Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Incredible Hulk? GP2 In Review

Since its inception, I've been enthusiastic about GP2. Always making time to watch the coverage, first on Eurosport, and then more recently on ITV4. This year, though, I ciuldn't summon up much enthusiasm. Maybe it was the fact that the GP2 coverage had switched from Eurosport with its informative and entertaining team of Martin Haven and Gareth Rees, to the seemingly disinterested and certainly uninteresting bunch at Setanta. By the time Setanta had collapsed and the GP2 coverage had reverted back to its natural home at Eurosport, I'd cancelled my subscription so was reliant on rather patchy (Finnish language) coverage in one of the murkier corners of the internet to keep in touch with F1's leading feeder series, on those occasions when I could be bothered.

Maybe, though, it was just the sense that the 2009 GP2 series felt a bit of an irrelevance. The vast bulk of the field seemed to be made up of drivers who had been around in the series for a while, who had had their opportunities and been found wanting. Lucas Di Grassi was back for, what, his fourth season in GP2 with reigning champions, Racing Engineering, who went from having one of the prettiest liveries on the grid last year in their Repsol colours to one of the most jaw-droppingly awful when they were rebranded 'Fatburner Racing'. And Di Grassi did nothing in his fourth season in the category to suggest he is anything more than a 'nearly was'. His only hope of progressing into F1 must surely lie in how badly the other Renault test-driver is currently doing in the race seat. Talking of which...

...Romain Grosjean had the same kind of opportunity that Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton seized with both hands when he was signed with ART last year. He didn't take it, and while it lookd in the early part of the year that he was going to make amends for that with Barwa-Addax, it didn't work out that way. He was the class of the field in the opening races, though to judge by the fact his closest rival was team mate Vitaly Petrov, that might have owed as much to the old Campos team having got the car right as to anything the driver was doing, but as the season went on, he found himself increasingly being outperformed by Petrov, and after a dominant win in the Monaco Feature Race, he never won again.

Vitaly Petrov is, without doubt, the best driver yet to have come out of Russia. He didn't show badly this year in the GP2, winning a couple of races - feature races at that, but all the same, given that he was in his third full season in the category, nothing he did really screamed out "Future F1 star". He clearly has a lot of money behind him and isn't out of his depth in a powerful single seater, and a such, he might get a ride in one of the new F1 teams, providing at least one or two of them actually make the grid next year. I'd be surprised if he amounts to much when he gets there, though you can never be sure. He was, let's not forget, the man who finished second in the title race behind Nico Hulkenberg.

What of the champion, Hulkenberg? I'm not quite sure what to make of him. There's much to suggest that he might be a real talent. He won the title quite comfortably at his first attempt, though we'll never know for sure quite what might have happened had Grosjean raced the whole season. This was quite impressive, given that he was up against a host of drivers in their second or third year in the category. It will go some way to erasing the still-awkward memory of his lacklustre first attempt at the F3 Euroseries back in 2007. What leaves me a little uncertain about Hulkenberg's ultimate potential is that I never saw any sign of the kind of dominance that Rosberg and Hamilton demonstrated on occasion. A part of me thinks that a driver who is really the class of the field ought to be able to rack up more than 3 feature race wins over the season. On the other hand, Timo Glock didn't manage to, and he's looked at home in F1. And Hulkenberg was a rooki up against an awful lot of sophomores and seniors (the university metaphor seems curiously apt, anyone spending more than 3 years in GP2 is surely wasting his time and someone else's money.) We'll find out soon enough, if as is widely rumoured, he ends up partnering Rubens Barrichello at Williams next year.

For me, the disappointment of the year was the lack of pace from Hulkenberg's ART team mate, Pastor Maldonado. The Venezuelan has been the beneficiary of the state oil company largesse once showered on Ernesto Viso, and in the past had looked quick if rather wild. In the latter part of last year, at Piquet Sports, he seemed to find some consistency to marry to his prodiguous pace. This year, though, that once mighty pace seemed to vanish out of the window. About the one thing that can be said in his favour is that the second ART seat has been something of a poison chalice in recent years. Ask Michael Ammermuller... Or Luca Filippi.

Another man signed to a title winning team who failed to live up to expectations was Giedo Van Der Garde. At the start of the year, in spite of a rather torrid time in the sideshow GP2 Asia Series, I expected the reigning Renault World Series champion to be a serious contender in the ISPort car. As it was he was left scrabbling for reverse-grid wins, and only really hit his stride late on at Monza. Maybe it was simply that ISport have lost their way a bit - Diego Nunes was even less of a factor in the other car.

Of the rest? None really figured. Kamui Kobayashi never looked like repeating the form that took him to the GP2 Asia crown against admittedly hardly stellar opposition. Team mate Jerome D'Ambrosio figured early on in the year, but fell into something of a trough mid-season, from which he never really recovered. Alvaro Parente surprised everyone by winning a Feature Race - at Spa no less, with the team formerly known as BCN, but at 25 is probably already too old to make the break into F1 (though you never know). The likes of Luca Filippi, Roldan Rodriguez and Javier Villa continued to tread water, probably burning the family cash to be there. Davide Valsecchi never really lived up to his promise when he replaced Romain Grosjean at Barwa Addax and down at the back of the field, the lack of strength in depth in this year's GP2 grid was all-too apparent. Ricardo Texeira, Nelson Panciatici and Michael Herck all looked like men with no business racing at this level.

So, not a classic year for the series. If GP2 is to maintain its credibility as a feeder formula for F1, it is crucial that Hulkenberg gets on at Williams, if indeed that is where he winds up. After Grosjean and Piquet Jr, I suspect there may be an ever greater reluctance among F1 team bosses to hire on the basis of a good showing in GP2 alone. More to the point, when Red Bull's large junior programme all but entirely ignores GP2 now (its drivers being placed variously in British F3, Formula 2 and WSR) and when last year's British F3 front runners, Jaime Alguersuari, Oliver Turvey and Brendon Hartley all gave GP2 a miss, one wonders whether there is a risk that Bruno Michel's baby is fast becoming the new F3000

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Anonymous Geneza Pharmaceuticals said...

You certainly have some strong analytical abilities

6:06 AM  

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