The GP2 Series kicks back into life this weekend at the Sepang International Circuit as the latest crop of youngsters look to fight their way into Formula One. Half of the current F1 grid have at some point raced in GP2; out of last year’s leading group Esteban Gutierrez is with Sauber, Max Chilton at Marussia, Giedo van der Garde at Caterham while champion Davide Valsecchi is Lotus’s reserve driver and Luiz Razia was briefly a Marussia driver until the money ran dry. Formula Renault 3.5 is re-emerging as a credible contender to GP2 but unless you’re part of Red Bull (such as Antonio Felix da Costa); GP2 remains the best platform to the pinnacle of motorsport. Here’s a look ahead to this year’s championship, one that will feature the usual mixture of exhilarating racing, eye-catching performances and moments of sheer stupidity.
The GP2 Series is a spec-series, meaning that every team uses the third generation car, the GP2/11, which will be used for the final time in 2013. The drivers receive thirty minutes of practice on Friday before a thirty minute qualifying session which decides the grid for the 180km feature race, which takes place on Saturday afternoon. During the feature race a pit stop is compulsory, during which at least two tyres must be changed. The grid for Sunday’s 120km sprint race is decided by the results of the feature race, with the top 8 finishers reversed. Saturday’s feature race mirrors F1’s points system, while pole position is awarded four points. The top eight in Sunday’s sprint race receive points as follows – 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, 1 – while two points is awarded in each race for the driver with the fastest lap.
Twenty two races across eleven circuits form the 2013 calendar. The championship will support Formula One in Malaysia, Bahrain, Spain, Monaco, Britain, Germany, Hungary, Belgium, Italy, Singapore and Abu Dhabi. The Yas Marina Circuit hosts the season finale for the second time, but unlike the non-championship race of 2011, this time the points will count. With the loss of the European Grand Prix, the series no longer races at the Valencia Street Circuit.
iSport, Coloni and Ocean Racing Technology have dropped off the grid and they’ve been replaced by MP Motorsport, Russian Time and Hilmer Motorsport, ensuring a twenty-six car grid for the 2013 season. Champions DAMS are hoping to make it a hat-trick of drivers titles as they enter Swede Marcus Ericsson and Monegasque racer Stephane Richelmi. Ericsson has taken two wins across his three years in the sport while Richelmi took a podium in his first full season. ART has dropped the Lotus name and they retain James Calado while Daniel Abt graduates from GP3. Calado was hugely impressive in his debut season with only misfortune and his inexperience costing him a title shot. As the only driver from last year’s top six still in the series, Calado has to be considered the favouritie for the championship. Abt surprised everyone by mounting a title challenge in GP3 that went down to the final lap although he was narrowly beaten by eighteen year old Mitch Evans, who in turn joins Arden. He will be partnered by Venezuelan winner-or-sinner Johnny Cecotto Jr. Racing Engineering sign Julian Leal, who has spent most of his two seasons near the back, and Fabio Leimer, who spent most of last year being there or thereabouts but who should be a title challenger this year.
Felipe Nasr and Jolyon Palmer will race for Carlin; Nasr is one of Brazil’s hottest prospects while Palmer fared well once his iSport car stopped breaking down last year. Bird is the word for new team Russian Time as Sam Bird returns to the series after a year in FR3.5 – which included a mega win in Monaco - and he is joined by Tom Dillmann, who impressed in 2012 before budget restraints forced him out. Caterham will give chances to Sergio Canamasas and the sister F1 team’s reserve driver Ma Qing Hua, who drove in a number of F1 practice sessions for HRT last year. America's sole representative Jake Rosenzweig joins Addax, as does Rio Haryanto who was briefly brilliant in the wet at Spa last season. Serial tyre abuser Stefano Coletti could be a title contender for Rapax while more will be expected of Simon Trummer after an unimpressive 2012. Nathanael Berthon and Kevin Ceccon join Trident but are so far confirmed only for Malaysia due to budget limitations. Hilmer Motorsport joins in with the fun and they have yet to confirm their line-up, although the rumour mill suggests that speedy Monaco fence-botherer Conor Daly and Norwegian Pal Varhaug will be given the nod. Rene Binder continues with Venezuela GP Lazarus after joining them for the final few events last year and he is partnered by Italian Kevin Giovesi. Dutch team MP Motorsport field native Daniel De Jong and reigning AutoGP champion Adrian Quaife-Hobbs.
Timetable for Round 1, Malaysia:
- Practice: Fri 22 Mar 2013, 03:55 (GMT)
- Qualifying: Fri 22 Mar 2013, 07:55 (GMT)
- Race 1: Sat 23 Mar 2013, 03:15 (GMT)
- Race 2: Sun 24 Mar 2013, 04:15 (GMT)
All sessions will be live on Sky Sports F1 HD.