Bradley Downton (@Bradley13) takes a look at the GP2 field ahead of the start of the new season in Malaysia this weekend.
Though deserving champions both, neither Davide Valsecchi last year nor Romain Grosjean the year before him were unexpected GP2 champions.
But this season promises to be a more open contest for the title between experienced hands who’ve seen several campaigns already and young talents who are hitting their peak.
Factor in that the teams have two years’ experience with the current chassis and it looks set to be a close-fought season.
Half of the drivers on the Formula One grid this year graduated from GP2, including all bar one of the rookie contingent.
But the race to find their successors never stops and the GP2 field which has assembled in Malaysia for the first round of the season features 26 drivers eager to follow in the footsteps of Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and the rest.
While Formula Renault 3.5 and GP3 have propelled drivers straight to the top flight, GP2 remains the foremost feeder series for F1.
Winter testing indicated this could be a particularly open contest for the championship. Here’s how the field is set for the ninth season of GP2.
|Driver 1||Driver 2|
|DAMS||Marcus Ericsson||Stephane Richelmi|
|ART Grand Prix||James Calado||Daniel Abt|
|Arden International||Johnny Cecotto, Jr.||Mitch Evans|
|Racing Engineering||Juli?â?ín Leal||Fabio Leimer|
|Carlin||Felipe Nasr||Jolyon Palmer|
|Russian Time||Sam Bird||Tom Dillmann|
|Caterham Racing||Sergio Canamasas||Ma Qinghua|
|Barwa Addax Team||Jake Rosenzweig||Rio Haryanto|
|Rapax||Stefano Coletti||Simon Trummer|
|Trident Racing||Nathanael Berthon*||Kevin Ceccon*|
|Hilmer Motorsport||Conor Daly||Pal Varhaug|
|Venezuela GP Lazarus||Ren?â?® Binder||Kevin Giovesi|
|MP Motorsport||Adrian Quaife-Hobbs||Dani?â?½l de Jong|
*Confirmed for the first round only.
Drivers to watch
It’s a must-win season for Marcus Ericsson who is heading into his fourth year in the category. Having moved from the now defunct iSport to reigning champions DAMS, Ericsson will be expected to fight for the title.
Monegasque Stephane Richelmi is alongside him but only has one season under his belt in the under-performing Trident team. A feature race podium in Germany was a highlight and he’s looked a match for Ericsson in testing towards the top of the time sheets.
Britain’s James Calado remains with ART for a second season and is surely one to watch for the championship. He picked up podiums and wins last year in his rookie season – in which he also claimed rookie of the year – and has been consistently near the top of the times in testing.
Alongside him is Daniel Abt, who faces a learning curve in his first GP2 season but has the benefit of familiarity with the team he drove for in GP3 last year, finishing as runner-up.
Johnny Cecotto Jnr drives for his fifth different team in as many years as joins Arden from Addax. The Venezuelan has shown similar form to countryman Pastor Maldonado, picking up two dominant wins and a second place last season, but with his other results being dramatically further off.
Highly rated GP3 champion Mitch Evans will partner Cecotto this season. The eighteen-year-old New Zealander will be hoping to impress in his debut season but neither Arden has looked particularly quick in testing.
Julian Leal is entering his third season in GP2 and hasn’t exactly set the world alight so far. For the second time in his GP2 career he will be joined by Swiss driver Fabio Leimer, who he teamed up with at Rapax in 2011. This is Leimer’s fourth season and his second with Racing Engineering. A win eluded him last year after a lot of bad luck and the Swiss driver will be hoping that changes this year. While Leimer has been more towards the top of grid in testing, Leal has been more down the bottom and this trend looks set to continue through the season.
Felipe Nasr was somewhat pushed out of the limelight by champion team mate Davide Valsecchi at DAMS last season but still picked up a handful of podiums in a generally strong rookie campaign. His move to Carlin came as something of a surprise but Nasr has looked consistently quick in testing.
He will be joined by Britain’s Jolyon Palmer who is now in his third season. Palmer got the monkey off his back last year by picking up his first win in the Monaco sprint race but his times in testing have been nothing to write home about. Nasr is expected to lead the team’s title charge but both drivers could be in with a shot.
Russian Time are a late entry into the season after iSport withdrew due to lack of funds. Four drivers were tested in Barcelona and the team signed the quickest of them, Tom Dillmann. He did a half-season of GP2 last year with Rapax, winning in Bahrain.
In a surprise move Russian Time have hired Sam Bird as his team mate. Bird raced in the category in 2010 and 2011, winning just once but scoring strongly in both seasons. He left the series in 2012 to race in the Formula Renault 3.5 championship, finishing third. With a brand new team and two strong drivers, Russian Time could pull off some shocks this year but we won’t really know where they stand until Malaysia.
|1||Malaysia||Sepang International Circuit||22nd-24th March|
|2||Bahrain||Bahrain International Circuit||19th-21st April|
|3||Spain||Circuit de Catalunya||10th-12th May|
|10||Singapore||Marina Bay||20th-22nd September|
|11||Abu Dhabi||Yas Marina Circuit||1st-3rd November|
The disappearance of Valencia from the F1 calendar and the scrapping of the extra standalone event in Bahrain sees GP2’s schedule trimmed to 22 races of 11 double-header rounds.
