Home Featured 2014 GP3 Series season review

2014 GP3 Series season review

by Peter Allen

Photos: GP3 Media Service

Red Bull’s second season of entering drivers into GP3 ended with their second title in the series, as Alex Lynn sealed a season of dominance for Britain in Formula 1 and their supporting feeder series.

He was, as expected, the man to beat at the start of the season, and although he couldn’t maintain that advantage over the field at each race weekend, he did continuously do enough to lead the standings from start to finish.

Jimmy Eriksson and Richie Stanaway challenged him during the early and middle parts of the season before their seasons faded. Dean Stoneman and Marvin Kirchhofer were the class of the field in the final few rounds, but were coming from far too far back to halt the consistent Lynn, whose worst weekend points haul was 12.

It remains to be seen whether any of the class of 2014 has the makings of a future F1 champion, but as ever there was plenty of depth, and drivers from just about any team were able to shine on their day, perhaps making Lynn’s consistency all the more impressive.

The big negative, again, was the lack of action in the majority of races with this second generation car, but that did at least help to make the fun races – notably the second races in Monza and Sochi – all the more special.

Alex Lynn1. Alex Lynn

United Kingdom, Carlin, age 21

207 points, 3 wins, 8 podiums, 2 pole positions, 3 fastest laps

Arriving in GP3 after a Macau Grand Prix triumph and surprise Red Bull deal, Lynn quickly lived up to his status as pre-season favourite, claiming pole, victory and fastest lap on the first two Saturdays of the season, even though he failed to score from the reverse grids.

Second places followed at Silverstone and Hockenheim, while in the second half of the campaign his podiums came on Sundays rather than Saturdays. It was a season of two halves, but he consistently scored points throughout, unlike the variety of rivals he had. Playing the percentage game confirmed him as a mature and intelligent competitor, but as the year went on he did lose the pace he’d worked hard during pre-season to establish.

He’d hoped to follow Daniil Kvyat from GP3 to F1, but another Red Bull Junior winning the FR3.5 crown put paid to that, and breaking into a Toro Rosso seat is only going to get harder. Lynn has the structure around him to go his own way, and stepping up to GP2 with Carlin wouldn’t be a surprise. Season rating: 9/10

Dean Stoneman2. Dean Stoneman

United Kingdom, Marussia Manor Racing/Koiranen GP, age 24

163 points, 5 wins, 6 podiums, 1 pole position, 1 fastest lap

Forced out by cancer after winning the F2 title in 2010, Stoneman made a stunning single-seater return in Abu Dhabi 12 months ago and then joined Marussia Manor for his full-time comeback. He made a winning start in race two in Barcelona.

In Austria he had a first corner clash that wasn’t his fault and car issues hit him at Silverstone, but after scoring points in Germany and Hungary he claimed more wins at Spa at Monza. Marussia then collapsed, but Stoneman was able to return to Koiranen and promptly dominated in Sochi – coming close to a double win – and took the title fight down to Abu Dhabi, where he won once more.

Probably the best racer in the field, he struggled in qualifying with Marussia Manor but proved his speed once back with Koiranen. If only they had been together for the whole season. It would be great to see him in GP2 or FR3.5 – and testing an F1 car again – but Stoneman now seems to have his sights set on the US. That would be a big loss to the European scene. Season rating: 9

Marvin Kirchhofer3. Marvin Kirchhofer

German, ART Grand Prix, age 20

161 points, 1 win, 7 podiums, 2 pole positions, 3 fastest laps

After collecting the ADAC Formel Masters and German F3 titles in his first two years in single-seaters, GP3 would show how well Kirchhofer stacks up on the international scene. Third place, behind two drivers with twice as much experience, was a fine effort.

