GP2 Season Preview

Formula 3000 is dead. Long live GP2! After 20 years F3000 as the ‘last rung on the ladder before F1??????? has been replaced with an all-new category: GP2. And the new series has captured the interest of many upcoming drivers, with over a dozen notable names filling the entry list.

In much the same vein as F3000, GP2 races will be mainly support events to F1 races at European circuits. But there are substantial changes to the race weekend format, championship scoring system, and the technical specification of the cars.

The original one-race-per-weekend format is out in favour of two races – one on the Saturday and one on the Sunday. Friday qualifying determines the grid for a 180km race on Saturday, in which the top eight drivers score points 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 (as in current F1), plus two points for the driver who takes pole and two more for the driver who sets fastest lap. The results from race one determine the grid for race two, except that the top eight finishers are reversed. The Sunday race is 100km, meaning the total distance covered in the two races is the same as a Grand Prix, and points are scored 10-6-4-3-2-1 (i.e. 1990-2002 style-F1). Got all that?

The two-race system has been designed to reward the outright quickest drivers but also, in the second race, those who can overtake. This is a welcome addition, even if it does require the artificiality of reversing grids.

Whether they are planning to punish drivers who deliberately drop to eighth in race one for pole in race two is unclear – this could be a valuable tactic in a championship-deciding race.

The technical specification of GP2 stands it apart from other single-seater series as the closest thing to F1 in Europe. There has been a tendency for single-seater series to multiply recently and it has done little good for burgeoning motorsport talents, as team bosses have been unclear on the comparative merits of F3000, Formula Renault, World Series by Nissan and others. But with their F1-specification grooved tyres, semi-automatic gearboxes, 4 litre V8 engines, and sleek Dallara chassis the GP2 machines should comfortably outperform their class rivals.

As a result, GP2 has attracted a stellar line-up of F1 hopefuls. Race of Champions winner – and Michael Schumacher beater – Heikki Kovalainen at Arden; Sauber tester Neil Jani at Racing Engineering; ex-F3 drivers Alexandre Premat and Ernesto Viso at ART and BCN respectively; Red Bull-backed American Scott Speed (what a name!) at iSport.

And then, the sons-of-F1-drivers and the F1-dropouts. Nico Rosberg, who impressed in the 2004 F3 Euroseries, follows father Keke. Mathias Lauda, has had little help from his father Niki. whereas Nelson Angelo Piquet, also son of a three times champion, has been endlessly supported by Piquet Snr and is once again driving for a team named after and fuded by the two of them. Gianmaria Bruni and Giorgio Pantano both make the crushing step down from F1, and will have to annihilate their new rivals if they want any chance of getting back to the top.

Pre-season form has been enticingly difficult to predict as new drivers come to terms with new cars and new teams. The reliability of the cars, however, has been a cause for concern. Unreliability is not something you expect in a one-make series where all the cars are built to the same specification, but Bruni and Kovalainen suffered alarming brake and rear wing failures at high speed during recent tests.

The GP2 package looks very strong both as a support and feed to F1, but also as a series in its own right. The cars look the business and the driver line-up is very strong. But, as usual, there will be no sight of it on British terrestrial television. The entire series will be on Eurosport, so there’s yet another reason to get Sky, but the rest of us are set to miss what could well be a spectacular new start for the old F3000.

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