Photos: GP2 Media Service
It’s is still not entirely finalised, but after a winter of upheaval, we take a look through a largely improved GP2 grid with the 2013 season starting in Malaysia this weekend…
GP2 quite rightly took some stick last year for a drop in quality in its grid, and although four more ex-drivers have made their F1 debuts in Australia last weekend, cynics will argue that’s because only drivers who can afford GP2 can afford to buy an F1 seat.
The financial situation caused frontrunners iSport to quit due to a lack of drivers with budgets and backmarkers Ocean to withdraw due to failed payments from partners, while Coloni departed following an undisclosed disagreement with series organisers. Each of their replacements comes with some funding of their own, to varying degrees.
The quality of drivers appears to have taken a step up again, even if it’s still some way from previous bests. Uninspiring veterans have moved on, and teams have managed to avoid off-the-pace backmarkers despite the financial constraints upon them. All the drivers should be within two seconds of the pace and the majority within one, which is an achievement for when the teams are contractually obliged to fill their collective 26 seats.
One of the new teams, Russian Time, has come with significant funding and been able to recruit drivers without them bringing budget. A good thing, right? It depends. It’s nice to see Tom Dillmann with a seat, but it’s likely to be an isolated case. But it may be enough to convince series chiefs that they don’t need to tackle costs. Yes, they’ve just about got a 26 car grid and some top names, but the costs are still wildly prohibitive.
Anyway, back to that good quality grid, which includes a number of potential race-winners running into double figures…
2012: Eighth in GP2
A switch to DAMS leaves Ericsson with nowhere to hide entering his fourth season in GP2, with the French outfit having taken Romain Grosjean and Davide Valsecchi to the last two drivers? titles. A promising talent earlier in his career with titles in Formula BMW UK and Japanese F3, he has thus far failed to deliver in GP2 with two disappointing campaigns with iSport in 2011-12.
On his day he can show his ability, such as his win at Spa last year. He would have taken the Monaco feature race as well if there had been somewhere to get by Johnny Cecotto. But if he wants a successful 2013 he must avoid the lacklustre start to the season that ruled him out of title contention early last year.
With DAMS he should consistently feature on the podium but it may take more than that to win this year?s title.
2012: 18th in GP2
Richelmi was something of a surprise in his rookie season in 2012 with Trident with some strong qualifying performances early on, though it took a tyre gamble at a drying Hockenheim to claim a podium finish.
Despite that promise, he didn?t seem entirely deserving of a berth with champions DAMS for 2013. However, he?s already gone some way to proving the doubters wrong before the season has even got underway with some impressive showings in testing, matching teammate Ericsson with a regular place towards the top of the timesheets.
It?s hard to imagine him being the fastest driver on any one weekend, but it seems he will be in the mix for podiums and could even sneak a reverse grid win, or more.
ART Grand Prix
Nation: United Kingdom
2012: Fifth in GP2
There can be no doubting that Calado comes into his sophomore season as the overwhelming pre-season favourite, as the only one of last year?s top six to have not moved onto Formula 1 for 2013. The speed is certainly there and in his second season he should have the necessary experience to lead the way on a more consistent basis and make the Pirelli tyres last longer.
If anything can be read into his pre-season it is that he should be in the fight for pole position in every qualifying session. The only other things he will need is some better luck and some more reliability from his ART team in terms of strategy calls.
The pressure is certainly on for him to deliver. If any F1 team is going to give him a ride without bringing any money to the table he will need to win the title, and in convincing style too.
2012: Second in GP3
Abt steps up to GP2 after impressing ART ? and everyone else ? in his single season of GP3 last year, driving for the French team. While it took him a little while to get into his stride, he was the form man by the end of the year, nearly winning all of the last three races and almost snatching the title in the process.
His first season of GP2 is unlikely to be so straightforward. Across the garage he has a good benchmark of how a rookie campaign should go and if he can match what Calado managed last year he?ll have done very well indeed.
His testing form hasn?t been as good as that and that will likely continue to be the case through the opening couple of weekends as he deals with unfamiliar circuits, but he will hope to be in the mix at the front once back in Europe.
2012: Ninth in GP2
It seems like it may only be a matter of time before Cecotto lands a Formula 1 race seat with Venezuelan funding (political situation allowing), but this is an important season for him to show some further improvement.
While he did win two feature races last year with Addax, both could be marked as fluke results with the oddities of Monaco and a tyre gamble that enabled the Hockenheim win from 17th on the grid. He did well to score a couple of podiums in more regular conditions, yet on the other hand his run-in was punctuated by typical collisions at Spa and Singapore. He scored points on just seven occasions.
This year he must convert his pace into more consistent results. His pre-season has been quiet but with Arden he has little excuse not to be competitive. It would take a miraculous improvement to be a serious title challenger, though.
