Friday, 4 April 2014

GP2 2014 Preview

This weekends Bahrain Grand Prix will bring with the start of a new GP2 series, which will support 11 F1 weekends this season. It is a major feeder series for tomorrows Formula 1 drivers, with 18.4% of its drivers going on to race in Formula 1 and even more gaining test / development driver roles. The current Formula 1 grid includes 11 former GP2 runners, 5 of which were GP2 champion. The 2014 GP2 series looks set to be a fantastic duel between some of the best talents looking to make the final step up like Marcus Ericsson did this year. Take a look through those drivers and the teams running them with my pre-season form guide.

With the entire Formula 1 paddock watching, passes often explore the line between overly ambitious and spectacular.

Russian Time
2013 Team Championship - 1st
2013 Driver Line-up - Sam Bird (2nd), Tom Dillman (10th)
Number of seasons in GP2 - 1

The Russian Time team took over from iSport International at the end of 2012, and thanks to great mid-season form from Sam Bird, they went on to win the Teams Championship in their debut season thanks to having more wins than Carlin.

2014 Driver Line-up
#1 Mitch Evans
Mitch Evans had a mixed debut season in GP2 last year, having won the GP3 championship in 2012. Racing for the Arden team in which he won that championship, Evans recorded 4 podium finishes on his way to 14th in the championship. Evans is the protégé of Mark Webber which had given him strong ties to the Red Bull and Toro Rosso teams before Webbers Formula 1 retirement last year. He has a strong future ahead of him and having learnt the spec GP2 car last year will look to build on his podium tallies with more consistent points finishes and at least 1 race win. Russian Time has proven already that they are a team who can provide that platform to Evans for his second campaign targets.

2014 Championship Prediction - 8th

#2 Artem Markelov
Artem Markelov steps up to GP2 in 2014 having finished runner up in German Formula 3 last season. The gap between Formula 3 and GP2 is dramatic, with more power on tap and much higher grip and downforce levels. The driver levels within German Formula 3 are also much lower than GP2, which means that Markelov has not faced a challenge like that ahead of him in 2014. A difficult season ahead then, but he should benefit from a good team and development from Mitch Evans.

2014 Championship Prediction - 24th

2013 Team Championship - 2nd
2013 Driver Line-up - Felipe Nasr (4th), Jolyon Palmer (7th)
Number of seasons in GP2 - 3

Carlin enjoyed their best GP2 campaign in 2013, equalling Russian Times points tally but missing out on the teams championship on number of race wins. The British team have been massively successful in all other series they have run in, so the aim of going 1 better in 2014 is a realistic one.

2014 Driver Line-up
#3 Felipe Nasr
Amongst the pre-season favourites is Felipe Nasr, who this year has secured a deal with the Williams Formula 1 team to be their reserve driver. He has a very strong career history, including a dominant British F3 season in which he beat the likes of Kevin Magnussen and Valtteri Bottas. This will be his 3rd shot at the championship in which he won the teams championship with DAMS in 2012, and came so close to claiming both titles last year. He remains with Carlin this season which should give him good early form thanks to that consistency. If he is to win the drivers championship though, he needs to add wins to his consistent point scoring ability.

2014 Championship Prediction - 3rd

#4 Julian Leal
Julian Leal is a GP2 veteran, entering his 4th championship with a 4th different team. With each campaign he has improved, scoring 2 podium finishes in 2013 on his way to 12th in the drivers championship. His career history prior to GP2 does not flatter him, recording only 1 career victory in AutoGP, however he did win the 2008 Italian F3000 series without winning a race. Hopefully he will be able to improve again with the Carlin team, adding more podium finishes and potentially wins to his CV.

2014 Championship Prediction - 9th

Racing Engineering
2013 Team Championship - 3rd
2013 Driver Line-up - Julian Leal (12th), Fabio Leimer (1st)
Number of seasons in GP2 - 9

Racing Engineering have been in GP2 since the inaugural season in 2005. As such, they have a lot of experience within the series and have taken both Giorgio Pantano (2008) and Fabio Leimer (2013) to drivers championship success. Since 2008 they have been no lower than 4th in the teams championship, with 3rd place currently being their best result.