The addition of Abu Dhabi means there will be a break of more than a month between the penultimate and final events.
GP2 testing times
|1||Tom Dillmann*||Hilmer Motorsport||1:24.400||73|
|3||James Calado||ART Grand Prix||1:24.525||+0.125||169|
|4||Fabio Leimer||Racing Engineering||1:24.534||+0.134||129|
|5||Stephane Richelmi||DAMS||1:24.604||+0.204||173||6||Felipe Nasr||Carlin||1:24.691||+0.291||164|
|8||Sergio Canamasas*||Caterham Racing||1:24.963||+0.563||161|
|9||Kevin Giovesi*||Venezuela GP Lazarus||1:24.967||+0.567||163|
|10||Ren?â?® Binder||Venezuela GP Lazarus||1:24.976||+0.576||122|
|12||Nathanael Berthon*||Trident Racing||1:25.059||+0.659||105|
|13||Jake Rosenzweig||Barwa Addax Team||1:25.243||+0.843||168||14||Mitch Evans||Arden International||1:25.258||+0.858||170|
|16||Johnny Cecotto, Jr.||Arden International||1:25.292||+0.892||157|
|17||Daniel Abt||ART Grand Prix||1:25.312||+0.912||155|
|18||Juli?â?ín Leal||Racing Engineering||1:25.318||+0.918||175|
|19||Robin Frijns*||Trident Racing||1:25.335||+0.935||123||20||Pal Varhaug*||Hilmer Motorsport||1:25.391||+0.991||109|
|21||Dani?â?½l de Jong||MP Motorsport||1:25.506||+1.106||149|
|22||Adrian Quaife-Hobbs||MP Motorsport||1:25.604||+1.204||153|
|23||Ma Qing Hua*||Caterham Racing||1:25.800||+1.400||171|
|24||Rio Haryanto||Barwa Addax Team||1:26.398||+1.998||175|
*Not signed to a team at the time of the test.
Circuit de Catalunya test times
|5||Jolyon Palmer||Carlin||1:29.467||+0.412||134||6||Sergio Canamasas*||Caterham Racing||1:29.611||+0.556||180|
|7||James Calado||ART Grand Prix||1:29.624||+0.569||190|
|8||Kevin Giovesi*||Venezuela GP Lazarus||1:29.812||+0.757||122|
|9||Tom Dillmann*||Russian Time||1:29.843||+0.788||150|
|10||Fabio Leimer||Racing Engineering||1:29.862||+0.807||137|
|11||Mitch Evans||Arden International||1:29.902||+0.847||161|
|12||Adrian Quaife-Hobbs||MP Motorsport||1:29.914||+0.859||162|
|13||Robin Frijns*||Trident Racing||1:29.951||+0.896||54||14||Daniel Abt||ART Grand Prix||1:29.994||+0.939||172|
|15||Dani?â?½l de Jong||MP Motosport||1:30.037||+0.982||168|
|16||Robin Frijns*||Russian Time||1:30.053||+0.998||53|
|17||Pal Varhaug*||Hilmer Motorsport||1:30.300||+1.245||104|
|18||Johnny Cecotto, Jr.||Arden International||1:30.323||+1.268||141|
|19||Conor Daly*||Hilmer Motorsport||1:30.417||+1.362||133||20||Ren?â?® Binder||Venezuela GP Lazarus||1:30.454||+1.399||130|
|21||Juli?â?ín Leal||Racing Engineering||1:30.601||+1.546||165|
|22||Jake Rosenzweig||Barwa Addax Team||1:30.620||+1.565||160|
|24||Riccardo Agostini*||Hilmer Motorsport||1:30.724||+1.669||77||25||Rio Haryanto||Barwa Addax Team||1:30.813||+1.758||168|
|26||Rodolfo Gonzalez||Trident Racing||1:31.029||+1.974||132|
|27||Ma Qing Hua||Caterham Racing||1:31.035||+1.980||203|
|28||Luciano Bacheta*||Russian Time||1:32.712||+3.657||49|
|29||Christopher Zanella*||Russian Time||1:53.772||+24.717||35|
*Not signed to a team at the time of the test.
You can follow GP2 on F1 Fanatic Live during the races this year.
We also have a dedicated group and forum for GP2 fans:
And you can find a list of GP2 drivers and teams on Twitter here:
In the UK, GP2 will be broadcast live on the Sky Sports F1 channel in 2013.
Over to you
What do you think of the strength of this year’s GP2 field? Who’s your tip for the title – and a future in F1?
Have your say in the comments.
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Images ?é?® GP2