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2012 mid-season review

by Peter Allen

Photos: GP3, Renault, GP2, Renault, F3 Euro Series, F2

With half of the year gone and most of the junior categories around halfway through their 2012 campaigns, here’s a look at the leading contenders in the different series…

Since that start of the GP2 season back in Malaysia in March, the premier feeder series has looked like a battle between two of its most experienced drivers. Fifth-year driver Davide Valsecchi opened up a lead with three wins from the Bahrain double header, but a pointless weekend last time out at Valencia allowed fourth-year Luiz Razia to close within a point as the Brazilian stole the sprint race victory with a double pass around the outside in the final sector of the race.

With six of the 12 rounds down, the leading duo are 45 points clear of their nearest rival. That man is James Calado, the Racing Steps Foundation-backed driver who has impressed greatly since stepping up as last year’s GP3 runner-up. After winning at the season opener, he’s since scored three podium finishes and two pole positions. Had his luck not deserted him on a number of occasions, he could be a lot closer.

Second and third year drivers Esteban Gutierrez and Marcus Ericsson were amongst the pre-season favourites, but lie sixth and eighth in the points. Gutierrez has not showed his pace as often as he should have done, and has also been regularly caught up in incidents, while Ericsson suffered a dreadful start to the year that saw him only pick up a handful of points from the first four rounds before podiums at Monaco and Valencia.

Elsewhere, rookies Felipe Nasr, Tom Dillmann and Rio Haryanto have all impressed despite their lack of experience. Nasr was on the podium on his debut weekend and a regular at the sharp end in qualifying, although he hasn’t scored in the last three weekends. Dillmann scored a great reverse grid win in Bahrain, but financial issues have now seen him ousted from his team. I had expected Haryanto to struggle, but he was a regular points scorer early on, and in a position to win the last race in Valencia before colliding with Calado. Meanwhile Nathanael Berthon has scored in all of the last six races to lie well ahead of those three in ninth overall, only two places behind third-year teammate Fabio Leimer.

While financial burdens have restricted the amount of quality on GP2, the Formula Renault 3.5 Series has a large number of very promising drivers. Sam Bird and Jules Bianchi switched from GP2 for reasons linked to their F1 commitments, and both have been amongst the frontrunners. With four of nine weekends complete, Bird leads the standings after podiums at Aragon and Spa sandwiching his victory from pole at Monaco.

Bianchi pushed him throughout that race, and got a victory of his own at the Nurburgring. A disqualification for a technical infringement at Aragon and a few other non-scores however leave him fifth, 25 points away from Bird.

The three stars of the season so far are the drivers that separate Bird and Bianchi; Robin Frijns, Nick Yelloly and Marco Sorensen. After making the big step up from Formula Renault 2.0, Frijns won on his first weekend at Aragon to take the points lead. Further podiums at Spa and the Nurburgring leave him tied on points with Bird, which has earned him a demo run in a Red Bull. Yelloly became the first double winner at the Nurburgring, having already won the season opener at Aragon. He is ten points behind the leaders and five ahead of Sorensen, who won at Spa and was second behind Yelloly in the second Nurburgring race. The other winner so far this season is?Kevin Magnussen, who lies sixth overall.

Nick Yelloly leads the pack (Photo: Renault Sport/DPPI)

Alexander Rossi, third last year, is seemingly out of contention in ninth overall as the new Caterham Arden team struggles to find its feet. One place behind him is another expected title contender, Kevin Korjus, the Lotus-Gravity man having only managed a best result of fourth so far.

Due to the nature of the WTCC calendar that it supports, the Auto GP World Series is five of seven rounds into its season. Adrian Quaife-Hobbs is close to the title, having won half of the ten races so far including a double last time out at Portimao. The GP3 graduate has 196 points, with his nearest rival being ex-GP2 racer Pal Varhaug on 123 points.

The revalation of the season so far though has been 16-year-old Russian Sergey Sirotkin. After qualifying on the front row on his debut at Monza, the Formula Abarth champion won at the second round in Valencia, and then next time out on the Marrakech street circuit he claimed pole – the only time anyone has stopped Quaife-Hobbs in qualifying. He is on 115 points.