2014 Driver Line-up
#5 Raffaele Marciello
Raffaele Marciello joins GP2 this season from 2 successful years in European Formula 3, finishing runner up in 2012 before taking the championship itself in 2013. Like Artem Markelov, Marciello faces a steep learning curve as he adjusts from the vast car differences used in the 2 series, but he will have some significant help with that as he is within the Ferrari Driver Academy. He was also up against stronger opposition within the European championship which should give Marciello better racecraft when required. Nevertheless it is still a big gamble to move up to GP2 now, a gamble that I think will pay off for Racing Engineering.

2014 Championship Prediction - 4th

#6 Stefano Coletti
No other driver has had quite the rollercoaster ride in GP2 like Stefano Coletti. He has taken part in 4 GP2 seasons, ending 2 of them prematurely with big crashes at Spa-Francorchamps and swapping teams towards the end of the 2012 season. In 2013 Stefano Coletti had a dream start in the opening 4 weekends as he stormed to an early championship lead, with 6 podiums including 3 sprint race wins. Throughout the remainder of the season however, he only scored points at 1 other race and had a disaster end. Despite this, he still ended the championship in 5th and if he was to enjoy the same form he opened 2013 with, he could make a strong 2014 contender.

2014 Championship Prediction - 7th

2013 Team Championship - 4th
2013 Driver Line-up - Marcus Ericsson (6th), Stephane Richelmi (8th)
Number of seasons in GP2 - 9

One of the 4 teams to have taken part in every GP2 season, DAMS have won the teams championship in 2012 along with driver championship wins for Lotus duo Romain Grosjean and Davide Valsecchi in 2011 and 2012 respectively. They'll hope to return to the front again in 2014 with an aggressive line-up.

2014 Driver Line-up
#7 Jolyon Palmer
Many peoples pre-season favourite, Jolyon Palmer will start his 4th GP2 series for a 4th different team and has improved with each season. He claimed 2 feature race wins last season along with second at the final round, but he didn't score points often enough to challenge for the drivers championship itself. Palmer's weakness so far has been in qualifying, with race pace that usually sees him finish higher than his starting position. It means the fans are also treated to some wonderful overtaking manoeuvres as well as the few audacious ones. When he does qualify towards the front, his race pace has at times left the field stumped, most notably in his Singapore feature race win in 2013.

2014 Championship Prediction - 2nd

#8 Stephane Richelmi
Stephane Richelmi is entering his 3rd full GP2 season in 2014, but has yet to score a race win in the series. having raced for DAMS in 2013, the team consistency will do him favours in the spec car formula. He finished 1 place behind Palmer in the 2013 championship and will have his work cut out to repeat the feat. He scored consistently throughout the season and scored a second place finish in the British feature race, so he is developing well in GP2 even if not yet quite ready to challenge for more than event wins. With the number of 4th place finishes recorded in 2013, converting some of those to podiums will also boost his confidence ahead of future plans.

2014 Championship Prediction - 6th

ART Grand Prix
2013 Team championship - 5th
2013 Driver Line-up - James Calado (3rd), Daniel Abt (22nd)
Number of seasons in GP2 - 9

ART Grand Prix have raced in GP2 since the start and are the most successful team in the championship, securing 3 teams championships, 2 second place finishes and 3rd place finish. They are always contenders and have propelled Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Hulkenberg into Formula 1 as series champions.

2014 Driver Line-up
#9 Takuya Izawa
At the age of 29 years old, Takuya Izawa is one of the oldest rookies to join GP2 having raced in Japan for his entire career to date. Since 2008, he has split every race weekend between his Super GT and Formula Nippon / Super Formula commitments. This is difficult to do whilst trying to remain competitive as the cars are very different and switching between them stops you from fully tuning into the requirements. He hasn't had the same challenge in Super Formula than if he raced on a global scale, so he will struggle even more than the Formula 3 graduates I believe. The deal to race him revolves around ART's relationship with McLaren, and Izawa's relationship with Honda.

2014 Championship Prediction - 22nd

 #10 Stoffel Vandoorne
Right now, Stoffel Vandoorne is considered one of the greatest talents outside of Formula 1. He narrowly missed out on the Formula Renault 3.5 championship last year, losing to (at the time) fellow McLaren development driver Kevin Magnussen. The move to GP2 comes with great expectation that he will emulate Lewis Hamilton, who won the championship at his first attempt with the same ART team. Furthermore, drivers moving from Formula Renault 3.5 over to GP2 have enjoyed a decent amount of success due to the increased downforce making the cars slightly easier to handle. Vandoorne is definitely going to be in the mix come the end of the season.

