Young drivers backed by Ferrari, McLaren and Renault are among those competing in the new GP2 season which starts this weekend.
Winning the category is the best way to get yourself a ticket into F1 – and it’s great racing too. Here’s your guide to the season ahead:
Drivers to watch
With several long-term GP2 drivers graduating to F1 this year – Lucas di Grassi, Vitaly Petrov – and others decamping to other championships – Luca Filippi, Alvaro Parente – there are many fresh faces in GP2 this season.
Picking an outright championship favourite is not easy among these eye-catching names. Here are some of the drivers to keep an eye on in 2010:
Jules Bianchi (France, ART) – Reigning F3 Euroseries champion looking to follow in the footsteps of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Hülkenberg by winning the GP2 title for ART en route to an F1 berth.
Bianchi has already been signed by Ferrari and drove for the team in the young drivers’ test at Jerez last year.
Read more: Jules Bianchi (Meet the rookies)
Giedo van der Garde (The Netherlands, Addax) – Struggled in the first half of 2009 with iSport but came on strong later in the year, winning three races.
Sergio Perez (Mexico, Addax) – Shown flashes of speed but got involved in a few incidents. Could give van der Garde a fright.
Oliver Turvey (Britain, iSport) – Won his third GP2 Asia race and now a McLaren Development Driver.
Davide Valsecchi (Italy, iSport) – Dominated the GP2 Asia series over the winter.
Seems to have gelled brilliantly with his iSport team and with two years’ GP2 experience should be a contender for the championship.
Jerome D’Ambrosio (Belgium, Renault Junior/DAMS) – Promising member of the Renault Driver Programme.
Unusually he’s spending his third consecutive season in GP2 with the DAMS squad, now in Renault colours.
Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela, Rapax) – Entering his fourth season of GP2 and in danger of looking a little long in the tooth. But he’s been very quick in pre-season testing.
Rapax is the new name for Piquet Sports, the team he drove for in 2008. But he was soundly beaten by Hülkenberg at ART last year.
The rest of the grid
Maldonado’s team mate is Virgin reserve driver Luiz Razia. Sam Bird joins Bianchi at ART.
Charles Pic looked strong for a resurgent Arden team in GP2 Asia. His team mate will be Rodolfo Gonzalez.
Former champions Racing Engineering have retained Daniel Clos who is joined by F3 Euroseries runner-up Christian Vietoris. Vietoris won the second round of the GP2 Asia championship – and then failed to score in the remaining races.
But after helping Giorgio Pantano to the drivers’ championship in 2008, Racing Engineering struggled to recapture that form with Lucas di Grassi last year.
Formula Master champion Fabio Leimer makes a big step up to GP2, joining ex-F1 driver Tiago Monterio’s Ocean Racing team. He is partnered by Max Chilton, the younger brother of BTCC racer Tom.
Josef Kral finished third in Formula Master and he will drive for Super Nova alongside Swede Marcus Ericssson.
Ho-Pin Tung, the only Chinese driver in the championship, drives alongside fellow Renault Driver Programme member d’Ambrosio in the DAMS-run team.
DPR finally enjoyed some better results in GP2 Asia including a win for Giacomo Ricci in the final race. They retain Ricci and Michael Herck for the main championship.
Alberto Valerio seemed to have scored a breakthrough win at Silverstone last year. But after that he resumed his place near or at the back of the field in the remaining races, and keeping the safety car driver in full-time employment.
He is joined by Bulgarian driver Vladimir Arabadzhiev at Coloni, who won in the new Auto GP championship at Brno two weeks ago beating several more experienced drivers.
Johnny Cecotto Jnr, the son of Ayrton Senna’s 1984 Toleman team mate, will drive for the struggling Trident Racing team. His team mate will be South African Adrian Zaugg.
Races and calendar
GP2 supports F1 at ten forthcoming Grands Prix: Spain, Monaco, Turkey, Europe (Valencia), Britain, Germany, Hungary, Belgium, Italy and, for the first time, Abu Dhabi (GP2 Asia supported the Yas Island race last year).
There is one extra event on the GP2 calendar which is not an F1 support race. On the weekend before the European Grand Prix they will race at the excellent Algarve International circuit in Portugal, which was the scene of the season finale last year.
Each round has two races: a feature race on Saturday (after F1 qualifying) and a sprint race on Sunday (before the Grand Prix).
The grid for the feature race is set in a short qualifying session. The finishing order of the feature race is used as the starting order for the sprint race, with the top eight finishers reversed.
TV and live timing
You can follow live timing for all GP2 sessions on their website: GP2 Live Timing
Eurosport broadcasts GP2 in Britain, however they are not showing the first race live – from their TV listings it appears it is being delayed until 6.30pm on British Eurosport 2. The second race is live at 9:35am on Sunday morning on British Eurosport.
GP2′s official Twitter account: Feeder Series
To the best of my knowledge these are all the official Twitter accounts of the GP2 drivers and teams:
2010 GP2 teams and drivers
Your thoughts on GP2 2010
Are you following this year’s GP2 championship? Who do you think will win? Who are you rooting for? Have your say in the comments.
Images (C) GP2 Media Service