GP2 enjoyed a bit of a renaissance in 2014, thanks significantly to the arrival of hotly-rated drivers backed by McLaren and Ferrari.
Stoffel Vandoorne was the best rookie for years on his way to the runner-up spot, and Raffaele Marciello was also a winner, as were Lotus-supported mid-season addition Marco Sorensen and another FR3.5 convert Arthur Pic. There were two victories for Mitch Evans, Felipe Nasr found winning ways and Jolyon Palmer was a pretty convincing champion, even if he was in his fourth year.
Experience does still count for quite a lot and driving strength isn’t as deep as it has been, but this was definitely a more positive season than the past couple. Here, we deliver our verdict on the top 20 drivers from GP2 2014.
1. Jolyon Palmer
United Kingdom, DAMS, age 23
276 points, 4 wins, 12 podiums, 3 pole positions, 3 fastest laps
Returning for a fourth year in GP2, the form man of late 2013 swapped Carlin for DAMS and did what he had to do by winning the title in style. The ground work was done early on, leading the championship from round one and holding a 46-point lead after just three rounds.
Palmer’s consistency meant his lead never fell below 29 after that, and he put the title beyond doubt with three races to go. He wasn’t perfect – he only once converted pole into a win, twice losing out to Vandoorne off the line – but he only failed to make the podium on one weekend, and scored points in every race until the title was secured. Maturity and focus enabled him to pair consistent speed with an ability to stay out of trouble despite an aggressive approach to racing, as he wisely attempted to impress in each race, not just over the season.
With F1 grid numbers decreasing and the available seats having gone for figures that not even Palmer and his father can match, it seems he will have to make do with a reserve role at best in 2015. But he has matured into a top racer who can go on to enjoy success elsewhere. Season rating: 9/10
2. Stoffel Vandoorne
Belgium, ART Grand Prix, age 22
229 points, 4 wins, 10 podiums, 4 pole positions, 3 fastest laps
After finishing second to his fellow McLaren protege Kevin Magnussen in FR3.5 in 2013, Vandoorne made the switch to GP2 and although expectations were modest because of his status as a rookie and ART’s struggles in recent years, he impressed massively.
He burst out of the traps with victory in his very first race in Bahrain, but then suffered a five-race barren spell due to stalling in Barcelona and a strategy cock-up by his team in Monaco. Feature race podiums in Spielberg and Silverstone were followed by a double at Hockenheim, before finally returning to top spot in the Hungary sprint. A record four consecutive poles followed, which he converted into wins in Monza and Abu Dhabi to steal the runner-up spot at the last weekend. Clearly the quickest in the field by the end, he wasn’t as clinical as Palmer but that’s excusable given the experience gap.
There’s no doubt Vandoorne is ready for F1, but with a logjam at McLaren actually forcing him to be demoted from his role as chief reserve driver, he will have to stay on for a second season in GP2. He can only improve by being champion, which should provide practice in delivering a title under pressure. Season rating: 9
3. Felipe Nasr
Brazil, Carlin, age 22
224 points, 4 wins, 10 podiums, 1 pole position, 1 fastest lap
Nasr was another entering a must-win season in GP2, as he returned for a third year after finishing fourth in 2013. That he could only manage third must therefore count as a disappointment, although the Brazilian did show improvement, notably taking four wins.
Remaining with Carlin, the former Formula BMW and British F3 champion had failed to win races in his first two seasons, but quickly got that monkey off his back in Barcelona. That opened up the floodgates, with further victories coming at Spielberg and Silverstone. But serious questions were asked after Hungary, where he was passed by Palmer in both races and complained about those legitimate moves. He responded well to the criticism with win number four at Spa, but failed to capitalise on Palmer’s woes in Monza and then couldn’t prevent the relentless Vandoorne relegating him to P3.
Frustratingly, Nasr is still far from the finished article, but with his backers realising it’s probably now or never for his F1 chances, he’s secured a Sauber seat for 2015. As ever, he’s got the talent to do well, but he must mature quickly. Season rating: 8
4. Mitch Evans
New Zealand, Russian Time, age 20
174 points, 2 wins, 6 podiums, 3 fastest laps
In just his second year in GP2, Evans proved he’s good enough to mix it with the best. The 2012 GP3 champion left Arden to join a Russian Time squad that underwent much change over the winter, with iSport returning to the fold to to run the team.