2014 Championship Prediction - 1st

Hilmer Motorsport
2013 Team championship - 6th
2013 Driver Line-up - Conor Daly (26th), Adrian Quaife-Hobbs (13th), Robin Frijns (15th), Pal Varhaug (31st), Jon Lancaster (11th)
Number of seasons in GP2 - 1

Hilmer Motorsport enter their second GP2 season with the backing from the Sahara Force India Formula 1 team. The team actually enjoyed a decent season with 4 race wins, but it was masked by the ever changing driver line-up. If their current line-up is maintained throughout the season, there is little doubt that the Hilmer Motorsport team can finish in the top 5 teams.

2014 Driver Line-up
#11 Daniel Abt
After finishing GP3 runner up in 2012, the 2013 GP2 season did not go very well for Daniel Abt. He only scored points in 4 races, despite racing for the massively successful ART Grand Prix team and much more being expected. He did finish the last round in Abu Dhabi with 2 of those points finish and a season best of 5th, so there is hope that his form will be better coming into 2014 and closer to the impressive driver who pushed Mitch Evans throughout 2012 in GP3...

2014 Championship Prediction - 12th

#12 Facu Regalia
Facu Regalia finished runner up to Daniil Kvyat in the GP3 season before progressing into GP2, similar to new team mate Daniel Abt the year before himself. The opening and closing rounds aside, Regalia carried great consistency in his racing, finishing no lower than 7th and scoring 1 feature race win within a total 6 podium finishes. The Force India backing will help his development, but that is where his attention should be focused this year and scoring good points where he can.

2014 Championship Prediction - 18th

2013 Team championship - 7th
2013 Driver Line-up - Stefano Coletti (5th), Simon Trummer (21st)
Number of seasons in GP2 - 4

The Rapax name returns for a 5th GP2 season, a team that knows how to win in this series taking both championships in 2010 with Pastor Maldonado claiming 6 race wins. Stefano Coletti started the 2013 season in great form and looked a sure bet for the championship, making the eventual results a disappointment that they will not want repeated.

2014 Driver Line-up
 #14 Adrian Quaife-Hobbs
Adrian Quaife-Hobbs started his debut season with the MP Motorsport team before switching halfway through the season to join the Hilmer Motorsport team. It was a great debut year for Quaife-Hobbs, finishing as the second best rookie in 2013 despite the need to change teams midway through the season which could easily have set him back. Having won the sprint race in Italy, he'll be keen to add more victories in 2014 along with more podium visits.

2014 Championship Prediction - 11th

#15 Simon Trummer
2014 will be Simon Trummer's third year in the series, and he has opted to stay with the Rapax team he raced with through 2013. His debut season didn't set the stage alight, and he didn't improve as much as expected in his second season. Trummer hasn't finished in the points paying positions often enough in his GP2 career, scoring only 24 points in 2 seasons. Compared with Quaife-Hobbs tally of 56 points in his first season, it will be a major task to keep up with his team mate.

2014 Championship Prediction - 17th

Arden International
2013 Team championship - 8th
2013 Driver Line-up - Johnny Cecotto Jr. (16th), Mitch Evans (14th)
Number of seasons in GP2 - 9

Arden are one of the 4 teams that has been with GP2 since the inaugural season in 2005, but they have yet to win either the drivers or teams championship. The team is run be Red Bull Racing's team principal Christian Horner, and so they often pool drivers from the Red Bull development program where they can. A lot of drivers have gone onto success after Arden International, now seen as a good start point rather than a championship contender.

2014 Driver Line-up
#16 Rene Binder
Rene Binder enters his second full season in GP2, racing for Venezuela GP Lazarus for the entirety of 2013 and the last 3 rounds of the 2012 season. He scored points in 3 races within an unflattering year of GP2 racing, and his whole career has only returned 3 race wins. With the new talent arriving in GP2, I don't think Binder's development will see him move towards the front of the grid this season even if Arden is a better team for him.

