Just what on earth was going on during those final few laps of the GP2 sprint race at Barcelona on Sunday?
A race that had been a rather mundane affair suddenly exploded into life when fifth placed Johnny Cecotto Jr started to struggle with his tyres. After a few laps, most of the field found themselves stuck behind the ailing Venezuelan.
During the jostling for position came a moment of utter stupidity.
As Sergio Canamasas – who had already been run into a day before – battled with Cecotto exiting Turn 12, Cecotto simply looked in his mirrors and swiped across on Canamasas. In the ensuing melee, Rio Haryanto hit the back of Canamasas, several drivers cut the chicane and a lap later Julian Leal was punted off the circuit.
That wasn’t racing. It was a group of testosterone fuelled youngsters using their cars for empowerment.
GP2 is supposed to be the pinnacle of junior formulae. The likes of Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Hulkenberg have triumphed and left us in no doubt of their talent. Every now and then a driver turns up and leaves you mightily impressed. In Spain, that was Robin Frijns.
But Frijns is becoming the exception, rather than the norm.
GP2 has never been a perfect formula. But in the early days there was strength in depth and, generally, clean racing.
The expansion of the Formula 1 calendar and depletion of European races left GP2 with a problem. If the series raced only on European circuits, there would be just seven rounds. Frankly, that wasn’t enough. The series now races in Malaysia, Bahrain, Singapore and Abu Dhabi. As a result, the cost of competing in the championship has risen. Stalwart teams iSport and Super Nova realised this and bit the bullet.
Red Bull’s Antonio Felix da Costa races in Formula Renault 3.5. McLaren and Lotus’s junior drivers also race in that series. Only Sam Bird (Mercedes), Alexander Rossi (Caterham) and Frijns (Sauber) – who is on a race-by-race deal – have links to Formula 1. There are still very talented drivers racing in GP2, but the increased costs have resulted in some drivers with wallets larger than talent.
Last year, Canamasas felt there was no problem in putting Nathaniel Bethon into the pit wall at Spa. Cecotto and Canamasas have both been guilty of deliberately waiting for a rival in qualifying and forcing them off of the circuit. These are examples of only two of the 26 drivers deliberately using their car as a weapon. But other drivers too have been guilty of forceful tactics during a race, edging a rival onto the grass. Actions can have grave consequences. Standards on the whole are slipping.
The problem is that GP2’s stewards have set a precedent. Several of last weekend’s silliness saw time penalties or grid drops. Cecotto’s swipe at Canamasas was unpunished.
When the duo drove across a rival during qualifying in Malaysia and Bahrain respectively, they were sent to the back of the grid. Therefore the stewards deemed that what they did was wrong, but not that wrong. Almost every fan watching thought that Cecotto should have been sent home for his actions in Malaysia. His tactics in Spain shows that the previous punishment did not work.
Cecotto was found guilty of deliberately forcing a rival off the track yet in Spain he did the same thing and was not punished. Haryanto, who made a clumsy mistake, will drop 10 places on the grid in Monaco.
In a series that is supposed to contain future F1 stars, where is the logic?
ART driver Daniel Abt was one driver who called for a ban for Cecotto. “Cecotto should be banned for next race! He’s a danger for himself & everyone around & a shame for GP2,” he tweeted after the race. Abt has only been in GP2 since the start of 2013, but his words show that drivers don’t feel safe in racing a driver in his fourth season, one who has won GP2 races and tested for Toro Rosso and Force India.
Former Formula 1 doctor Gary Hartstein also added that “Cecotto is a menace, a moron, and should be banned. [It's] hard to be patient with a petulant entitled repeat offender. He needs to go.”
It’s only a minority, but it drags the reputation of the championship through the mud.
If drivers are frustrated by the lack of competent stewarding, what happens next? Do those drivers who feel justice isn’t being served think ‘right, if that’s the way he’s going to play, so will I’? Has GP2 missed an opportunity to stamp out driving that becomes the norm rather than the exception?
The next GP2 race takes place in Monaco. Last season, some abysmal driving during the GP3 race saw Conor Daly launched into the fence approaching the harbour. He was unhurt, but he came perilously close to marshals and trackside spectators. The proximity of the barriers in Monte Carlo means that some intelligence needs to be used.
Last year, almost half of the GP2 field was wiped out on the run up to Casino Square…
It isn’t every GP2 driver. They are young and they are determined to achieve their dream. But it’s nearing a point where it’s unnecessarily dangerous.
Driving standards in GP2 are slipping and the stewards appear reluctant to send out a message that such behaviour in a high profile series cannot be tolerated. It’s baffling.