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2013 GP2 Series season review

by Peter Allen

Photos: GP2 Media Service

GP2 still isn’t back to its best, but the grid of 2013 was much stronger than the one that preceded it. The wide open nature meant that a consistent run of strong points finishes was enough to claim the title rather than a winning streak, but there were plenty of top quality drivers at the sharp end even if most of them lacked the star quality of some of their peers in other series.

It’s frustrating that the current generation of car and tyre has such a strong bias towards experienced drivers, but that did at least mean that there were promising drivers battling throughout the majority of the field. The quality of racing was nothing like as bad as people like to give it stick for, but unfortunately the behaviour of a couple of drivers was not stamped out well enough and therefore had an unfair impact on the reputation of the entire field.

Here we review the seasons for each of the drivers.

Fabio Leimer1. Fabio Leimer

Switzerland, Racing Engineering, age 24

201 points, 3 wins, 7 podiums, 1 pole position, 1 fastest lap

Leimer clinched the title in his fourth season of GP2, with a superbly consistent if unspectacular set of results. Sticking with Racing Engineering after a win-less 2012, he put that statistic straight early on with feature race victories in Malaysia and Bahrain.

First lap incidents then meant he picked up no points in Barcelona or Monaco, but from the Nurburgring onwards he finished every race inside the top six. There was only one more win – at Monza, where he defeated Sam Bird as the pair emerged as chief title pretenders – but a decent haul of points in every race was enough to carry him over the line. His lack of big results could be excused by his focus on scoring in both races while others used up their tyres going for glory on Saturdays. He was the top qualifier, never outside of the top six all season.

He lacks the spectacular CV or massive budget to secure an F1 chance, but deserves a professional ride in sportscars or the DTM. Season rating: 8/10

Sam Bird2. Sam Bird

United Kingdom, Russian Time, age 26

181 points, 5 wins, 6 podiums, 2 pole positions, 3 fastest laps

While the consistent approach paid off for Leimer, Bird scored five wins but dropped too many points elsewhere – most crucially when he stalled from the front row at the Abu Dhabi showdown. It was still an impressive campaign, driving for newcomers Russian Time.

After only securing a last-minute deal to return to GP2 with the new squad, he took them to victory in just their fourth race in Bahrain. Big wins followed at Monaco, Silverstone and Spa – the latter of which brought him into title contention. A further sprint race win in Singapore kept him close to Leimer, but his Yas Marina stall stopped him from overhauling his rival. However, his inconsistency masks the fact that this was the season Bird built upon his past results to deliver a truly impressive campaign.

With his Mercedes experience, Bird could do a fine job immediately for a midfield F1 team, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to get that chance. He’s instead looking at IndyCar and sportscars for 2014. Season rating: 9

James Calado3. James Calado

United Kingdom, ART Grand Prix, age 24

157 points, 2 wins, 7 podiums

That Calado finished third in the standings and took as many podiums as anybody else speaks volumes about his ability, given that he and the ART team suffered from a peculiar lack of speed for almost the entire season.

He came in as pre-season favourite and began with a podium in Malaysia, but chassis damage from a race two crash was eventually blamed for his struggle over subsequent rounds. Even with that fixed, qualifying results continued to be below par, but he did drag the car to third at Silverstone and two second places at the Nurburgring, and then a sprint race win at Spa. He finished the year with another victory in Abu Dhabi, but in his two year stint in GP2, a feature race win evaded him.

New manager Nicolas Todt helped him to get some F1 practice running with Force India, and he will hopefully be in contention for a race seat there in the future. A Mercedes DTM seat is a great career opportunity, but he arguably deserves more. Season rating: 8

Felipe Nasr4. Felipe Nasr

Brazil, Carlin, age 21

181 points, 6 podiums

After returning to the familiar environment of Carlin for his second season of GP2, Nasr finished every one of the first eight races in the top four and half of them on the podium. 0.008 seconds behind Bird in Bahrain would be the closest he would get to a first series win though.

As the pressure mounted to make that breakthrough, only two further podium finishes followed and his title challenge lost momentum. He still finished the year as the third best qualifier in the field despite some hiccups, but had costly and unnecessary collisions in Spa and Abu Dhabi as well as misfortune at other times.