Nation: New Zealand
2012: GP3 champion
Evans starred when he arrived in Europe as a 16-year-old, so much that his title success in GP3 last year was perhaps taken for granted. He?ll need to make a similar sort of impact when he starts in GP2 to avoid losing his career momentum.
He had to work hard over the winter to get a deal in place but has a good team around him in Arden and one that he knows well. The dynamic with his new teammate could be crucial for the success of his campaign – Cecotto is experienced at this level but how easy will it be to learn from him? Evans has the ability to give him plenty to worry about, too.
The main aim will have to be to beat Abt to top rookie status, and regularly appear towards the sharp end. He quite literally can?t afford to hang around in GP2 for long.
2012: 21st in GP2
Probably one of the most disappointing driver hirings of the off-season, financial pressures are such that team owner Alfonso de Orleans-Borbon has had to look further down the list of available drivers this year.
To give him his due, Leal showed some decent progress last year with a handful of points finishes by keeping out of trouble. He never once retired, a vast improvement on 2011. However, serious doubts remain over his pace ? he never started a feature race higher than 15th and was too often outside of the top 20 for a second year driver.
But like former teammate Richelmi a move to a team further up the grid should translate to an improvement in this area. The team will hope he can do a good job so it can maintain an impressive record of finishing inside the top four in each of the last five seasons.
2012: Seventh in GP2
Courted by BMW?s DTM programme last year, it was unclear whether Leimer would bother to return for a fourth season of GP2. He has though, and goes straight onto the list of title contenders, as the second-highest-placed returning driver from 2012, behind Calado.
He was one of the quickest drivers last season, ever-present in the top ten in qualifying, and there?s no reason why he can?t repeat that. In theory he should even be able to better it with most of his rivals from last year having moved on.
What he certainly needs to improve is turning that into some results. He somehow failed to win last year, but should have done at least twice. Speeding under yellow flags is something he can avoid, getting his lead wiped out by a safety car maybe less so.
2012: Tenth in GP2
Nasr is expected to take the fight to fellow second-year Calado this year, but he has got further to come to do it. The step up to GP2 last year from British F3 was bigger than it was from GP3, and while speed was evident, a significant points haul was not.
He wasn?t too comfortable at DAMS however, prompting the switch back to Carlin, where he won the British F3 title in 2011. The strength of their relationship should not be underestimated. There were positive signs on track last year though, including getting the hang of the Pirellis impressively quickly and also several instances of him tearing through the order from the rear of the field.
That means that if he can stay out of difficulties that dogged his rookie season, he could indeed be the biggest thorn in the side of Calado or even beat him.
Nation: United Kingdom
2012: 11th in GP2
After an anonymous 2011 followed by a mixed 2012, Palmer is expected to perform in 2013. He need only look at compatriot and former Carlin driver Max Chilton to see where he should be in season three if he wants F1 teams to start paying attention any time soon.
Last season with iSport got off to a rather stuttering start courtesy of an unidentified recurring gremlin, but with a new chassis built for Monaco, he promptly won the sprint race. The rest of the season was a frustrating combination of good speed that saw him take podiums at Silverstone and Monza, but get into needless collisions in Valencia, Spa and Singapore.
If he can get the upper hand on Nasr early doors, he can get the support of the team, but otherwise a title challenge seems quite unlikely. A top six finish should be a minimum target.
Nation: United Kingdom
2012: Third in Formula Renault 3.5
It?s been a last minute, somewhat expected, return to GP2 for Bird thanks to series newcomers Russian Time. Having not driven a GP2 car for more than a year, he may be a little rusty in Malaysia with only 30 minutes of free practice. The team have only had three days of pre-season testing, too.
But once he does get back into the groove, there?s little reason why he can?t battle at the front. He was a frontrunner in his two previous seasons in the category, and last year in Formula Renault 3.5 he was in the title fight until the end despite an inferior team.
With some iSport staff staying on at the replacement team, the Mercedes tester shouldn?t take too long to feel at home. While it might have been time for him to look into alternative categories, this is instead one last chance to make an impression.
2012: 15th in GP2
After his rookie season in 2012 was cut short half way through, despite a race win, due to a lack of budget, few would have expected Dillmann to be back. He?s been thrown a lifeline though by the new Russian Time setup, taking over from the departed iSport and run by Motopark F3 boss Timo Rumpfkeil.
It would be too easy to read too much into Dillmann?s timesheet-topping testing performances in Jerez ? he had much more to prove at that moment than anyone else. What we do know is that he?s been fast in a GP2 car since the first time he raced one, for iSport at the end of 2011.
Challenging for the title seems very unlikely but adding more wins to his resume does not, and a top six placing is well within reach if the team can get a handle on things.
2012: No points in GP2
Canamasas is something of a surprise choice to lead Caterham?s GP2 squad this year. A relative late starter, he pretty much came out of nowhere to finish eighth in FR3.5 in 2011, backing that up with a decent turn of speed when he arrived in GP2 with Lazarus after sitting out the first half of last year.