2014 Championship Prediction - 21st

#17 Andre Negrao
Andre Negrao makes the transition from Formula Renault 3.5 to GP2 this season. He previously contested 3 years within FR3.5, achieving 10th in the championship in 2013. The experience within a high powered spec car series will definitely help his transition, but his career has yet to capture the imagination. He must at least target beating his team mate, who has the car experience to his advantage, and maintaining a steady income of points finishes.

2014 Championship Prediction - 23rd

EQ8 Caterham Racing
2013  Team championship - 9th
2013 Driver Line-up - Sergio Canamasas (25th), Ma Qinghua (35th), Alexander Rossi (9th)
Number of seasons in GP2 - 3

It is a surprise to see the Caterham team, with the support of a Formula 1 team and having had some decent drivers in the past, consistently at the wrong end of the championship fight. Alexander Rossi has been one of their better drivers, so this season could be boosted by him staying with the team for a second season.

2014 Driver Line-up
#18 Rio Haryanto
Rio Haryanto starts his third GP2 season with a third team, having made his debut with Marussia Carlin before competing for the Barwa Addax team last year. Despite a second place finish in the British sprint race, he failed to improve on a decent first season and ended the championship a disappointing 19th. He will need more regular points finishes in 2014 to ensure his career carries on, a tall order given his average 2013 finishing position was way outside of the points paying positions. He is boosted going into 2014 by a strong pre-season test in Bahrain though.

2014 Championship Prediction - 15th

#19 Alexander Rossi
A strong championship hopeful, Alexander Rossi managed consistent points, multiple podiums and a feature race win at the last race weekend of his debut season. Despite missing the opening round in Malaysia,  Rossi was the best placed rookie at the end of the season and will be disappointed not to make the top 5 or increase his race victories total. He will also be keen to gather some better results when not in the strongest position, as he rarely finished in the midfield runners, seemingly risking too much for a couple more points.

2014 Championship Prediction - 5th

MP Motorsport
2013  Team championship - 10th
2013 Driver Line-up - Adrian Quaife-Hobbs (13th), Dani Clos (18th), Daniel de Jong (24th)
Number of seasons in GP2 - 1

MP Motorsport struggled in 2013 with multiple retirements and a lot of finishes at the tail of the field. 2 second place finishes were the small highlights of their GP2 debut, 1 each for Adrian Quaife-Hobbs and Dani Clos following the formers move away from the side. There is a lot to improve here, but the team are still learning and experience should help them move closer to their rivals.

2014 Driver Line-up
#20 Daniel de Jong
Having only participated in 4 2012 GP2 rounds, Daniel de Jong was still fairly new to the series when he raced for the new team in 2013. The lack of experience on both parties showed, amassing only 3 points in the entire season. Daniel de Jong enjoyed relative success with the same MP Motorsport team prior to 2013 though in the Auto GP series, so there may be hope yet that he and the team just need to unlock GP2 potential for the relationship to start producing some consistent results.

2014 Championship Prediction - 25th

#21 Jon Lancaster
Jon Lancaster will be a welcome addition to the MP Motorsport fold having not yet completed a full GP2 season, but impressing when he has a drive. Lancaster won 2 sprint races back to back in Britain and Germany last year, and will be keen to ensure the MP Motorsport team provide him what he needs in order to repeat the success of his time with Hilmer Motorsport. Finishing the season should be a priority, but winning races should help raise both his budget and his confidence in the series.

2014 Championship Prediction - 10th

2013  Team championship - 11th
2013 Driver Line-up - Nathanael Berthon (20th), Kevin Ceccon (17th), Ricardo Teixeira (34th), Sergio Campana (32nd), Gianmarco Raimondo (30th)
Number of seasons in GP2 - 8

Tridents results through the year have varied quite greatly, but only ever in the second half of the field. They have yet to beat the 6th place achieved in their first season of GP2 racing (2006), but they have also claimed a decent number of race victories across the years. The team opted to swap and change their second seat last year and a bit driver line-up consistency would help their cause.