Despite his ragged second half of the year, no highly-rated driver wants to end up spending a lifetime at this level. While his large sponsorship has seen him linked to F1 race seats, a Williams practice role would be a sensible next step. Season rating: 8

Stefano Coletti5. Stefano Coletti

Monaco, Rapax, age 24

181 points, 3 wins, 7 podiums, 1 pole position, 1 fastest lap

The definition of a season of two halves. The top scorer in the first half, but with not a single point scored in the second. Even for a driver of his experience, Coletti was impressing at first with six podiums including three wins from the first four weekends.

Those may have been in sprint races, but his feature race results were strong enough that he always had to work for them. A last-lap hit from Leimer at Silverstone then stole him his momentum, and although he went from 13th to third in the Nurburgring feature race, he just collapsed after that. He struggled to qualify near the front, and if he did ever make progress, something would always go awry.

He seemed like a strong contender for an F1 seat after a superb home win at Monaco, but whether he wants to pick himself up and try again next year remains to be seen. Season rating: 7

Marcus Ericsson6. Marcus Ericsson

Sweden, DAMS, age 23

121 points, 1 win, 5 podiums, 2 pole positions

Having been a promising talent earlier in his career but consistently failed to deliver in GP2, the pressure was on Ericsson as he succeeded champions Romain Grosjean and Davide Valsecchi in leading DAMS’ charge into 2013.

He didn’t react too well to that pressure to begin with. He had a shocker in Malaysia and, despite pole positions at Barcelona and Silverstone, he failed to finish a race in the points until race two in Britain. Things took a turn for the better next time out at the Nurburgring, when he converted a front row start into victory. One of the strongest drivers in the run-in, he took second places in Hungary, Spa and Singapore and a third in Abu Dhabi.

Sponsorship looks like it could land him a Caterham F1 seat for 2014, and he has the talent to do a good job. But you have to wonder whether he’s really earned that graduation. Season rating: 7

Jolyon Palmer7. Jolyon Palmer

United Kingdom, Carlin, age 22

119 points, 2 wins, 3 podiums, 1 pole position, 2 fastest laps

Palmer’s third campaign in GP2 took a while to get going, but he was one of the form men in the second half of the year. Qualifying was an achilles heal at first, which led to him displaying some fine overtaking to drag himself into the points in the early races.

His first podium of the season was also his first win, using an alternative tyre strategy to go from seventh on the grid to win in Hungary. He nailed qualifying at the end of the year, starting in the top three for the final three feature races. That included a pole in Singapore, where he recovered from a poor start to win, and he finished a close second in Abu Dhabi.

That form places him as one of the favourites for 2014. While staying with Carlin might have looked a sensible move, he’s instead switched to proven GP2 champions DAMS. Season rating: 7

Stephane Richelmi8. Stephane Richelmi

Monaco, DAMS, age 23

103 points, 1 podium, 1 pole position, 1 fastest lap

Richelmi had the fewest number of podiums from anyone in the top 15, but consistent scoring helped him over the 100-point mark. He was only overhauled by his more experienced and more highly-rated team-mate Ericsson at the final round.

Switching to DAMS for his second season of GP2, he capitalised on the car’s pace to qualify well. But he failed to build upon a front row start in Barcelona and a pole at the Nurburgring in the actual races, so ended up with just one podium finish at Silverstone – where, to his credit, he wasn’t far behind winner Bird. Frustratingly, he often struggles to find the right balance in racing situations, overstepping the mark in Spain but seeming conservative at other times.

While it was a strong sophomore campaign, Richelmi needs to add a winning edge to his game next season when he remains with DAMS. Season rating: 7

Alexander Rossi9. Alexander Rossi

United States, Caterham Racing, age 22

92 points, 1 win, 4 podiums, 1 pole positions, 1 fastest lap

After two years in Formula Renault 3.5, Rossi was expected to move into GP2 for 2013 with backers Caterham,? but he was actually left on the sidelines until Ma Qing Hua’s deal with the team collapsed after just one round.

He immediately justified his place with an impressive third place in his first GP2 championship race in Bahrain. Unfortunately, things then went quiet thanks to a run of four lowly qualifying results. He returned to the front at Spa and finished third, before adding a second place in the Monza sprint race. In Abu Dhabi he took advantage of his experience there in the 2011 non-championship race to claim a maiden pole and win.

While it would be great to see Rossi return next year, Caterham tested some decent and well-funded drivers at the end of the year and so may opt to give him the expanded schedule of F1 practice runs that had been planned for him in 2013. Season rating: 7

Tom Dillmann10. Tom Dillmann

France, Russian Time, age 24

92 points, 2 podiums, 1 pole position, 2 fastest laps

Dillmann impressed at the start of his rookie GP2 campaign in 2012 and won a race, but was forced out halfway through by a lack of budget. That made securing a 2013 seat tough – despite setting the pace in pre-season – until Russian Time secured a late entry.