The FIA Formula Two Championship is at the halfway point of its eight race season, with another Brit Luciano Bacheta on top. He began the year with four straight wins, and claimed his fifth win of the season in a rain-abondoned race at Spa. He has 138.5 points, with second-year driver Christopher Zanella his nearest rival on 98. In the previous two rounds, the Swiss driver has scored 56 points to Bacheta’s 38.5, proving he could easily catch up in the remaining four rounds.

Like Auto GP, Formula Two has a teen sensation of its own in third overall. 15-year-old Matheo Tuscher has scored four podium finishes from the eight races so far, and is just two points adrift of Zanella. That’s ten ahead of third-year driver and one of the pre-season favourites, Mihai Marinescu.

This year’s GP3 Series grid does not match 2011’s ultra-competitive lineup, but there are still some stars of the future at the sharp end. With three of the eight rounds down, a title battle is starting to emerge between the overwhelming pre-season favourite Mitch Evans and flying Finn Aaro Vainio, with just four points separating the pair, but 32 points back to their nearest challenger. Evans won the first race in Barcelona, before Vainio claimed the same honours in Monaco. Evans then faught back with victory at Valencia, just ahead of Vanio.

A couple of podium finishes gives Daniel Abt third place, but he has Matias Laine, Monaco and Valencia reverse-grid race winners Marlon Stockinger and Patric Niederhauser, Auto GP champion Kevin Ceccon and fellow Italian David Fumanelli all within seven points. Antonio Felix Da Costa, Tio Ellinas and Conor Daly have also showed great speed, with Daly winning the reverse grid race in Barcelona but suffering from misfortune at the subsequent two rounds.

In the Formula 3 Euro Series, Macau Grand Prix winner and third-year driver Daniel Juncadella leads the way as expected, but has only won three of the 12 races so far – having lost a Norisring victory after contact with two rivals near the end of the race. Ferrari protege Raffaele Marciello has been the star so far by winning five Euro Series races, but is 5.5 points behind teammate Juncadella.

William Buller has emerged as a title contender, 16.5 points off Juncadella. ADAC Formel Masters graduates Pascal Wehrlein and Sven Muller have impressed with a win each (although both behind guest drivers) and are fourth and fifth overall. Red Bull Junior Carlos Sainz Jr has been contesting the Euro Series in addition to the British series, and impressed initially with a double pole and podium finishes at Hockenheim. He’s been absent from the podium since though and has slipped to sixth. Last year’s Masters of Zandvoort winner Felix Rosenqvist has failed to live up to expectations and is only seventh in his third campaign in F3 machinery.

Buller has emerged a contender in the F3 Euro Series (Photo: F3 Euro Series/Thomas Suer)

All Euro Series meetings have counted towards the FIA’s new European F3 Championship, which also included the British series round at the Pau Grand Prix. There Marciello began a run of five straight European Championship wins. He leads those standings at the halfway point by 25.5 points over Juncadella.

British F3 has proved to be wide open. Racing Steps-backed Jack Harvey took an early lead after two wins at Oulton Park before dropping back as Sainz and then third-year driver Jazeman Jaafar took turns at the top. A double win at Brands Hatch brought Harvey back into contenion, before edging ahead of Jaafar at the Norisring last weekend after running into him in the first race of the weekend.

As Harvey, Jaafar and Sainz hit trouble at the Norisring, Felix Serralles took two second-places in class and then a win to move into third place, just ten and six points behind Harvey and Jaafar respectively. The Puerto Rican has been a revelation since stepping out of Formula Renault, claiming two wins from the first two race weekends. His Fortec teammate Alex Lynn has failed to win a race, but has been super-consistent, and is fourth overall ahead of Sainz.

Three rounds into the eight-round Italian F3 season, it’s Eddie Cheever Jr leading the way having won the first race of the weekend at each round so far. He’s had the beating of teammate and Ferrari protege Brandon Maisano, who began as the pre-season favourite after finishing fourth last year (when Cheever was ninth). Maisano finally took his first win at the last round at Mugello, and is second overall, 24 points away from Cheever.

Teammate to Cheever and Maisano at Prema, Formula Renault graduate Henrique Martins was the surprise package early on, winning at Valencia. A poor weekend at Mugello has dropped him to fourth behind Riccardo Agostini, who has surprisringly emerged as top of the pile of a number of graduates from Formula Abarth. Those include Sirotkin, tied on points with Martins for fourth, and Robert Visoiu, who’s also racing in GP3.

