In part 2 of Badger’s GP2 season preview we’re switching our attention to the rookies who’ll be looking to make a splash in the F1 proving ground this year.
GP2 maybe be extremely competitive, but being a rookie in the series doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll spend the season at the back of the pack learning the ropes. In fact, for a driver coming off the back of success in a lower formula winning GP2 in year one might be easier- after all, confidence is everything and you’re never more confident than when you’ve just won a title.
And that’s just the case with our first featured driver: 2009 Formula Three Euroseries champion Jules Bianchi. Could this 20 year-old Frenchman be his country’s long awaited heir to F1 legend Alain Prost?
He certainly sounds the part, with a name fit for a character from the classic movie ‘Grand Prix‘. He’s also got racing in his blood, with his great-uncle Lucien having started 19 grand prix- scoring a podium at Monaco in 1968- and granddad Mauro being a triple G.T world champion. If this kid was a horse we’d call him a purebred.
He’s the real deal on the track too, having taken last year’s Formula Three Euroseries title. Every F1 team boss likes to see that on a young driver’s C.V, but there’s no point going after Monsieur Bianchi’s signature- he’s already signed a long-term contract with Ferrari.
This year he sticks with his Formula Three team ART Grand Prix for the step up to GP2. ART know how to win titles- they’re the team for whom Rosberg, Hamilton and Hulkenberg all won their GP2 championships- and with Bianchi already familiar with the team his transition to the series will be eased considerably. This all adds up to serious title contender status.
A slight blot on the youngster’s copybook was his so-so performance in the off-season GP2 Asia championship. Bianchi had his good days, with a podium during his debut weekend and a pole at his second, but in the end he got less points on the board than his teammate (another quick rookie) and looked ever-so-slightly prone to panic at times. It doesn’t stop him being considered a contender but it shows he’s not perfect. That said he is the rookie most likely to succeed this season- Badger wouldn’t be too surprised to see him driving a Sauber in 2011.
The most likely to succeed this year is Sam Bird, Bianchi’s teammate at ART. Badger spoke to Sam last week- read all about that here– so he doesn’t need any introductions round these parts.
All we need to say is that he’s got a great team behind him, shedloads of determination and a history of tenacious, never-say-die driving. Sure, most people are picking Bianchi to come out on top in this inter-team battle, but Bird knows what he’s capable of and will be keen to prove any doubters wrong.
Title material? If he can get the better of Bianchi early on and acclimatise to GP2 action quickly there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be in with a chance.
Next up is Oliver Turvey, teammate to title contender Davide Valsecchi at iSport. After some impressive performances in GP2 Asia- where he took a victory at only his second race weekend- Turvey has high hopes for a strong year. Drving for iSport will help: they’re a quality operation, and the former home of Bruno Senna, Karun Chandhok and Timo Glock, the latter having taken the title for them in 2007.
Turvey’s racing pedigree is good too. A former British young driver of the year he took runner-up spot to Jaime Alguersuari in the 2008 British F3 champioship and finished as the top rookie in the highly respected World Series by Renault last season. He’s also got an engineering degree from Cambridge. Smart lad- we like it.
Calling Turvey a title threat would be a wee bit hasty, with teammate Valsecchi the more likely of the two iSport drivers to be chashing the championship this season. It’s not out of the question, but we reckon a solid year with a few wins followed by a title assault in 2011 is more likely to be Turvey’s best-case scenario.
Surrey-born Max Chilton completes the British rookie trio, debuting for ex-F1 driver Thiago Monteiro’s Ocean Racing Technology squad. Having only turned 19 a fortnight ago Max is the youngest driver in the series this year, and he told us how he was feeling ahead of his maiden campaign.
“I already feel very settled with the team. They’re very easy to get along with and I can’t wait to kick the season off.
“My wish is obviously to win as many races and score as many points as possible, but I understand it’s a big step and, being realistic, I just want to take this opportunity and turn it into the best year I can without setting my expectations too high”.
Driving for a less established team Max is probably in year one of a two to three year stint in GP2, and a solid 2010 will be key to his future success. Keep an eye on his progress.
Staggeringly, France currently has no F1 drivers, but between Bianchi and our next featured driver the country’s future is in good hands. Charles Pic, driving for Red Bull boss Christian Horner’s Arden team, took a win and a pole during GP2 Asia, marking him out as a driver of real potential. Arden can be hit-and-miss- they haven’t launched a title assault since Heikki Kovalainen was runner-up for them in 2005- but Pic can still do a lot for his reputation without being champion. If he fights towards the front of the pack and picks up some wins F1 bosses will notice and, with a bit of luck, France will have a grand prix or two driver to cheer on once again.
One country that doesn’t lack Formula One drivers is Germany, and in Christian Vietoris, who will debut for Racing Engineering this season, they’ve another F1 star in waiting. Runner-up to Bianchi in last year’s F3 Euroseries he’s capable of wins in 2010, driving as he is for the team that took Giorgio Pantano to the 2008 championship. Like Pic the title may be out of his reach this year, but long-term his future looks bright.
That completes Badger’s look at GP2’s men to watch in 2010. Remember, these guys are just a step away from F1, and you can be 99.9% certain that at least one of the drivers we’ve talked about will make the step up in the next few years. With so many drivers who’ve been vaunted as F1 stars of the future on this year’s grid GP2 2010 should prove to be a thrilling and extremely interesting affair. Badger will keep you up to date with who’s hot and who’s not in F1’s feeder series, and which drivers are staking their claim for a place on next season’s grid. Watch this space.