With Dillmann enjoying strong links to the Motopark squad that was running the operation, he was quickly signed up. It was a frustrating campaign, lacking the qualifying pace of his team-mate except for a pole in Hungary. He was often rapid in race trim though, producing outstanding drives to fifth at Barcelona and third at Silverstone, also collecting another podium at Monza.

Despite helping Russian Time to the teams’ title, his year ended on a low when Jon Lancaster landed on top of him on the first lap in Abu Dhabi, injuring him and ruling him out of the weekend and subsequent post-season testing. He looks set to lead the team in Bird’s absence next year, though. Season rating: 7

Jon Lancaster11. Jon Lancaster

United Kingdom, Hilmer Motorsport, age 25

73 points, 2 wins, 3 podiums, 2 fastest laps

After a one-race deal with Ocean at the start of 2012 failed to lead to a full season, Lancaster was handed a chance by their successors Hilmer for Barcelona. He instantly reminded everyone of the talent he showed earlier in his career by finishing a fine third.

Finer moments were still to come, when he scored back-to-back sprint race wins at Silverstone and the Nurburgring. These successes had all come from outside the first seven rows of the feature race grids, and qualifying struggles contributed to a lack of points scored in the remaining weekends – along with missing Spa altogether. He finally made the top ten on a Friday in Abu Dhabi in seventh, only to crash into Dillmann on the first lap.

His lack of funding is going to make coming back for a full season in 2014 difficult, but he did get a chance in the World Endurance Championship in Bahrain at the end of the year. Season rating: 7

Julian Leal12. Julian Leal

Colombia, Racing Engineering, age 23

62 points, 2 podiums, 2 fastest laps

Leal joined Racing Engineering for his third year of GP2 and used the package provided by the Spanish squad to have a more competitive showing than he had done with Rapax and Trident in his two previous campaigns.

He began well with a fifth in Malaysia, and came close to the podium after starting on reverse grid pole at Silverstone. He finished a close second to Calado in the sprint race at Spa, and followed that up with a third place in race two at Monza. But outside of those four weekends, he failed to score at all which is disappointing given the consistency shown by team-mate Leimer. He only once qualified in the top ten, which didn’t help.

He’s got the budget and the experience to land a good seat again for 2014. He tested with Trident, Hilmer and Arden in Abu Dhabi, but has also been linked to Carlin. Season rating: 6

Adrian Quaife-Hobbs13. Adrian Quaife-Hobbs

United Kingdom, MP Motorsport/Hilmer Motorsport, age 22

56 points, 1 win, 3 podiums

It didn’t reflect well on GP2 that it was such a struggle for last year’s dominant Auto GP champion Quaife-Hobbs to find a seat, and that he had to settle for a place with newcomers MP Motorsport. After all, his family runs a successful and well-known company.

He showed competitively early on with a pair of points finishes in Bahrain, but he had nightmare showings in qualifying over the following three rounds. But despite qualifying plum last in Monaco, he finished the weekend with a second-place finish, albeit with the good fortune of the first corner pileup and the reverse grid system. He switched to Hilmer for Hungary, and was back on the podium one round later at Spa – going from tenth to third in the sprint race. A maiden win followed in race two at Monza.

After a promising rookie campaign in difficult circumstances, he deserves a top seat for 2014. But absent from the post-season testing, it remains to be seen whether he will get that chance. Season rating: 7

Mitch Evans14. Mitch Evans

New Zealand, Arden International, age 19

56 points, 4 podiums, 2 fastest laps

GP3 champion Evans made the step up with Arden, and although he had a difficult rookie campaign in terms of points, there were some fine performances. He began well, claiming a podium finish on his debut in Malaysia despite suffering from food poisoning.

Non-scoring weekends like those in Bahrain and Barcelona would be too common an appearance throughout the year, but he impressed in Monaco. After topping his qualifying group, he got a better start than team-mate Johnny Cecotto and led before finishing third – a result he repeated on Sunday. One further podium came in Hungary, before a fairly low-key run-in. He outperformed Cecotto, and learning from his team-mate would have been difficult.