A period of readjustment for them probably contributed to Evans getting just two points from the first two weekends before he came second to Palmer in Monaco. Back-to-back feature race victories soon followed, defeating Palmer late on at Silverstone and out-foxing the Briton and Vandoorne on strategy at Hockenheim. He didn’t win again, but after a blip in Hungary, he kept up his strong feature race form with a fifth at Spa followed by podiums in Monza, Sochi and Abu Dhabi as he solidified a fine fourth in the standings.
With his delicate funding situation, there’s probably little choice other than to stick with Russian Time next year and the presence of Vandoorne and others will make winning the title tough, but he should prove again that he’s among the very best at this level despite still being relatively youthful. Season rating: 8
5. Johnny Cecotto
Venezuela, Trident, age 25
140 points, 2 wins, 5 podiums, 1 pole position
2014 saw veteran bad-boy Cecotto mellow somewhat into a better performer thanks to a return to Italian team Trident. Those more comfortable surroundings quickly yielded a return to the top step in the Barcelona feature, making the most of an alternate strategy from 16th.
After two fourths in Monaco (which was almost disappointing for a circuit master arriving on a high), another win came in the sprint race in Spielberg after starting the weekend with pole. He started the year having lost his plentiful sponsorship from back home over the winter, but did enough to get it back for Germany where, interestingly, things started to fall apart again. From there, he failed to finish on five occasions, but pulled another top weekend out of the bag at Spa, where he was third and second in the two races.
Despite the positives, let’s not pretend Cecotto is F1 material like those around him. He’s gone over the 100-start mark now. He says he’s finished with GP2 at last, and although he still has F1 dreams, it’s hard to see that coming to much. Season rating: 7
6. Stefano Coletti
Monaco, Racing Engineering, age 25
136 points, 2 wins, 5 podiums, 4 fastest laps
After Coletti’s spectacular collapse in 2013 – where he led the championship after three wins in the first four rounds but then scored only once in the last seven rounds – it was a bit of a surprise to see him return, but he began positively with fourth in the opening race.
Despite his experience, he didn’t have it in him to help Racing Engineering challenge for a second straight drivers’ title, but after a couple of wobbly weekends, he hit his stride in the middle of the season. In Austria he finished fourth, then second, and repeated those results at Silverstone. After another fourth at Hockenheim, he went one better on the Sunday, producing a great win after starting on slicks on a wet track. At Monza he took second in the sprint race from ninth on the grid, and he won the season finale in Abu Dhabi. Although he hasn’t matured in a complete driver, he proved himself to be a great racer as he regularly fought his way through the order.
Acknowledging his time in GP2 is now up, he is now looking to see what opportunities lie elsewhere. Sportscars have always seemed like a good fit, but he may also keep his single-seater ambitions alive having recently tested an IndyCar. Season rating: 7
7. Arthur Pic
France, Campos Racing, age 23
124 points, 1 win, 3 podiums, 1 fastest lap
Pic arrived in GP2 having never really set the world alight in his three-year stint in FR3.5, but his rookie season in his new category was impressive. Particularly given that he did so leading the Campos team on their return.
As Vandoorne proved, the step from FR3.5 to GP2 isn’t massive, but Pic showed well by doing more than just adapting to a new car. He finished all of the first six races inside the top ten, and five of them in the top six, putting him fifth in the standings. The next three weekends were much tougher, but in Hungary he made the podium for the first time in some style, winning the feature race after a safety car played into his strategy of pitting early. Come Monza he showed out-and-out pace, qualifying and finishing second to Vandoorne, before tying with the in-form Belgian for pole in Sochi. His third podium came in the season finale at the end of another strong scoring run.
On that form, the early decision to stick with Campos for 2015 looks like a wise one. Fighting Vandoorne for the title seems unrealistic, but he’s proved he’s not far behind. Season rating: 7
8. Raffaele Marciello
Italy, Racing Engineering, age 20
74 points, 1 wins 4 podiums, 1 pole position, 1 fastest lap
After he won the 2013 European F3 title, Ferrari opted to place their leading Italian protege in GP2 with champion team Racing Engineering, and much was expected after strong testing performances.
He proved to be spectacular and quick, even if he only had six points finishes. Although he was qualifying well enough, incidents meant he didn’t score in the first three rounds, but seemed to get his season started with two third-places at Spielberg. He promptly qualified on pole at Silverstone, only to suffer a car failure. He was quick and on the winning strategy in the next two feature races, but lost out due to a pitlane stall and a speeding penalty respectively – the latter of which understandably irritated his bosses. He put things right next time out at Spa though, to beat Vandoorne to the win in the wet. A fourth podium came in Sochi, but his run-in was otherwise more of the same.
