The fourth season of GP2 Series, which starts today in Barcelona, has become a highly popular feeder series for Formula One since its inception in 2005.
All teams have to field identical cars, thus making driving skills the sole judge in the races, which actually gives F1 bosses the chance to get almost finished products. The top GP2 performers have become highly sought commodities – Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Heikki Kovalainen have all stepped up in the subsequent years and performed admirably on the F1 circuit.
The season follows F1’s calendar so that infrastructure can be shared: track, race marshals, medical facilities and so on. But unlike F1, the drivers race twice – except in Monaco, where there is no sprint race.
There’s a 180km race on Saturday afternoon, followed by a 120km sprint on Sunday morning. For the Sunday race, the top eight finishers from Saturday are swapped around, testing the top drivers even further by making them fight their way to the front from the seventh and eighth position.
This year in the pre-season, a secondary series, the GP2 Asia was held, which ended in Dubai two weeks ago with ART Grand Prix driver Romain Grosjean clinching the inaugural title.
The ART team, with whom both Hamilton and Rosberg won the GP2 title before being snapped up by top F1 teams, have stood out in the series and Grosjean’s winter win has turned the spotlight on him this weekend in Spain.
The Swiss driver explains the GP2 Asia series victory has given him both confidence and experience to face the challenges of the all-important GP2.
“It was good to win a title, although I did not start with the intention to win. I just wanted to gain experience and learn about GP2 for the main series,” says Grosjean. “But in the first race, we were very quick and competitive and it was a great beginning in Dubai, where I won both races, so I just took it from there.
“This series is a good thing to have because I learned a lot of things: with the new clutch, the longer races and the tyre situations. My new engineer and I also got to know each other very well after working together in real race situations.
“But most importantly, this was the first GP2 Asia and it was quite cool to put my name on the first event,” added the 20-year old Grosjean with a smile.
Grosjean faces stiff competition in his debut season, especially from teammate Luca Fillipi, but the driver, who also holds French nationality, says his primary goal is to gain experience.
“There are six or seven drivers who have a lot of experience in this series,” says Grosjean. “Drivers like Luca Fillipi, Andreas Zuber and Bruno Senna [nephew of former F1 great Ayrton Senna] will all be hard to beat.
“The main thing for me in the first half of the season is to learn a lot from my teammate Luca Filippi, who is in his third year, and then for second half, to go out and win races and see where we are in the championship.
“But I think, I still have to learn a lot of things. The GP2 is a very complicated category and in every race you learn something new.
“We will also need to develop the new car, which is 1.5 seconds faster than the one from last year. Now we are only five seconds slower than an F1 car.”
Grosjean is also a test driver for the Renault Formula One team. A good omen is Nelson Piquet Jnr was a GP2 driver last season and a Renault test driver before being promoted to the F1 team’s hotseat. McLaren’s Kovalainen was also a Renault test driver prior to him moving up.
“I have been in the Renault driver development programme since 2006 and have been promoted to test driver this season,” says the Geneva-born racer.
“To get into F1, the main thing is to be on top of GP2, then the manager from Renault will choose if they want to keep me or let me go race for another team.
“If you have a good season in GP2, you have a place in Formula One and it doesn’t matter with which team, but obviously, for me, Renault will be ideal.”
But for now it’s impressing in the GP2 Series that’s the primary aim for Grosjean before he can harbour any more thoughts on F1.
“It was really good to get the confidence of winning a title and now we have 10 more races for me to go out and give my best”.
This weekend’s Barcelona Grand Prix will have added interest as F1 team scouts seek to spot the next Hamilton among the field.
GP2 race information
On Friday they have a 30-minute free practice session and a 30-minute qualifying session. The qualifying session decides the grid order for Saturday’s race, which has a length of 180km.
During Saturday’s race, each driver has to make a pit stop in which at least two tyres have to be changed.
On Sunday (except in Monaco) there is a sprint race of 120km. The grid is decided by the Saturday result with the top eight being reversed, so the driver who finishes eighth on Saturday will start from pole position and the winner will start from the eighth place.
Pole for Saturday races:
Saturday races: 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 points for the top
Sunday races: 6-5-4-3-2-1 points for top six finishers
Fastest lap: One point in each race: Driver recording fastest lap has to drive 90 per cent of race laps. The driver must also start the race from his allocated grid position to be eligible to claim the fastest lap.
With this point system, the most number of points anyone can score in one round is 20 by claiming pole position, winning both races with the fastest lap in each race. This feat has only been achieved once in GP2 Racing’s short history, by Brazilian Nelson Angelo Piquet. He scored the maximum 20 points in the 2006.
The series is scrutinised by the FIA, and acts as the support event at all European F1 races. Through close ties with F1 the series also benefits from global television coverage, which has enticed sponsors and fans.