A series in crisis or one simply going through a necessary transitional phase? Despite a few promising chargers GP2 seems to lack depth these days. Gone are the times when seriously rapid racers like Alvaro Parente were peddling cars for Ocean Racing, or when Timo Glock was chugging around in a BCN entry. In 2012 several seats are filled by wealthy drivers with questionable talent as financial constraints force teams to hire on backing rather than pure ability. Here’s our look at the runners and riders.
Addax: Johnny CECOTTO Jr. & Josef KRAL
Reigning teams’ champions Addax enter 2012 with their poorest line-up to date. Johnny Cecotto has never delivered in GP2 and largely has the drive because of significant financial backing from his native Venezuela. Hugely unlikely to win the title, despite having the same team around him that took Vitaly Petrov, Sergio Perez and Charles Pic to multiple wins in the series.
Czech-born Josef Kral is a better driver and should win races. If he doesn’t he can forget F1, as Addax run as good a team as you’ll find outside grand prix racing. The youngster has shown flashes of pace at Super Nova (2010) and Arden (2011) but will need to add consistency to that if he’s to fight for the title. Still, for a team that has run Pantano, Grosjean, Perez, Petrov and Pic this pairing is a step down.
DAMS: Davide VALSECCHI & Felipe NASR
To stop me from bashing my head against the screen I’m going to focus on DAMS newboy and series rookie Felipe Nasr, who is pretty much the only reason I haven’t lost faith with GP2. The young Brazilian is arguably his country’s best racing prospect since Senna – and that’s no exaggeration. He mullered the Formula BMW Europe title in 2009, did the same to the British F3 crown last year and – perhaps most impressively – then jumped in a Daytona Prototype and drove it like he’d been doing so for a decade.
They say GP2 is now a two year programme, so let’s give Nasr 2012 to learn the car and the tracks and then make mincemeat of the championship in ’13. That said if he gets his head round it quickly enough the Brazilian will win races and fight for the title – no question.
His team-mate this season is Davide Valsecchi, a spiky-haired Italian who’s bloody quick on his day but is invisible just as often. Given that this is his fifth year in the series (even Maldonado only needed four years to win it) and his drive is with the reigning champions he really should win the title. Even if he does F1 won’t necessarily come knocking – Davide has been drinking in the last chance saloon so long he can barely see the exit.
Racing Engineering: Fabio LEIMER & Nathanael BERTHON
Trucker hat-loving Fabio Leimer has already been a race-winner in GP2 and, with two seasons behind him, now has to fight for the title. The young Swiss could be a dark horse, especially with the always capable Racing Engineering squad. Consistency will be his biggest challenge, but if he can string it together there’s no reason he can’t be in the mix come Singapore.
His team-mate is Frenchman Nathanael Berthon, who steps up after a torrid sophomore season in Formula Renault 3.5. There’s talent in there but unlocking it may prove difficult in his rookie campaign.
iSport: Marcus ERICSSON & Jolyon PALMER
Marcus Ericsson is undeniably fast, but sometimes he can seem rather absent from proceedings, a worrying quality in a racing driver. We’re starting to worry he’s just got a smart manager (Kenny Brack) and a big sponsor (Olsbergs) rather than genuine star quality. Lightning quick on his day, he’ll need to pump those performances in on a consistent basis if he’s to become Sweden’s next F1 driver.
Jolyon Palmer ended last year with zero points, suggesting he’s not going to challenge the likes of Button and Hamilton for the mantle of Britain’s finest. That’s not to write Jolyon off as a professional driver – he could win races this season and enjoy a fine career in the sport – but he lacks that ‘it’ factor.
Lotus GP: Esteban GUTIERREZ & James Calado
Arguably the best overall combination of drivers on the grid, Lotus ART run 2010 GP3 champ Esteban Gutierrez and 2011 GP3 runner-up James Calado.
The Mexican is undoubtedly fast and has F1 ties with Sauber. Living slightly in the shadow of countryman Sergio Perez, 2012 is his chance to strike out on his own by achieving what Checo couldn’t: the GP2 title.
Calado is a serial runner-up. He finished second to Valtteri Bottas in GP3 last year, was beaten to the 2010 British F3 crown by Jean-eric Vergne and in 2009 Dean Smith pipped him to the Formula Renault UK championship. See a pattern emerging? Calado enjoys backing from the frankly excellent chaps at the Racing Steps Foundation, but that’s likely to expire at the end of the year. More than any other rookie, James needs to – and has the potential to – make 2012 count.