Marciello proved time and again he was one of the quickest racers in the field, but you need more than that to succeed in GP2 and he has a fair bit of maturing to do. To Ferrari’s credit, they continue to support him and have secured him a Sauber reserve role next year, but he’ll need to make progress in his sophomore GP2 campaign. Season rating: 7
9. Stephane Richelmi
Monaco, DAMS, age 24
73 points, 1 win, 2 podiums, 1 pole position
Richelmi stayed with top team DAMS for a second season but failed to make much progress on 2013 while his new team-mate won the title. He helped the outfit win the teams’ crown, but lost a place in the drivers’ standings and scored 30 fewer points.
He did make progress in one important statistic by netting his first win, and it couldn’t have come in a better place than his home streets of Monaco in the sprint race, as part of a clean sweep of victories for DAMS that weekend. He had earlier claimed a second GP2 pole in Barcelona but was one of several caught out in an aborted start. Richelmi lost the consistency that marked him out in 2013, scoring just nine points between his Monaco win and a strong weekend at Monza, where he collected a fourth and a third.
He’s indicated his time in single-seaters has come to an end, and has already explored alternatives with two rounds in the Blancpain Sprint Series in an Audi with veteran compatriot Stephane Ortelli, claiming a podium in Baku. Season rating: 6
10. Julian Leal
Colombia, Carlin, age 24
68 points, 2 podiums, 1 fastest lap
Leal moved from Racing Engineering to Carlin for his fourth season in GP2 and started very well, getting the better of Palmer to finish second in the opening race before taking third in the sprint race. That put him second to Palmer in the standings.
He would maintain that position through the Barcelona weekend with another strong performance, with a fourth and a fifth. He still held a top six place after Silverstone, but after that he would score just two further points with a ninth place in Sochi. A fourth year driver in a top team should score points more often than that, and although there were times when he was able to rival his team-mate Nasr on track, he simply couldn’t get the same good results.
Tenth is his best championship position in his four stint in GP2, but that progress doesn’t justify his decision to come back for a fifth season, remaining with Carlin. As he goes over the 100-start mark he’ll need to start winning races, although it would be better for the series if he didn’t interfere with the big names. Season rating: 6
11. Marco Sorensen
Denmark, MP Motorsport, age 24
47 points, 1 win (7/11 rounds)
Sorensen endured an even tougher third season in FR3.5 in 2014 than his second had been, after his year had started positively with the arrival of Saxo Bank as a sponsor and a promotion up the ranks at the Lotus F1 Team as a result. But he took the chance to redeem himself.
He secured a GP2 seat with MP Motorsport for Silverstone and doubled their number of points finishes for the year so far by scoring in both races there. He did the same again in Germany, including a fourth place in the wet second race. After two P10s in Hungary, Spa was tougher but he claimed another sprint race P4 in Monza and then won in Sochi from reverse grid pole, holding off Vandoorne to get the team’s first win.
Sorensen’s GP2 performances have hopefully been enough to retain his new source of funding for 2015, and given his performances with a fairly unfancied team, he could do some great things if given a top seat. Season rating: 7
12. Andre Negrao
Brazil, Arden International, age 22
31 points (10/11 rounds)
Negrao didn’t adapt to GP2 as quickly as fellow FR3.5 exports Vandoorne, Pic and Sorensen and after Hungary he had still failed to score a single point. But he ended up with 12th place in the standings and was the highest scoring driver not to make the podium.
His delay in getting on the scoreboard wasn’t helped by an injury sustained by falling off his bike, ruling him out of Barcelona where Tom Dillmann proved the pace of his car by putting it on the podium. The points haul began in Spa, where he finished ninth in the feature race, only losing the reverse grid pole for the sprint race a lap from the end. Eighth followed in the sprint race before an even more competitive showing at Monza, with two fifths. There were then two sixths in Sochi.
Negrao seems happy at Arden, spending all of post-season testing with them, suggesting he will stay there for 2015. He’ll hope to maintain his scoring form and to get up onto the podium. Season rating: 6
13. Adrian Quaife-Hobbs
United Kingdom, Rapax, age 23
30 points, 1 podium, 1 fastest lap (9/11 rounds)
Quaife-Hobbs was unable to build upon his rookie season, finishing in the same 13th position and only making the podium on one occasion versus three in 2013. Rapax wasn’t an ideal team given their late-’13 struggle and it showed in their lack of qualifying pace.
This meant that Quaife-Hobbs started feature races no higher than 17th before his season was cut short by injury with two rounds to go. To therefore make the points eight times from 18 races showed his strength on race days. He was particularly good in the opening three rounds, where he finished all six races in the top ten despite starting the weekends much further back. Things were quieter after that, but he did claim a remarkable second place in the strategic Hungary feature race from 22nd on the grid.