The end of mentor Mark Webber’s working relationship with Arden owner Christian Horner could lead to Evans driving elsewhere next year – he’s tested for Russian Time and Racing Engineering – but budget could be a stumbling block. Season rating: 7

Robin Frijns15. Robin Frijns

Netherlands, Hilmer Motorsport, age 22

47 points, 1 win, 2 podiums

After an uncertain winter, Formula Renault 3.5 champion Frijns landed a GP2 drive with newcomers Hilmer from round two in Bahrain. His first weekend would be a tough baptism, but he certainly proved his worth in Barcelona.

There, he won the feature race from eighth on the grid with a magnificent drive, and finished second on Sunday. Unfortunately, more point-less weekends followed in Monaco and Britain, and at the Nurburgring he fell from third to sixth within a corner of the finish after trying a little too hard to hold off Coletti. Dropped for Hungary to make way for the slightly richer Quaife-Hobbs, he returned for Spa but had to make do with a ninth on his final appearance of the year.

He’s not the finished article, but he’s a mega talent and should absolutely be doing a full season in GP2 next year if F1 is not on. Hopefully a change of management will secure him the backing he deserves. Season rating: 7

Johnny Cecotto16. Johnny Cecotto

Venezuela, Arden International, age 24

41 points, 1 pole position

Cecotto raised plenty of eyebrows last year with a pair of wins for Addax, and so in 2013 the next step was to drop the high rate of retirements and finish high up in the final standings. Except he only got worse.

On the first day of the season in Malaysia he ran Bird off the road in qualifying. In Barcelona he drove into Sergio Canamasas late in the race. In Monaco his aggressive style paid off to deliver him another pole, but after getting jumped by Evans he panicked, out-braked himself and triggered a pile-up which landed him a ban for Sunday’s race. There was more insanity later in Hungary when he interfered with the leaders while a lap down. Amongst all that, his best result was a poor fifth. His average qualifying result was 15th.

Despite staying out of trouble towards the end of the year, Cecotto has lost a lot of credibility. But if he wants to be back in GP2 next year, he will be. Season rating: 4

Kevin Ceccon17. Kevin Ceccon

Italy, Trident Racing, age 20

28 points, 1 podium

After an impressive 2011 that saw him net the Auto GP title and put in some decent GP2 appearances, Ceccon had to spend 2012 in GP3 with the underpowered Ocean team. Trident then offered him a GP2 seat ahead of the 2013 opener in Malaysia.

While he scored a double helping of points in Barcelona, his most impressive performance came in Monaco. After qualifying fifth, he survived the first corner shunt and went on to finish a superb second behind the dominant Bird. Sadly, but somewhat unsurprisingly, his season came to a premature end following a freak start-line crash at the Nurburgring, as Trident turned to drivers with a budget.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to see Ceccon landing a similar opportunity to prove himself in GP2 in 2014. Hopefully he gets a chance in other forms of racing after making his GT Open debut at the end of the year. Season rating: 7

Dani Clos18. Dani Clos

Spain, MP Motorsport, age 25

25 points, 1 podium

The collapse of HRT left race winner Clos in the wilderness at the start of 2013, but he was handed a return to GP2 by MP Motorsport when Quaife-Hobbs moved to Hilmer ahead of the Hungaroring weekend.

Like his predecessor, he struggled in qualifying but was usually able to move forwards in the races. He looked a bit rusty after over a year out though, running into Coletti at Spa when he was in contention for points and earning a drive-through penalty. He then had another collision and penalty on the Sunday. He eventually picked up a point in Singapore and was strong in Abu Dhabi, finishing fifth in race one and second in race two.

Clos, who finished fourth in the 2010 standings, has an uncertain future but would be wise to look outside of single-seaters. Season rating: 6

Rio Haryanto19. Rio Haryanto

Indonesia, Addax Team, age 20

22 points, 1 podium

After a decent rookie season in GP2 in 2012 with Carlin, Haryanto switched to Addax for this season and hoped to move forward with the former champions. However, he found himself leading the team alongside Jake Rosenzweig, and they struggled.

He had decent pace at times, including Malaysia where he qualified seventh but sustained damage on the first lap. His best weekend came at Silverstone, again qualifying seventh and finishing the feature race in the same position before holding second place throughout the sprint race to claim his maiden podium. The rest of the time, he often qualified too low down to challenge for points.

Haryanto tested post-season with Racing Engineering and Caterham, and was impressively a pace-setter with the latter team, who could also offer him F1 mileage should he sign with them for 2014. Season rating: 6

Nathanael Berthon20. Nathanael Berthon

France, Trident Racing, age 24

21 points, 1 win, 2 fastest laps

After a decent maiden GP2 campaign for Racing Engineering in 2012, Berthon only secured a Trident seat at the last minute before Malaysia. He would see out the full season, but it was largely a disappointing campaign.