Things started brightly, scoring five top-five finishes from the first six races, including a first podium at Silverstone. He capitalised on local knowledge to win from pole at Hockenheim, but the wheels then came off his title bid with five straight non-scores – contact in race two in Germany, a consequent grid penalty in Hungary and a formation lap shunt in Spa when he was the highest-placed driver on the correct slick tyre in the damp. He rebounded brilliantly with five straight podiums, and was second only to Stoneman on pace.

He still has things to improve, but Kirchhofer’s first year of top-line competition proved his previous titles didn’t flatter him. He’s another that it would be great to see in GP2 or FR3.5 next year, and he has a decent collection of sponsors, but may also be tempted by opportunities away from European single-seaters. Season rating: 8

Jimmy Eriksson4. Jimmy Eriksson

Sweden, Koiranen GP, age 23

134 points, 2 wins, 5 podiums, 2 pole positions, 1 fastest lap

After an awful point-less season in 2013 with Status, Eriksson immediately found stronger form after switching to Koiranen, taking three podiums from the first four races and then beating Lynn to pole and victory at Silverstone.

He was the Red Bull man’s nearest challenger at that point, but then suffered a seven-race lean spell, with a collision at Silverstone, two penalties in Germany, a quiet weekend in Hungary and contact in Spa that wasn’t his fault. He ended that run with a second win at Monza and did just enough over the remaining races to claim P4 in the standings on countback.

Like all the frontrunners in GP3, a step up to FR3.5 or GP2 is the sensible next step, and Eriksson seems to have the backing to do it, and has tested with DAMS in the former. He also continued with Koiranen in GP3, but remaining there for 2015 would be a disappointing and slightly cynical move. Season rating: 7

Emil Bernstorff5. Emil Bernstorff

United Kingdom, Carlin, age 21

134 points, 1 win, 5 podiums, 1 fastest lap

As predicted, Bernstorff spent the year in the shadow of his team-mate, compatriot and fellow F3 graduate Lynn. But the Anglo-Dane still enjoyed a positive season that firmly put him on the map, having perhaps been a little under the radar until now.

A breakout result did come relatively early in Austria when, after following Lynn home in race one, he avoided contact ahead to win race two, while his team-mate went backwards. A fourth and two thirds followed in the next three races, but the rest of his season was about consistent points-scoring rather than anything spectacular, not taking home any more silverware until the very last race. But for a first-lap off in Barcelona and contact that wasn’t his fault at Hockenheim and Sochi, he could have fought for a top-three placing.

He’s another who warrants a place on the next step on the ladder, and although he lacks the same visible backing as some of his counterparts, doing all three days of the GP2 test in Abu Dhabi is a positive sign. Season rating: 7

Nick Yelloly6. Nick Yelloly

United Kingdom, Status Grand Prix, age 24

127 points, 1 win, 4 podiums

Yelloly took a gamble on a move from Carlin to Status for his third campaign of GP3 but fortunately, with his help, they returned to being a competitive force. That said, he was unable to improve upon his sixth place in the standings, but did end on a high with his maiden win.

Particularly impressive was Yelloly’s consistency. From 18 races, he only once failed to finish in the points – and that was an 11th in Hungary. However, he never quite had the pace to lead the pack. In his defence, despite their improvement, the Status package was perhaps not as competitive as some others. He played second fiddle to his team-mate during the first half of the year, but was able to keep up his performance levels throughout the year to out-score him in the end. And he was only seven points away from P4.

Yelloly showed in FR3.5 in 2012 – when he raced Frijns, Bianchi and Magnussen – what he can do at that level, but budget constraints have prevented him going back there. Hopefully he can land an opportunity elsewhere for 2015. Season rating: 7

Dino Zamparelli7. Dino Zamparelli

United Kingdom, ART Grand Prix, age 22

126 points, 6 podiums, 1 fastest lap

After a challenging but promising rookie season in 2013, Zamparelli landed a plum seat at ART for his soph0more campaign and made use of that to be competitive throughout the season. Only two drivers were on the podium more frequently.