Quaife-Hobbs is good enough to drive for one of the top teams but his limited funding makes that seem unlikely. It would therefore not be a surprise to see him call time on GP2 and race something a little less expensive. Season rating: 6
14. Sergio Canamasas
Spain, Trident, age 28
29 points, 1 podium (10/11 rounds)
There was much amusement when Trident revealed that Canamasas would pair up with Cecotto from Barcelona onwards, but both quickly shut everybody up. The Spaniard did his bit in Monaco where he finished fifth in race one and then second in race two.
Canamasas – who despite his decent pace had only scored points twice from 32 starts prior to 2014 – sadly reverted to form a little after that. For a while he generally stayed out of trouble but lacked the same pace as his team-mate to challenge for points, but at Monza he showed his dangerous streak again and was black-flagged for the second time. He promptly responded with his second most competitive showing of the year in Sochi, qualifying tenth and finishing seventh, before his car failed while on course for another podium on Sunday.
Whether he will be seen again next year remains to be discovered, but he wouldn’t be missed by his fellow drivers, judging by their reactions to his Monza shenanigans. Season rating: 6
15. Rio Haryanto
Indonesia, Caterham Racing, age 21
28 points, 1 podium
Haryanto came into his third campaign off the back of very strong winter testing with the Caterham team, but once the season started, the team struggled badly. Haryanto was able to outscore team-mate Alexander Rossi before the American departed mid-season.
He got a fifth place finish in Barcelona and then went very well in Monaco, even topping his qualifying group to line up on the front row alongside Palmer. He slipped back to seventh in the feature race but was able to end his weekend with a podium. Those, however, would be his final points until Abu Dhabi. His qualifying form was poor in the middle of the year, but in Yas Marina he started and finished ninth.
In three years in GP2, Haryanto’s failed to repeat the promise he showed in GP3, but he’s been affected by struggling teams for the past two seasons and his rookie campaign with Carlin remains his best yet. In Abu Dhabi he tested with Racing Engineering for the second year in a row, but also with the Campos team he raced for in its Addax days. Season rating: 6
16. Daniel Abt
Germany, Hilmer Motorsport, age 22
27 points (10/11 rounds)
Abt suffered a nightmare rookie GP2 season with ART in 2013 but was more positive following a switch to Hilmer Motorsport and a strong winter with his new team. But although he made some progress, it was another disappointing season for him.
He confirmed his pre-season pace by qualifying third for the opening race in Bahrain, but it wasn’t until Silverstone that he finally scored a solitary point, after misfortune and incidents in the opening three rounds. He scored two fifth-place finishes at the Hungaroring, and continued his scoring run through the Spa round. But he then suffered more non-finishes in Monza and Sochi when he was again hit by rivals during the feature races, wrecking his weekends.
Abt chose to skip the final round to focus on his commitments in Formula E with his family team. Although affected by bad luck, the man who missed out on the 2012 GP3 title by just two points just hasn’t adapted well to GP2 and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him move on elsewhere. The door at Audi will always be open, but he seems keen to continue his single-seater career in IndyCar and has tested with top team Andretti. Season rating: 6
17. Simon Trummer
Switzerland, Rapax, age 25
26 points, 1 podium
Rather like Leal, Trummer’s 2014 season began with some major progress. After starting from the pits after stalling, he showed strong pace on a late-stopping strategy to finish seventh, before leading the sprint race and finishing second, putting him a lofty fourth on points.
He failed to build upon that maiden podium though, and scored points on just one further occasion, with sixth at Hockenheim. While Quaife-Hobbs struggled badly in qualifying, Trummer actually started ninth in Germany, eighth in Belgium and fifth in Italy, but failed to make the most of those latter two opportunities.
In terms of points and championship position, this was Trummer’s best season yet, but a third-year driver has to do better than that. Now 25, it’s perhaps time to move on, but having tested with Racing Enginering and Trident, that doesn’t look that likely. Season rating: 6
18. Takuya Izawa
Japan, ART Grand Prix, age 30
26 points, 1 podium
Izawa arrived in GP2 at the age of 29 thanks to the new tie-up between ART and the revived McLaren-Honda partnership, but with six years and three wins in the Super Formula series under his belt, he wasn’t to be underestimated.
He quickly showed what he could do by going from 23rd to sixth in the opening race in Bahrain. After a couple of tough rounds he scored points in both races in Spielberg and then made the podium in the Hungary feature race from last on the grid. In Sochi, he qualified a fine third. It’s telling that his best performances came at the two new circuits, as well as Bahrain and Abu Dhabi where he tested pre-season. Elsewhere, he had a massive circuit knowledge deficit to the competition and it showed in qualifying, but his race pace was often good.