Only two of the nine German F3 rounds have been contested so far, with Japanese driver Kimiya Sato leading the points after a double win last time out at the Sachsenring – having stepped down from the Euro Series. Fellow stepper-down(?) Jimmy Eriksson is second, with rookie Lucas Auer in third.

Three of eight rounds into the F3 Open, a two-way fight is emerging between Gianmarco Raimondo and Mans Grenhagen. Canadian Raimondo, who raced in the Euro Series last year, has six points over Sweden’s Grenhagen, with both drivers having won two races so far and scored podiums in all but one race.

Moving onto Formula Renault, starting with the Eurocup. Stoffel Vandoorne scored his first victories at the Nurburgring last weekend to move ahead of Red Bull Junior and pre-season favourite Daniil Kvyat, even though the Russian won three of the first four races. The other race winner was Norman Nato, who lies third ahead of fellow Frenchmen Paul-Loup Chatin and Pierre Gasly – a newcomer to Formula Renault 2.0. McLaren protege and karting graduate Nyck de Vries is sixth after finishing second on his debut – ahead of McLaren Autosport BRDC Award winner Oliver Rowland.

In the Northern European Cup, Vandoorne leads the points after five wins from the first six races, but won’t contest the full season. That leaves the door open for British duo Jake Dennis and Jordan King to fight for the title, with the Fortec and Manor-run rivals only a point apart. Frenchman Andrea Pizzitola is also up there, but his R-ace GP team won’t do the full campaign either, which also rules fifth-placed de Vries out of contention.

King and Dennis are set to fight it out for the NEC title (Photo: Chris Schotanus)

In the Alps series, Nato leads the points after three wins from the opening eight races, with fellow Frenchman Chatin in second place. Kvyat won twice at the season opener at Monza and once more last time out at Spa, but a couple of retirements along the way has left him 45 points off Nato and 30 off Chatin.

With the UK series cancelled (for this year at least), Formula Renault BARC has taken up the mantle as Britain’s leading junior series. The season so far has been a three-way battle between 2011’s dominant Formlua Ford champion Scott Malvern, Ginetta Junior champion Seb Morris and last year’s BARC runner-up Josh Webster – who’d been set to graduate to the UK series before it was pulled. The trio have shared all seven race wins so far between them, with Malvern leading the points on 182 and two wins, Webster also winning twice on 161 points and although Morris has won three races, a lack of consistency leaves the 16-year-old from Wales playing catch up on 151.

In ADAC Formel Masters in Germany, karting graduate Marvin Korchhofer has shone for the ‘Lotus’ team, leading the points after three race wins. Second year Swede Gustav Malja is his nearest rival, on 105 points to Kirchhofer’s 119. Other Lotus drivers Kuba Dalewski and female star Beitske Visser have also won races in their rookie campaigns out of karts, but Visser’s championship position has been affected after missing the last round to injury.

In Formula Abarth in Italy, the title race is a close one. Brazil’s Bruno Bonifacio leads on 104 points after three of eight rounds, five points ahead of Italian Luca Ghiotto and ten ahead of compatriot Nicolas Costa. Uruguay’s Santiago Urrutia, Switzerland’s Kevin Jorg and San Marino’s Emanuele Zonzini are separated by nine points in the fight for fourth place, and all within 34 points of Bonifacio.

Also using Formula Abarth cars is the Formula Pilota China series. Only one round has been held so far at Shanghai, where Japan’s Shota Kiyohara absolutely dominated proceedings by winning all three races. He leads Italian karting graduate Antonio Giovinazzi and British ace Dan Wells in the standings.

Sticking in Asia, and the JK Racing Asia Series using Formula BMW chassis. Third-year Malaysians Nabil Jeffri and Afiq Yazid were expected to be the title contenders, but while Jeffri leads the points after winning half of the six races so far, Yazid has won just one and has just 53 points to Jeffri’s 97. Splitting them is South African rookie Aston Hare, who impressed with two wins at the season opener at Sepang.

Caterham development driver Matthew Parry leads the Intersteps series in the UK, while Swiss driver Levin Amweg leads the Swiss-based Formula LO, both of which also use Formula BMW cars.

Finally, in French F4, Alexandre Baron is leading the way after winning four of the first six races and has 126 points. His nearest rival is Simon Gachet on 84, ahead of Simon Tirman and Enzo Guibbert tied on 70. Victor Sendin had challenged Baron, sharing equally the wins in the first four races before a double non-score at the third round left him trailing on 64 points.