Caterham: Giedo VAN DER GARDE & Rodolfo GONZALEZ
Having told us that 2010 would be his last season in GP2 Giedo van der Garde is back for yet more this year. Pushing 27 and with a lack of wins in the series, despite spending the last two seasons at the mighty Addax, the Dutchman dovetails an F1 reserve role and GP2 seat with Caterham. Could well win the title this year but a solid professional rather than something special.
Coloni: Stefano COLETTI & Fabio ONIDI
Apparently Stefano Coletti was conceived on Keke Rosberg’s yacht. We haven’t made this up – it’s on the pudgy-faced-but-fast Monegasque’s website. Anyway, he’s actually quite fast when he fancies it, as evidenced by a few wins last term, and with the team who ran Luca Filippi to runner-up in 2011 he should be a front-runner.
Team-mate Fabio Onidi has also looked surprisingly handy in testing. Solid but unspectacular in the lower series, he’s not made a bad start to life in GP2 and could be one of the surprises of the season.
Trident: Stephane RICHELMI & Julian LEAL
Uninspiring stuff at Italian squad Trident, who have Julian Leal and Stephane Richelmi on board for 2012. Little should be expected of the pair bar the odd point in high attrition races. Their GP3 team, meanwhile, has hired a pretty girl who likes to do raunchy magazine shoots. Just so you know.
Lazarus: Fabrizio CRESTANI & Giancarlo SERENELLI
Giancarlo Serenelli is a 30-year-old GP2 rookie from Venezuela who has come from absolutely nowhere to compete in the series this year. He qualified four seconds off the pace for the opening race and a full 1.5s off the last-but-one starter. Nuff said about his credentials, he’s hardly likely to be worrying the Vettels and Buttons of this world any time soon.
Fabrizio Crestani is a bit old to be a rookie too, though at 24 he’s a nipper compared with old man Serenelli. He’s looked solid in testing and, like countryman Onidi, could surprise a few. Not to be written off.
Rapax: Ricardo TEIXEIRA & Tom DILLMANN
Ricardo Teixeira is one of the worst drivers we’ve witnessed compete in top-line international level. We’re not trying to be mean, funny or controversial, it’s just a statement of fact. He managed to fail to qualify at Monaco in 2009. Remember, this is a series with identical machinery throughout the field, and he couldn’t get with 107% of pole. Shocking, but his money helps pay for the more promising Tom Dillmann.
Dillmann has had his moments – such as winning German F3 in 2010 – but his overall record is patchy. He was, for example, average in F3 Euro Series, and never shone that bright in GP3. As Rapax fall further from their Maldonado-inspired 2010 title, and with Texeira as a team-mate, Dillmann will likely struggle.
Arden: Luiz RAZIA & Simon TRUMMER
Luiz Razia has been around for several years now, sometimes looking fast and sometimes throwing his car into the scenery. He was Maldonado’s team-mate when the Venezuelan romped to the 2010 title, finishing well off Pastor in the standings. May win races this year but through repeated effort rather than sheer ability. His experience will be valuable though.
Team-mate Simon Trummer steps up to Arden’s GP2 team after finishing 18th for them in GP3 (whilst half the guys who finished ahead of him have had to take sideways steps as they can’t afford GP2). Quite hard to get excited about, really.
Ocean: Nigel MELKER & Jon LANCASTER
Ocean have two promising young drivers in Dutchman Nigel Melker and Yorkshire lad Jon Lancaster, but the team usually struggle and won’t be helped by their all-rookie line-up. Despite running two capable drivers, you have to feel that a trying campaign awaits.
Marussia Carlin: Max CHILTON & Rio HARYANTO
Baby faced Max Chilton has to shine this year. Heavily supported by his father, who also backs brother Tom’s touring car exploits, he’s struggled in his first two GP2 campaigns but has shown far better in testing this time around.
Could Chilton could cope at an F1 team where his old man wasn’t part of the management structure? You worry that, a little like Nelson Piquet Jr., he’s been wrapped in cotton wool. The only way to disprove that is to win the GP2 title and land an F1 berth on merit. A very tall order for a driver yet to impress at this level, and who seems to jump series a year too soon.
His name is Rio and he dances on the sand. Or not. His name is Rio Haryanto. A GP3 race winner, he has flattered to deceive thus far and will probably have a very tough 2012. He’s still very young though, and has the backing of a whole nation in Indonesia. Just like that river twisting through a dusty land. And when he shines he really shows you all he can. Oh Rio, Rio dance across the Rio Grande.