It would make sense for Izawa to be allowed a second of GP2 to show some progress now he knows the tracks, but a couple of his compatriots were tested in his place in Abu Dhabi and they may offer better long-term options for Honda. Season rating: 6
19. Tom Dillmann
France, Arden International/Caterham Racing, age 25
18 points, 1 podium (4/11 rounds)
Dillmann was left without a seat by the off-season changes at Russian Time following the death of its founder Igor Mazepa and the severing of ties with the Motopark team, but he was an obvious choice when Arden needed a late replacement for Negrao for Barcelona.
He quickly got up to speed with his new team and he claimed eighth in the feature race, before taking third in the sprint race from the reverse grid pole. He would be back four rounds later when Alexander Rossi split with Caterham. At Hockenheim he qualified a fine fourth, and bettered that in Hungary with second, but in his three-round stint with the team, race pace was a struggle and he only scored points once.
He left the team ahead of Monza to concentrate on his burgeoning career in Porsches, which saw him finish third in the French Carrera Cup. Hopefully he can forge a career for himself there, but he’ll no doubt remain a popular GP2 sub. Season rating: 6
20. Nathanael Berthon
France, Lazarus, age 25
It was a surprise when Berthon did a deal with Lazarus for his third GP2 season in advance of pre-season testing, and it proved to be a fairly fruitless campaign, matching the 20th position he had in 2013 with Trident.
With qualifying form a struggle, it wasn’t until Hockenheim that Berthon scored the team’s first points of the season with eighth. Wet weather prevented him making anything of reverse grid pole on the Sunday. He kept up his 100 per cent record up making the points in the Hungarian feature race and claiming a front row spot for the sprint race – this time taking fourth after his P2 and victory in earlier years. He scored a final point of the year in the Sochi feature race.
While his GP2 career has never got far off the ground, Berthon impressed with his pace in early sportscar outings this year, and it would be wise to focus his time and resources fully onto that next year. Season rating: 6
Alexander Rossi was expected to be a title contender but scored points just twice from the opening ten races with Caterham, before leaving after Tony Fernandes sold the F1 team. He scored points on a one-off with Campos at the following round at Hockenheim, while a switch to Marussia nearly yielded his F1 race debut on at least three occasions.
Jon Lancaster started the season with MP Motorsport after strong testing performances, but no points in Bahrain led to his replacement by GP3 graduate Tio Ellinas. The Cypriot adapted quickly, finishing seventh in his first race in Barcelona, and tenth in Monaco, but lost his drive to Sorensen for Silverstone.
He would get one further outing in place of Quaife-Hobbs at Rapax in Sochi, with Kevin Giovesi doing the same honours in Abu Dhabi.
Lancaster returned to action for Silverstone when GP3 runner-up Facu Regalia had a messy split with Hilmer Motorsport after failing to score from the first four rounds. Lancaster didn’t fare much better, unable to repeat his two wins from 2013 with the team and instead scoring points just once. Nicholas Latifi replaced Abt in the other car for Abu Dhabi and did well given he hadn’t driven the car before free practice.
Russian Time protege Artem Markelov predictably struggled with the step up from German F3, scoring points only with a brilliant run to seventh in the wet Spa feature race. He regularly qualified at the back, but often impressed in racing conditions.
Rene Binder‘s only points in his second full season came in the two Bahrain races, and he was otherwise overshadowed conclusively by rookie Arden team-mate Negrao. Daniel De Jong was the worst full-season driver, with his only two points coming with tenth places at Spa and in Abu Dhabi.
Conor Daly did the majority of the season alongside Berthon at Lazarus but scored points just once, with seventh in the Hungary sprint race. Auto GP regular Sergio Campana replaced him for Monza and Sochi. Kimiya Sato took until the Sochi sprint race to net points for Campos, though did skip Hockenheim to focus on winning the Auto GP title.
Axcil Jefferies was the last-placed of the 34 drivers with his GP2 plans only lasting the opening round for Trident, but the final mention is reserved for Pierre Gasly.
The Formula Renault 3.5 runner-up became the first Red Bull Junior to compete in GP2 for years when he did the final three rounds for Caterham. No testing made things difficult, but he did qualify a fine sixth in Abu Dhabi. Even more impressive things were to come the following week, when he stepped into Palmer’s DAMS car and set the pace in four of the six test sessions. Definitely one to watch next year.