Racing Engineering – Dani Clos & Christian Vietrois

Drivers’ Titles: 1 – Teams’ Titles: 0 – Race Wins: 12

Spanish outfit Racing Engineering are the only team to retain their 2010 lineup in to the new season, giving them a level of consistency that will be of unquestionable benefit. It also helps that both of their drivers are pretty handy behind the wheel: Dani Clos, now in his third year with the team, and sophomore Christian Vietoris are both proven race winners at this level and rank among the top drivers in the series.

Clos spent 2009 learning at the feet of Lucas di Grassi, one of the most successful men in GP2 history, before last year emerging as a top driver in his own right. A win in Turkey and podiums in Spain, Monaco and Britain saw him right up there at mid-season, but the results dropped off thereafter to eventually leave him fourth in the standings. That wasn’t a bad result though, and he’ll enter the new season confident that he can take the next step and challenge for the title. If he can marry his early 2010 consistency with a few more wins that’s entirely possible.

Vietoris meanwhile has a ridiculously busy year ahead, combining as he is GP2 and DTM. Runner-up to Jules Bianchi in the 2009 F3 Euro Series championship, he scored a breakthrough win at the season-closing Italian sprint race last September and will be eager to pick up where he left off when GP2 arrives in Turkey. Still only 21, the German is managed by the Eric Boullier-run Gravity Sports, and looks likely to end up making a successful career in either F1 or the DTM.

Badger Prediction: Title dark horses. Both drivers are fast and know the team, and if the likes of Grosjean and Bianchi slip up they are capable of launching a championship assault.

Badger Fact: In addition to running a GP2 team Racing Engineering boss Alfonso de Orleans-Borbon is also the Duke of Galliera, a municipality in the Italian province of Bologna.

Rapax – Fabio Leimer & Julian Leal

Drivers’ Titles: 1 – Teams’ Titles: 1 – Race Wins: 13

Last year’s champions, Rapax don’t make our favourites section for the new campaign as the key factor in their 2011 success – Pastor Maldonado – is no longer about. Instead the Italian squad have second year Swiss racer Fabio Leimer and Colombian rookie Julian Leal in their cars.

Leimer took victory in the opening sprint race of 2010 for backmarkers Ocean Racing Technology, an impressive result for the then-reigning Formula Master champion. But that was it – literally. Leimer never made it in to the points again in 2010, ending the year 18th in the standings. Hardly the ideal preparation for a title assault, but the lad has talent – it’s just not likely to be enough for him to emulate the all-conquering Maldonado.

He should have the better of his team-mate though, whose C.V isn’t particularly glittering. He’s run plenty of series in recent years, but has only found any success in Italian Formula 3000, which he won in 2008. However he managed to do so without winning a single race and primarily thanks to his main rival not finishing the final two races of the season. Life in the mid-to-lower pack beckons.

Badger Prediction: A repeat of last year is out of the question. Leimer could run towards the front on occasion, Leal will struggle to get beyond the midfield.

Badger Fact: Rapax previously ran under the Piquet GP moniker, with Nelson Jr. racing for them in 2005 and ’06, finishing as runner-up to Lewis Hamilton in the latter campaign.

Arden International – Josef Kral & Jolyon Palmer

Drivers’ Titles: 0 – Teams’ Titles: 0 – Race Wins: 11

The team who dominated the final years of Formula 3000 and then narrowly missed out on the inagurual GP2 crown have been in the doldrums of late. Heikki Kovalainen won five races for them back in 2005, but since then they’ve picked up just six more victories, with Sebastien Buemi taking their best championship finish of sixth in 2008. It’s clear that with founder Christian Horner no longer running the show Arden have taken a step back in recent years.

Could that change in 2011? There’s unlikely to be a complete ground shift, but there could be an improvement, with Josef Kral and Jolyon Palmer forming a solid if unspectacular driver pairing.

Kral missed most of the second half of 2010 after an accident in Valencia extremely similar to that which Mark Webber suffered the same weekend (see below). However, unlike the Aussie, the youngster was pretty badly smashed up. He does look a decent prospect and it’ll be interesting to watch how he goes for the  British squad.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afSBZiGRX1Y

Palmer meanwhile arrives off the back of finishing as runner-up to Dean Stoneman in last year’s F2 championship. Whether that was adequate preparation for GP2 we don’t quite know as he’s the first to switch between the two series. His form there – where he struggled badly in year one before emerging as a real contender in his second season – doesn’t bode well, but the son of former F1 racer Jonathan Palmer is no slouch. If he can beat Kral he’ll be doing something right.

Badger Prediction: Midfield for the most part with the occasional strong result. Kral should be the man to provide those, though Palmer’s pace is difficult to predict either way just yet.

Badger Fact: Christian Horner first founded the Arden team as a means to continue his own racing career. Realising that he wasn’t much good behind the wheel but an ace behind the scenes, he went fulltime as a team boss in 1999.


Super Nova – Fairuz Fauzy & TBA

Drivers’ Titles: 0 – Teams’ Titles: 0 – Race Wins: 7

A similar story to Arden. The team who ran the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya and Sebastien Bourdais to title glory in GP2 forerunner Formula 3000 have fallen on hard times of late. Well, not hard times as such, just a bit of a barren patch in comparisson to their past glories. At the moment only Fairuz Fauzy is signed to drive for them in 2011, though series veteran Luca Filippi has piloted their second car throughout testing and is the liklely (and very sensible) choice to join the Malaysian.

One of the Renault F1 team’s army of test drivers, Fauzy will be the oldest man on the grid this year by some margin, but after a year out of racing he may be a bit rusty early on. He drove for Super Nova back in 2006 but ended the year pointless before switching to A1GP and then World Series by Renault, finding much more success in the latter by finishing as championship runner-up in 2009.

Filippi would be a solid choice, being as he is the most experienced GP2 driver in series history – and one they know well. He drove for them in 2007 (finishing fourth overall), 2009 (when he was fifth) and in place of Kral over the second half of last season. He’s also driven for them in Auto GP, so is almost part of the family. Okay, he’s no megastar, but when he keeps the car out of the gravel he’s a good man to have on board.

Badger Prediction: Midfield runners for the most part, though Filippi could use his experience to spring the odd surprise. We wouldn’t predict wins in anything other than the reverse grid sprint races, however.

Badger Fact: Fauzy contested the very first GP2 race back in 2005, lining up alongside the likes of Nico Rosberg, Heikki Kovalainen and Nelson Piquet Jr, ,

We complete our 2011 GP2 season preview tomorrow, with a look at expected backmarkers Coloni, Trident and Ocean and newboys Carlin and Air Asia.