The 2013 GP2 Series kicks off in Sepang this weekend, with the opening round signalling the start of the ninth edition of the championship, which is widely seen by many as the final step before Formula One.
In its eight year history, the series has seen many of today’s Formula One drivers pass through its doors, with the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Romain Grosjean just three of the 24 drivers who have used GP2 as a stepping stone towards the pinnacle of motorsport.
With other drivers to have won the GP2 title including Timo Glock, Nico Hulkenberg and Pastor Maldonado, it is easy to see why the series is so highly regarded as a nurturer of the stars of tomorrow, and by taking centre stage on the support programme at most Formula One events throughout the year, those who impress are never far from the eye of the F1 team bosses.
Last year’s title turned into a closely thought battle between Italy’s Davide Valsecchi and Luiz Razia of Brazil. In a fight that lasted the entire season it was Valsecchi who came out on top as he became the second Italian to clinch the title.
Both Valsecchi and Razia have moved onto other things this year, paving the way for some new names to stake their claim for GP2 glory.
The two names that stand out when being asked to choose a pick for the title this year are James Calado and Felipe Nasr. Both drivers enjoyed successful rookie seasons in the series in 2012, finishing fifth and tenth respectively in last year’s standings.
Calado was arguably the most impressive driver that has remained in the series. The Englishman was a regular frontrunner throughout the season as he took two wins, although bad luck in Valencia and Monaco and illness in Singapore cost him crucial points that ultimately took him out of title contention. He was often more than a match for teammate Esteban Gutierrez (now in F1 with Sauber) last year, and by remaining at the Lotus team he will have a great shot at glory this time around.
Nasr’s debut season, although not as fruitful as Calado’s, was arguably just as impressive. The Brazilian scored four podiums and was a regular pointscorer throughout the year, and he produced arguably the drive of the season in the Bahrain sprint race to come from the back of the grid to finish an amazing sixth, gaining 20 places in just 22 laps. Nasr has moved from DAMS to Carlin this year, a team with which he won the British F3 championship in 2011, and with a year’s experience in GP2 should be right in the title fight this season.
In addition to Calado and Nasr, there are a number of drivers with vast experience who will fancy their chances of finally taking the championship this year. Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson is entering his fourth season in GP2, and with three solid years behind him will be looking to finally show his true potential with the DAMS team, who won the title with Valsecchi last year. Johnny Cecotto Jr. is entering his fifth year in the category, and after a breakthrough season in 2012 in which he won twice and finished ninth in the championship, he will be confident of progressing through the ranks.
Racing Engineering’s Fabio Leimer is another racer with vast experience in the series, and after finishing seventh last year and scoring six podiums, the Swiss driver will be looking onwards and upwards in 2013. And that’s without forgetting the return of Sam Bird, who finished third in World Series by Renault last year and will be looking to improve on the sixth place championship finish he managed on his last stab at GP2 in 2011.
There are also a number of highly promising rookies making their debut in the championship this year, not least Arden’s Mitch Evans, who won the GP3 Series last year and has proven himself to be an extremely talented and accomplished young racing driver. Daniel Abt ran Evans all the way in GP3 in 2012, and by following the Kiwi into GP2 will be sure to prove to be a difficult man to beat. Another new arrival from GP3 is young American Conor Daly, who also proved competitive last year and will be looking to deliver the goods at Hilmer Motorsport.
In all, there will be 26 drivers all wanting to prove that they are worthy of progressing to Formula One in the future, and with just 11 rounds to show what they can do and the need to impress on the line, the one guarantee is that we will get plenty of close and exciting races this year.
Add to this being the third and final season of the third generation GP2 car, the field should be closer than ever, and with a strong field separated by mere tenths all trying to beat each other in identical machinery, all the ingredients are there for the closest championship in GP2 history.
2013 GP2 Entry List
1) Marcus Ericsson (Swe) DAMS
2) Stephane Richelmi (Mon) DAMS
3) James Calado (GB) Lotus ART Grand Prix
4) Daniel Abt (Ger) Lotus ART Grand Prix
5) Johnny Cecotto Jr. (Ven) Arden International
6) Mitch Evans (NZ) Arden International
7) Julian Leal (Col) Racing Engineering
8) Fabio Leimer (Sui) Racing Engineering
9) Felipe Nasr (Bra) Carlin Motorsport
10) Jolyon Palmer (GB) Carlin Motorsport
11) Sam Bird (GB) Russian Time
12) Tom Dillmann (Fra) Russian Time
14) Sergio Canamassas (Esp) Caterham Racing
15) Ma Qing Hua (Chi) Caterham Racing
16) Jake Rosenzweig (USA) Barwa Addax Team
17) Rio Haryanto (Ina) Barwa Addax Team
18) Stefano Coletti (Mon) Rapax Team
19) Simon Trummer (Sui) Rapax Team
20) Nathaniel Berthon (Fra) Trident Racing
21) Kevin Ceccon (Ita) Trident Racing
22) Conor Daly (USA) Hilmer Motorsport
23) Pal Varhaug (Nor) Hilmer Motorsport
24) Rene Binder (Aut) Venezuela GP Lazarus
25) Kevin Giovesi (Ita) Venezuela GP Lazarus
26) Adrian Quaife-Hobbs (GB) MP Motorsport
27) Daniel de Jong (Ned) MP Motorsport
GP2 rounds consist of two races. The main race of the weekend, the feature race takes place on the Saturday, followed by a shorter sprint race on the Sunday.
1) Malaysia – March 23-24
2) Bahrain – April 20-21
3) Spain – May 11-12
4) Monaco – May 25-26
5) Great Britain – June 29-30
6) Germany – July 6-7
7) Hungary – July 27-28
8) Belgium – August 24-25
9) Italy – September 7-8
10) Singapore – September 21-22
11) Abu Dhabi – November 2-3