Andy Soucek became the first winner of the re-formed Formula Two championship at Imola this weekend. The 24-year-old Spanish driver now hopes to join countrymen Fernando Alonso and Jaime Alguersuari in F1 in 2010.
The re-launched series is intended to be a new, low-cost proving ground for drivers aiming to step up to Formula 1. Soucek’s title win will be the first test of whether it has been successful or not.
Arguably, there has never been a better time for aspiring drivers hoping to break into F1. There will be at least three four new teams in the shape of Campos, Manor, USF1 and Lotus in 2010, and The Team Formerly known as BMW may hang in as well. That could create up to eight new berths.
Soucek wrapped up the title quite emphatically – winning four races and notching up an unassailable 32-point lead with three of the 16 rounds still to run.
However some would argue that Soucek has done only what was expected of him. He went into F2 with (almost) two full seasons of GP2 under his belt. His best result was two second places, although he did not drive for one of GP2′s top teams. Few if any of his F2 rivals had comparable experience.
Although F2 is intended to be just as viable an entry into F1 as GP2 is, F2 cars have much less power. In normal running they produce 400bhp, and the driver can use an occasional extra boost of 50bhp. GP2 cars have around 580bhp.
Soucek also did a season in World Series by Renault (425bhp) and before that four years in Formula Three, culminating in his Spanish series title in 2005.
None of this is to say that Soucek isn’t talented or that he doesn’t deserve a drive in F1. But if he does get a drive in the championship next year it may at least be in part to his experience in other formulae.
He will now get an F1 test drive for Williams, who build the chassis for F2. However their test driver and GP2 champion Nico Hülkenberg will be one of his rivals for the seat (unless Williams are happy to start 2010 with two rookies).
The genuine acid test for F2 is what the other leading drivers in the series do next year – the likes of Mikhail Aleshin, Robert Wickens, Julien Jousse and Mirko Bortolotti, who along with Soucek fill the top five positions in the championship at the moment.
Will they choose to stay another year in F2 in the hope of gaining the title? Or will they look for a GP2 seat which brings experience of a more powerful car, on several tracks that appear on the F1 calendar?
That, as much as what happens to Soucek, will inform us whether F2 is a credible last step on the ladder before a driver is ready for F1.
Do you think Soucek can – or should – move up to F1? Have your say in the comments.
Image (C) Alastair Staley/GP2 Series Media Service