His only points of the entire year came in Hungary. He finished eighth in the first race, and impressively pulled away from pole in race two and managed to keep the life in his tyres as those behind preserved theirs. He did carry that momentum to Spa where he clinched his only top ten qualifying result of the year in sixth, but a poor start led to contact.

He did drive for Arden at the end of year test in Abu Dhabi, but it remains to be seen whether he can secure a race seat for 2014. Season rating: 6

Simon Trummer21. Simon Trummer

Switzerland, Rapax, age 24

20 points, 1 fastest lap

Trummer was fairly anonymous during his first season of GP2 last year, but a switch from Arden to Rapax had appeared to boost his performance level at first. He qualified ninth in Malaysia, and scored points in all of the first three races.

But from Barcelona onwards, he reverted to his former self, qualifying outside of the top 20 for four consecutive rounds. He would often use a strategy of a longer first stint to drag himself forwards in feature races, which helped him to a sixth and a seventh in Hungary, scoring Rapax’s only points of the second half of the season. His form often matched team-mate Coletti’s, for when the Monegasque man briefly halted his qualifying pain with sixth in Monza, Trummer managed a ninth.

He re-signed with Rapax for 2014 before the season had finished, and must turn that continuity into a more consistent step forward next year. Season rating: 5

Daniel Abt22. Daniel Abt

Germany, ART Grand Prix, age 21

11 points

Having nearly stolen the GP3 title away from Evans at the death last year, Abt had an absolute shocking step up to GP2 with ART. His team-mate Calado was struggling, but rookie Abt was all at sea and collected a mere four points finishes.

Like for Calado, qualifying was the big problem. He was outside of the top 20 on six occasions, and had a best of only 12th in Barcelona. He raced well to take points in Bahrain, and capitalised on ART’s most competitive weekend in Abu Dhabi to take a ninth and a fifth after starting the feature race back in 25th place.

He spent all three days of testing with his fellow Germans at Hilmer and immediately felt more at home in their car, prompting him to sign with them for next year. Hopefully it works out for him and he can show his talents once again. Season rating: 6

Rene Binder23. Rene Binder

Austria, Lazarus, age 21

11 points

After a decent part-campaign in 2012 after some uninspiring seasons in German F3, Binder made a promising start to 2013 when he qualified eighth in Malaysia, following up on some encouraging off-season testing performances.

He picked up his first points in race two at Sepang, but unfortunately he spent most of the rest of the campaign qualifying 20th or lower. He lucked in with the first corner crash in Monaco to pick up a seventh and a sixth, but those would be his last points of the year. To be fair to him, Lazarus had two other inexperienced drivers in their other car for most of the year, and they seemed to? struggle as a team as a result.

A move to Arden for 2014 should give him the platform to convert his occasional flashes of ability into more consistent results. Season rating: 5

The rest

Daniel De Jong failed to improve upon his decent half-season in 2012, driving for his long-term team MP Motorsport, and was the worst qualifier from the full-time entries. Sergio Canamasas had good pace up against team-mate Rossi at Caterham, but it took the 27-year-old (he says he’s 25) until Monza to grow up a bit, stop crashing into things and finally get some points on the board. The remaining full-time driver Jake Rosenzweig failed to score for Addax but his season was overshadowed by the loss of his mother and sister, which he seemed to cope with admirably.

Kevin Giovesi began the year alongside Binder at Lazarus, but failed to convert promise into points before he was ditched after Monaco, going on to impress in Auto GP. Fabrizio Crestani returned to the team to fill in for two races, before Auto GP champion Vittorio Ghirelli saw out the year, scoring the team’s only point of the second half of the year.

Ricardo Teixeira was called upon for two races by Trident in place of Ceccon. Auto GP frontrunner Sergio Campana then made his series debut in the car at Monza, before F3 Open runner-up Gianmarco Raimondo contested the two end-of-year flyways.

Conor Daly scored points on his first GP2 weekend in Malaysia for Hilmer before returning to GP3. Pal Varhaug was in the team’s other car for the first two rounds, but is now up to 22 series starts without a point.

Despite the doubters, Ma Qing Hua qualified a creditable 19th on his debut for Caterham in Malaysia but, after doing F1 practice at his home Grand Prix, departed and made way for Rossi.