The GP2 season is now at halfway point, having run at 5 of the 10 F1 Grand Prix it will support this season. If you’ve not been following the series fear not- Badger’s got a rundown of who’s on their way to securing an F1 drive for 2011.
Back in May Badger picked out Pastor Maldonado as the strong title favourite, and the Venezeulan has spared our blushes by dominating the first half of the season. Three straight feature race wins in Istanbul, Valencia and last time out at Silverstone leave him with a healthy 19 point lead entering the second half of the championship.
After developing a reputation for being rapid-but-reckless in previous years Pastor’s shown a new maturity in 2010, biding his time and staying calm when the situation demands it. He’s been consistent in qualifying and clever in the races- it seems he’s grown up.
His lead is commanding, and with the competition looking a little inconsistent this one is now his to lose. The signs are that he won’t do that, that he’s got his act together enough to keep the good ship Maldonado on a course for victory. If he does we’d expect to see him in F1 next year, likely for a team looking for the magic combo of cash (he’s got hefty backing from his homeland) and success in GP2. Think of him as the new Vitaly Petrov.
So Pastor’s been the man this season, but who else has impressed? Well, a few people- but no one consistently. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance from a few but none have done it regularly enough to keep up with Maldonado in the championship. The fact that he’s a few years older than his competitors partly explains that.
But arguably Pastor’s biggest rival in speed terms is Mexico’s Sergio Perez, who only turned 20 at the start of the year. At times he’s shown a stunning pace in the Barwa Addax car, but bad luck has prevented him turning this into title challenging points. He set out his stall with a brilliant victory at Monaco, dominating a race in which he looked untouchable. We all know Mark Webber was the most impressive man on the Monte Carlo streets that weekend, but Sergio was without doubt a close second.
His bad luck has been telling, not least in Valencia- a race for which he’d taken pole- where he was taken out of both races by overambitious moves from drivers behind him.
Still, Perez is lightning quick, very young and supported to the hilt by Mexican telecom giants Telmex. He’s making a very strong case to become his country’s first F1 driver in three decades, and a strong run to the end of the season could well see him do it sooner rather than later. And, with his obvious talents, he’s not out of the title race just yet.
Though not the quickest man in the field, Spaniard Dani Clos has done a great job this season, and sits second in the championship despite not yet showing the ultimate pace of his rivals. But then success in F1 isn’t all about banzai laps and blinding speed- consistency is key, and Dani’s shown that in GP2 this year. He’s taken just the one win- and that came in the Turkish sprint race- but he’s racked up four additional podium finishes (including two at Silverstone), leaving him 19 shy of runaway leader Maldonado.
At just 21 Dani is a good few years younger than Pastor, and already has F1 testing experience with Williams under his belt. To top it all off he’s Spanish, which is pretty handy at the moment, what with the country having two grand prix and one team team (with the likely addition of a second for 2011). It’s the nationality to be in F1 at the moment, so Clos may be arriving at just the right time. Can he win the title? It’ll take some doing, but with his consistency could keep him in the hunt for a while yet.
Rookie-wise it’s the ART pairing of Jules Bianchi and Sam Bird who’ve shone brightest in 2010. No surprise considering the team’s superb record in the series.
One of the pre-season title favourites, Bianchi is almost living up to billing, sitting third in the standings at half distance. He’s had poles and podiums but no wins yet, which is a little less than would have been expected pre-season.
There have been mistakes, but Jules is a rookie, and there’s no question that he’s a very talented lad- so much so that Ferrari already have him on a long-term contract. There are wins in him yet, and be warned: 2009 champ Nico Hulkenburg, driving for ART, only hit full tilt at the halfway point in the season. Jules could well make a run at the title if it all falls in to place.
Teammate Bird meanwhile has been beset by more bad luck than any GP2 driver this season. He’s had technical problems in qualifying, on the gird and in the race, hurting his chances of scoring points on several occasions.
But setbacks have also given him a chance to shine. After dropping to the back following a first lap collision he was superb at the opening race in Barcelona, driving like a man possessed to regain lost time. That alone told us that he’s got the ability, and that he possesses a Mansell-esque determination.
Had it not been for the failures he’d likely be on terms with his teammate in the points standings, but his form so far has been good. He may need another season in GP2 to earn an F1 drive, but the signs are he does have the ability.
Other drivers to single out for a bit of credit are rookies Marcus Ericsson and Fabio Leimer, both of whom have taken sprint race wins, and fellow new-boy Charles Pic, who won the opening feature race in Barcelona. Pic in particular looks a very capable young man. Giedo van der Garde has been solid alongside Perez at Addax, Virgin Racing test driver Luis Razia has been an able teammate to Maldonado, whilst Michael Herck has come on leaps and bounds in the family-owned DPR car.
But right now Maldonado looks a shoe-in for the title. One of the drivers below him needs to find some winning consistency if they’re to challenge him for the crown. If not- if they keep sharing the wins out- then the Venezuelan should be able to bring home the title come November. He’s finally starting to look the business, and F1 would seem to be within his grasp.