2014 Driver Line-up
#22 Axcil Jefferies
Axcil Jefferies career has very much been stunted by financial difficulties. when he has raced, his pace and race craft have seen him score a decent points haul. Unfortunately I would expect this to be a similar case, a late deal seemingly pointing towards a short term contract. Its a shame as he does seem to hold a lot of potential, finishing 3rd in his only full season of racing Formula BMW cars in 2009. It's entirely possible we will see him back in GP2 in 2014 beyond Bahrain so fingers crossed he has a good weekend to show what he can do.

2014 Championship Prediction - 26th

#23 Johnny Cecotto Jr.
Johnny Cecotto Jr. returns to the Trident GP2 team, having previously raced for them in 2010. In that season, he was dropped for the last 2 rounds having retired from 5 races and scored points in only 1 race. The 3 seasons since then have been largely the same, good results on rare occasions amongst retirements, poor results and even bad behaviour. His best GP2 season to date was in 2012 and if he would benefit from returning to the form that gave him 2 feature race wins and 2 second places, especially given spells of consistency enjoyed in 2013.

2014 championship Prediction - 20th

Venezuela GP Lazarus
2013 Team championship - 13th
2013 Driver Line-up - Rene Binder (23rd), Kevin Giovesi (29th), Fabrizio Crestani (33rd), Vittorio Ghirelli (27th)
Number of seasons in GP2 - 2

It is fair to say that the Venezuela GP Lazarus team have really struggled in their 2 seasons of GP2 racing so far. They have a revolving door policy for drivers, and they have not been of the highest regard so far. In 2014 however, the team have got 2 drivers with potential that they hope will momve the team forward and away from last in the teams championship.

2014 Driver Line-up
#24 Nathanael Berthon
Nathanael Berthon is someone who appears to have underperformed over each full season, having won races both in GP2 and in the highly competitive Formula Renault 3.5 series. His championship positions have fallen from 7th in 2010 (FR3.5) to a lowly 20th last season, despite a sprint race win in Hungary. A key season to determine whether he has surpassed his full potential, or if it still laying dormant and ready. He'll need to prove that he can score points both consistently and outside of Hungary though to beat his new team mate in 2014.

2014 Championship Prediction - 13th

#25 Conor Daly
Having taking part in a number of Indy Lights races and the 2013 Indianapolis 500, it was thought that Conor Daly may seek a future in the American series' instead following his third place in the 2013 GP3 championship. Good consistency kept him in the fight for the title, with only 1 race win at Valencia. He has driven a GP2 car before in the opening round last season, where he managed a points finish for Hilmer. Based on how well 2013 went for Daly, he could be consistently within the points in his first full assault on the GP2 championship. Good benchmark in his team mate as well.

2014 Championship Prediction - 19th

Campos Racing

2013 Team championship - N/A
2013 Driver Line-up - N/A
Number of seasons in GP2 - 4

The Campos Racing name returns to GP2, having left as series champions back at the end of 2008. The team were then taken over and renamed Addax, and their return in 2014 ironically is in place of the departing Addax team. In their first run in GP2, it took the team a couple of poor seasons before they rose to the front of the field and were kept there under the Addax team name until last season. They will look to hit the ground running this time around with a fresh rookie line-up.

2014 Driver Line-up
#26 Arthur Pic
Arthur Pic joins the GP2 field from 3 years in Formula Renault 3.5, in which time he scored 1 victory with the DAMS team. Despite gathering less points in 2013 than in 2012, his consistency was better so there are good signs of improvement. He is following the same path as older brother Charles Pic, who scored GP2 race wins during his 2 seasons there. Development is the focus, key to which is building on good consistency and maybe even a sprint race win if he finds himself finishing well in the feature race.

2014 Championship Prediction - 14th

 #27 Kimiya Sato
Kimiya Sato makes the move up from Auto GP, where he finished runner up within a field consisting of current and previous GP2 level drivers. He won 5 races during this season, 3 more than the championship winner Vittorio Ghirelli. Sato definitely holds a lot of potential and will certainly be a good match to Arthur Pic as they adjust to the Dallara GP2 car and the high downforce levels it produces. Certainly one to watch, especially in the latter half of the season where his development will indicate if he is building on a great Auto GP season.

2014 Championship Prediction - 16th

I would love to see any predictions that you have so comment below if you are brave enough. I have always been notoriously poor at predictions, however I know at least 1 will be true. 2014 is going to be another fantastic GP2 season and should not be missed!