2012 GP3 Series season review

By on Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Photo Credit: LAT Photographic

What a season of GP3 racing. The feeder series for GP2 excelled in its third season of existence as a ferocious fight for the title came down to the final few races; four drivers in with a shout during the final weekend in which the drama was nail-bitingly tense. Clashes, mechanical failures and a final race where the destination of the 2012 crown changed hands several times, swinging from Mitch Evans, to Daniel Abt, back to Evans, to Abt and eventually to Evans, who finished just two points ahead of his German rival after sixteen frantic races.

Okay, so the engines did sound like lawnmowers, but with an improved car for 2013, GP3 is slowly becoming an attractive series for teams and drivers alike, albeit to detriment of Formula Three.

The field of 2012 had a perfect blend of those who had shown signs of stardom in 2011, along with rookies who frequently demonstrated they had the ability to perform in full view of the F1 paddock. For the first time, women were represented in GP3 by Carmen Jorda, Vicky Piria and Alice Powell, the latter scoring a point in the final race in Monza. So let’s take a look at the top ten in the championship, those drivers who could once day grace a Formula One car.

10. Marlon Stockinger (Phi), Status Grand Prix, 55 points

Photo Credit: Marlon Stockinger

Stockinger moved over from ATECH to Status Grand Prix ahead of the 2012 season and improved significantly on his 2011 performance as he chalked up fifty-five points. The Philippines-born driver finished second in the opening race in Spain and benefited from the sprint race pole position to win around the streets of Monaco. Sadly, his form dipped after and he managed just two points in the following ten races. He would do well to move on after two years in the series as most drivers will start from scratch in 2013 with the new generation car.

9. Kevin Ceccon (I), Ocean Racing Technology, 56 points

Kevin Ceccon

Ceccon suffered more than his fair share of misfortune in 2012 and has far more talent than his ninth place in the championship. He is still eighteen years old and has already tested a Formula One car and taken part in half a season of GP2. The 2011 AutoGP champion set two fastest laps and finished on the podium in Monaco and although he only retired from one race, he spent too many races stranded in the midfield. Most of that, however, was down to the team rather than their driver.

8. Tio Ellinas (Cyp), Marussia Manor Racing, 99 points

Tio Ellinas

The Cypriot racer spent the majority of his season in the points, but unable to make the breakthrough onto the podium. He believed he’d made it in Valencia, but was rightly demoted for an aggressive move at the final corner. Eventually, Ellinas managed to finish second in Monza and then stormed to the top step of the podium the following day to pick up a deserved victory to end his season on a high.

7. Patric Niederhauser (Ch), Jenzer Motorsport, 101 points

Patric Niederhauser

Niederhauser was perhaps the surprise of the season as he made the big jump from Formula Abarth to GP3, with the Swiss driver winning two races on his way to seventh in the championship. He spent much of the season fighting towards the front of the field, which included a breath-taking drive in wet conditions at the Hungaroring, where he rose from sixteenth to second place. If he remains in the series for another season, he should be a firm title favourite; one of many young Swiss racing drivers that grace the junior categories.

6. Conor Daly (US), Lotus GP, 106 points

Conor Daly

Daly moved over to crack squad Lotus from Carlin prior to the start of the season and won the sprint race in Spain. He took a further four podiums but the top step of the podium never beckoned again. His most memorable moment of the season came in Monaco, where he was launched over the back of Dmitry Suranovich approaching the Nouvelle Chicane. Daly was fortunate to escape uninjured, having clipped the fence and narrowly missed a marshal’s post. Astonishingly, it was Daly who was penalised, subsequently compromising his weekend in Valencia.

5. Matias Laine (Fin), MW Arden, 111 points

Mathias Laine

Laine spent much of 2011 tootling around at the back of the GP3 field – if he even finished – but this season the Finnish driver was much improved. Laine was consistent rather than spectacular, but won the sprint race in Belgium and accomplished the unique achievement of finishing every race of the season. He set the fastest lap in the final race of the season and narrowly missed out on finishing as the top Finn. Bears a striking resemblance to current Lotus F1 driver Kimi Raikkonen; watch the podium from Vainio's Belgian victory to see why!

4. Aaro Vainio (Fin), Lotus GP, 123 points

Aaro Vainio

Although 2011 GP3 champion Valtteri Bottas is waiting in the wings at Williams, Finland has another future star to keep an eye on. Aaro Vainio won in Monaco and leapt into contention for the championship. However, he failed to get onto the podium after Silverstone and his title tilt ended after a yellow flag infringement in the first Monza race. But he’s only eighteen and has a lot of potential to unlock; another season of GP3 racing could serve well to enhance his future prospects

3. Antonio Felix Da Costa (Por), Carlin, 132 points

Antonio Felix Da Costa. Photo Credit: Red Bull

Felix Da Costa made little impression at the start of the season but as soon as he was signed to Red Bull’s junior programme, his results picked up. Despite dipping into Formula Renault 3.5, Felix Da Costa stormed to a win at Silverstone and then astonishingly won both races at the Hungaroring. A double podium in Belgium left him as a serious title contender, but a gearbox problem in Monza saw him limp home fifteenth. Felix Da Costa has enormous natural pace, although his talent will need to be carefully nurtured by Red Bull.

2. Daniel Abt (Ger), Lotus GP, 149.5 points

Daniel Abt

With motorsport in his blood and healthy backing to boot, Abt should be able to go far. Not only that, but his results on track prove that he is a very capable racing driver. His results at the start of the season were competent, but as he grew more confident in his rookie season, he emerged as an unexpected challenger. Wins in Belgium and Italy were sensational, while he almost pulled off the most unlikely of championship wins during the final race in Monza, but he fell agonisingly close. His conduct on the podium after that heartbreak was that of a true professional.

1. Mitch Evans (NZ), MW Arden, 151.5 points

Mitch Evans: 2012 GP3 Series Champion

Mitch Evans was the surprise of the 2011 season as he took a good haul of points, and a win, early on in the year. However, he went from first down to ninth in the championship and claimed just a solitary point across the final ten races. In 2012, he delivered on his tag as pre-season favourite by claiming the title for MW Arden, albeit not as comfortably as he would have hoped. Title winning season began in emphatic race-winning fashion and he followed that up with two further wins. Qualifying proved to be a particular strong point as he claimed four of the eight pole positions. Final weekend was scrappy as misfortune in race one turned to desperation in the second affair although he eventually ended up as the champion when his rivals were unable to eclipse his points tally. Evans has targeted the step-up to GP2 for 2013 and has some sponsorship backing to go with the guidance of Mark Webber. Evans is still only eighteen years old and still has a great deal to learn; that talent needs to be nurtured over the next couple of seasons, but he represents New Zealand’s best hope of a Formula One drivers in some years.

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