesting to see what impact that has on the racing.
There has been a shuffle of the pack teams-wise, with DPR joining 2010 absentees Durango in departing. They are replaced by top British junior team Carlin and Team Lotus (i.e. 1Malaysia) junior team Team Air Asia – that is as opposed to the Group Lotus (i.e. the car company) junior team ART, who have obtained sponsorship from the car manufacturer and will carry British racing green with the traditional yellow stripe. Super Nova have also seemingly picked up some backing from either Group Lotus or parent company Proton, due to the re-signing of Lotus Renault GP (i.e. the Group Lotus-sponsored Renault team…yes, I have to keep doing this) test and reserve driver, Fairuz Fauzy, who drove for the team way back in 2006! What this means for DAMS, who were backed by Renault F1/GP’s owners Genii and part of the Gravity stable, remains to be seen.
Apart from returnee Fauzy, there have been a number of other confirmations around the place, starting with Rapax, who took Pastor Maldonado to the drivers’ crown in dominant fashion last year – you may remember them in their past life as Piquet GP. They have signed up the Swiss driver Fabio Leimer, who drove for Ocean Racing Technology last year and previously won the International Formula Master title in 2008. Driver 2 is yet to be confirmed.
The other big name teams have already completed their line-ups. Lotus ART, the most successful team in GP2 history, have continuity with Ferrari’s test driver Jules Bianchi, and their own GP3 champion from last year, and Sauber test and reserve driver, Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico. Meanwhile, their arch-rivals at Barwa Addax have kept Giedo van der Garde, for yet another shot at the title for the Dutchman, and have signed 2010 race winner Charles Pic alongside him.
iSport, who won the drivers’ title with Timo Glock back in 2007, have also signed up two drivers. Sam Bird impressed with ART last year and will get a second attempt at the title at the British team, and he is joined by Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson. Both have previously tested for Brawn/Mercedes GP. Another F1 tester is Luiz Razia, formerly Virgin’s reserve driver in 2010, who has signed for Team Air Asia and is thus a prime candidate to be Team Lotus reserve this year. He is joined by Johnny Cecotto Jr, the son of the Venezuelan former Theodore and Toleman F1 driver, and touring car and motorbike star. Another with F1 links is former F1 team Coloni. They have signed Belgian-Romanian Michael Herck, previously a staple at DPR, and British driver James Jakes.
The last team with a complete line-up, having just confirmed it today, is Christian Horner’s Arden International team, the powerhouse of the later years of the old F3000 series. They have signed Czech driver Josef Kral, who drove for Super Nova last year, was injured in a spectacular airborne crash at Valencia not unlike that of Mark Webber, and later tested for HRT at Abu Dhabi. Alongside him is another second generation driver, Jolyon Palmer, son of Jonathan and runner-up to Dean Stoneman (who is sitting out 2011 to recover from illness – best wishes to him) in last year’s Formula 2 series. The only other confirmed driver is the Monegasque ace Stefano Coletti, who will drive for Italian minnows Trident Racing.
This leaves 11 of the 26 seats to be filled. With Rapax, Super Nova, and Trident all having one free, Racing Engineering, DAMS, Ocean and Carlin are yet to fill a seat, although there is plenty of time before the series kicks off in May at Istanbul. However, it is worth pointing out that GP2 Asia begins in February in Abu Dhabi, with all of the confirmed drivers participating in the 3-round 6-race mini-series.
There are still plenty of names out there who have not been snapped up yet. Davide Valsecchi may be holding out for a HRT drive alongside Narain Karthikeyan. Talented young Brit Oliver Turvey deserves a second chance but has lost his backing from the Racing Steps Foundation. Spaniard Dani Clos, formerly of Racing Engineering and a race winner last year, will also be knocking around for opportunities, along with his team mate from last year, German Christian Vietoris. Giacomo Ricci impressed for DPR last year, and perhaps the veterans, the likes of Alvaro Parente, Luca Filippi and even Romain Grosjean, could make returns. Plus there will be the inevitable drivers coming with cash – Ho-Pin Tung, Rodolfo Gonzalez, Vladimir Arabadzhiev, Alberto Valerio and others. Last year saw an increasing number of these and a high number of driver changes, often race-by-race, at some of the smaller teams. Let’s hope that won’t happen too often.
But with a bolstering of the grid with two new teams and a new car, GP2 looks in as strong a shape as ever. Its importance to the racing world and in particular F1 is clear with three of its drivers from last year graduating to F1 in 2011 – champion Maldonado with Williams, runner-up Sergio Perez with Sauber, and Jerome d’Ambrosio with Virgin. That brings the total number of ex-GP2 drivers on the F1 grid to 10 out of the 21 drivers confirmed so far, with the possibility of another in the second HRT seat whoever it goes to. Expensive it may be, but Formula Renault 3.5 and F2 are still providing little opposition to GP2’s dominant position as F1’s main feeder series. And with GP3 now firmly established and draining talent and teams away from F3, the future looks bright for Bruno Michel’s burgeoning motorsport empire.
UPDATE: Romain Grosjean will return full-time to GP2 with DAMS this year, alongside Pal Varhaug, a race winner in GP3 last year for Jenzer Motorsport, who will become the series’ first ever Norwegian driver.
GP2 Asia Series Calendar
11/12 Feb – Yas Marina
18/19 Feb – Sakhir
12/13 Mar – Sakhir (supporting F1)
GP2 Series Calendar (all supporting F1)
7/8 May – Istanbul
21/22 May – Catalunya
27/28 May – Monte Carlo
25/26 Jun – Valencia
9/10 Jul – Silverstone
23/24 Jul – Nurburging
30/31 Jul – Hungaroring
27/28 Aug – Spa-Francorchamps
10/11 Sep – Monza