That pace however was mixed some worrying incidents on-track. In Hungary he punted Simon Trummer into the barriers at the finish line, at Spa he squeezed Nathanael Berthon into the pit wall, and in Singapore he ignored a drive-through penalty, a subsequent black flag and, although his radio was broken, the frantic waving of his crew. He ended his part-season with zero points on the board.
Even if he can solve that, the speed deficiencies of the Caterham team evident over the past two seasons may prove to be a barrier to regular good results.
2012: Formula 1 Friday driver
There are no prizes for guessing the main motive for Caterham to take on Ma, but it is an experiment worth them trying out. It?s good to see him testing himself in GP2 before his backers try to buy him into an F1 seat ? he?s alarmingly short on experience with just 28 recorded starts in single-seaters under his belt.
In his Friday practice tryouts with HRT last year he was generally within two seconds of teammate Pedro de la Rosa, and if he can be within that distance of the pace in GP2, like he was in testing, he won?t look out of his depth. He would be quicker than a couple of the drivers on last year?s grid, too.
He?ll be expected to make improvements and get closer to the front as the season goes on and he gets more experienced, particularly as this will be his first full campaign in a single-seater.
Nation: United States
2012: 21st in Formula Renault 3.5
Delivering just one points finish in his third year of FR3.5 last season, whatever the circumstances it?s hard to argue Rosenzweig deserves a chance with Addax, teams? champions as recent as 2011. When a team only talks about a driver?s willingness to work hard to improve in its announcement rather than his results and success, you can?t expect much.
He was indeed at the back in his first couple of weekends at the back end of last season, although he has found some improvement in testing over the winter and should hopefully run in the midfield.
With a more-than-capable team and plenty of races under his belt at this level of single-seaters, there aren?t many excuses not to.
2012: 14th in GP2
Little was expected from Haryanto in his debut campaign in 2012 with Carlin but he showed some decent early speed in Malaysia and Bahrain. He then went on to fight for victory in Valencia and display his supreme wet weather ability as he claimed pole at Spa. Unfortunately for him, rookie errors prevented him from capitalising on those positions.
He has seemingly separated from his Marussia links but still enjoys very strong backing from his homeland, and he?s used that to land himself a seat with Addax. It sounds like a good move in theory, but the team is no longer the force it was.
Add the fact that he?s not got a more experienced teammate to learn from and that he?s looked off the pace in testing, and things could be a lot tougher than he originally thought.
2012: 13th in GP2
Coletti had a difficult time in 2012 with Coloni, failing to build upon the promise his sprint race wins showed in 2011. He did switch to Rapax for the final two rounds however and things picked up instantly with three top-eight finishes in four races.
It was no surprise to see him quickly sign on the dotted line with the team for 2013. He had a fairly quiet winter until topping two of the dry sessions in the final test at Barcelona, and coming second in the other.
On that form he should be considered an outsider for the title at the very least but whether he can show that speed consistently outside of Barcelona remains to be seen. He needs to get a grip on making the Pirelli tyres last, too. But Rapax were fast in pre-season three years ago with Pastor Maldonado and that worked out well.
2012: 23rd in GP2
Trummer didn?t set the world alight in his rookie season in 2012, but although there was no space for him to stay at a revitalised Arden team, his backing from the Swiss financial sector meant he was always likely to be on the grid.
When Daniel Juncadella headed towards a DTM seat with Mercedes after a strong test showing with Rapax, Trummer was brought in as Coletti?s teammate.
While he?s no European F3 champion, Trummer has looked much improved in testing, placing firmly around mid-pack. If that translates into the season, he should score points a lot more regularly than the three occasions he managed last year, usually only getting that far forward when others got into trouble.
2012: 12th in GP2
Berthon enjoyed a promising first full season in GP2 in 2012 with Racing Engineering, taking a pair of sprint race second-place finishes and ending the year 12th overall, although he was as high as ninth after Valencia.
Traditionally perceived to be well-funded ? thanks in part to that HRT test he did in 2011 ? it seemed he would be a candidate for a top drive. However, he was missing from post-season testing and only managed one pre-season test with Trident.
Confirmed only for Malaysia at present, the uncertainty around the team?s lineup may make things tricky at the start. If he gets a deal together for the full season, he?ll be looking to push into the top ten in the standings. His qualifying has to improve though ? his best feature race starting position last year was tenth. Those sprint race podiums prove he can finish well if he starts high.
2012: Ninth in GP3
Ceccon?s late deal for Malaysia is a pleasant surprise. He?s been out of action since topping a GP3 test at the end of last year, and not driven a GP2 car in anger for over a year (not including some installation runs he did with the outgoing Ocean team at the end of 2012).
Malaysia will be tough without any pre-season preparation, although he does vaguely know Trident from a GP3 test at the start of last year before joining Ocean for the season. His subsequent ninth place in the standings was unrepresentative given the inexperience of the team, but his later test performance with Arden showed what he can do.
His early GP2 races with Coloni in 2011 were promising given a total lack of experience, and if he can get a full season he should do quite well. That will probably depend on finding some more money from somewhere, although there aren?t many better-funded alternatives around for the team either.
2012: Second in Auto GP
At the time of writing, Hilmer (replacements for Ocean) are still to officially confirm their drivers for Malaysia or beyond, but two men who tested with them are in the country. The first is Varhaug, who rather embarrassingly failed to score in his first attempt at GP2 in 2011 with DAMS, while teammate Romain Grosjean dominated.
Tail between his legs, he was forced to race in Auto GP last year. A win at the first round with a brand new team was good, but he was unable to take the fight to Quaife-Hobbs.
He should now be more prepared for his second crack at GP2 though, or at least he would be if he?d been able to secure a deal in advance of the first race. He?s been unremarkable in testing, but much is dependent on how capable Hilmer are. Dillmann?s tests showed what their car could do in the right hands, mind.
Nation: United States
2012: Sixth in GP3
Daly?s case is a bit of a strange one. After seemingly courting opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic over the winter, he seemed set to stay with ART in GP3 after testing their new car. No deal was done however, and he made his GP2 testing debut with Hilmer in Barcelona.
That has now seemingly led to a race chance in Malaysia with the team, but it?s not clear whether his chance will continue for the full season, whether he will return to GP3 in time for that season starting or whether he?ll end up doing something else altogether.
With a lack of mileage himself in GP2 and the team most certainly still finding its feet as well, Daly will be doing well if he can be noticed early on. He showed promise in GP3 but did find himself detached from the leading contenders as last season wore on.
2012: No points in GP2, sixth in German F3
Binder was an uninspiring recruit to Lazarus for the Spa round last year with just three wins in three years of German F3. He got onto the pace surprisingly quick though, finishing a strong 13th in the Monza sprint race, just five seconds away from fourth and a spot ahead of (an albeit struggling) Calado.
He carried that promise into winter testing with some unexpectedly lofty positions. Consistency has not been evident though, and it seems his teammate already has the upper hand on him, though this is no great surprise comparing their respective F3 records.
A mid-pack position seems the best he can hope for on a regular basis, but don?t bet against him repeating some of those standout results from testing in qualifying. Getting points out of any such opportunities will be crucial.
2012: Sixth in F3 Open and Copa class champion, sixth in Italian F3
Budgetary constraints have restricted Giovesi to not-so-competitive national F3 categories since he won the Formula Lista Junior title in his first season of cars in 2009. He impressed last year though, dominating the Copa class of the F3 Open for the older F308 chassis and managing to place sixth overall. He also returned to Italian F3 for a part-season, taking three wins.
He has now got the funding together to make the jump to GP2, and benefited from a full winter of testing with Lazarus, who have shaken off the need to field a Venezuelan despite the nation’s title sponsorship. Despite his lack of experience at this level he has looked far from out of his depth.
He doesn?t seem far from fellow rookies Abt and Evans and was consistently running inside the lower half of the top ten in Barcelona. As he gets more practice, he could move closer towards the front.
Nation: United Kingdom
2012: Auto GP champion
Quaife-Hobbs gets a well-deserved chance in GP2 after dominating last year?s Auto GP season. He was solidly inside the top ten on testing appearances with Addax and Arden at the end of 2012, but a budgetary deficit left him with an anxious wait before signing with MP Motorsport, who have taken over from Coloni.
Team boss Sander Dorsman described the capture of Quaife-Hobbs as a ?coup?. Although a rookie, he has a good blend of experience of powerful cars from Auto GP and the Pirelli tyres from his two years in GP3 prior to that.
Although he?s not made the headlines in pre-season testing with the team, there?s little reason why he can?t mix it with the likes of Abt and Evans in the battle for top rookie honours, particularly with some experienced Italians staying on despite the name change.
2012: No points in GP2, fifth in Auto GP
A blunder behind the safety car at Silverstone aside, de Jong looked like a safe pair of hands during his first part-season, despite a lack of standout performances from his time in FR3.5 and Auto GP. He?s part of the furniture at the MP Motorsport setup, having done the majority of the races in his career-to-date with the squad owned by his father Henk.
While repeating the timesheet-topping drives he put in with the outgoing Coloni team in testing at the end of 2012 is highly unlikely, pre-season tests indicate he should feature in the midfield, and to his credit he has not looked far off Quaife-Hobbs either.
He showed good progress in Auto GP under the tutelage of Chris van der Drift, rivalling his coach on track by the end of the campaign, and more recently he?s had help from Luca Filippi.