His first rostrum visit came at the opening round in Barcelona, and he later had a mid-season purple patch of four second-places in six races. While his first three podiums came from reverse grids, at Spa and Monza and again in Abu Dhabi his strong showings came on Saturdays. Unfortunately, for all his consistency, he couldn’t quite make the top step, with his failure to convert reverse grid pole in Hungary being particularly frustrating.

Thanks to the local support he gained in 2013 he’s finally been able to mix it with the best at the front of a major series, confirming the potential he showed with titles earlier in his career. Hopefully, this is enough to retain their backing for a GP2 move. Season rating: 7

Richie Stanaway8. Richie Stanaway

New Zealand, Status Grand Prix, age 23

125 points, 2 wins, 5 podiums, 1 pole position

It had seemed Stanaway’s promising single-seater career had ended with his back-breaking FR3.5 crash in 2012, but Status gave him the chance to return and the move worked for both parties, with Stanaway competitive from the off.

He finished the first race in third place, and had scored two thirds and two fourths from the first four races before claiming victory in the reverse grid race at Silverstone, and adding another win from pole in Hungary. He was Lynn’s nearest rival at this point, only 32 points behind after Spa, but the last three weekends were disastrous, with four non-scores and just four points added. A variety of issues included engine failure and missing a weighbridge.

Stanaway didn’t deserve to be shoved down to eighth in the standings, and he was only nine points away from fourth. Things were going positively enough that more single-seaters next year could have been on the cards, but the negative end will probably have harmed that. He deserves a regular competitive drive in a prominent series. Season rating: 8

Jann Mardenborough9. Jann Mardenborough

United Kingdom, Arden International, age 23

77 points, 1 win, 2 podiums, 2 fastest laps

The Nissan GT Academy star made the move from F3 to GP3 for 2014 with the hope that he would turn his promising ability into some top results. There were some embarrassing moments early on though, spinning out of seventh in Barcelona and then when sixth in Spielberg.

Arden struggled in qualifying, but Mardenborough mastered tricky conditions in Silverstone to line up fourth, only to struggle in the races. He got things together mid-season though, taking reverse grid victory at Hockenheim, another podium in Hungary and a pair of fourths at Spa. More good points followed at Sochi, and although he had tough weekends at Monza and Abu Dhabi, he finished up as top Arden driver – a superb achievement against two drivers who had been in GP3 as long he’d been racing full-time.

His fine performance at Le Mans makes him a shoe-in for a part in Nissan’s new LMP1 project for 2015 – the question is whether he will continue in single-seaters alongside (which would be great to see). That he only had one day of post-season running – in FR3.5 at Renault’s invitation – is perhaps telling. Season rating: 7

Patric Niederhauser10. Patric Niederhauser

Switzerland, Arden International, age 23

62 points, 2 wins, 1 fastest lap

After a disappointing second season with Jenzer, Niederhauser switched to top team Arden for 2014 with the hope of challenging for the title and adding to the wins he claimed in his strong rookie campaign in 2012.

He did the latter, with reverse grid successes at the Hungaroring and in Sochi, where he held off the rapid Stoneman and Kirchhofer in the race of the year. He did visit the top step again in Abu Dhabi, only to be excluded for a rear wing infringement, something that prevented him beating Mardenborough on points. While a good racer, Niederhauser has never been the strongest qualifier, and with Arden also struggling in that department, his best Saturday finish was sixth. But he also messed up big time at Spa, going way too hot into the first corner when he was the best-placed starter on slicks.

Niederhauser’s stint in GP3 showed promise that went unfulfilled. Funds have always been tight, and so it may now be best to focus on sportscars, where he successfully dabbled last year. Season rating: 6

Alex Fontana11. Alex Fontana

Switzerland, ART Grand Prix, age 22

43 points, 2 podiums, 2 fastest laps

Just like compatriot Niederhauser, Fontana would have hoped that a move away from Jenzer to a top team would have propelled him forward, but just like Niederhauser, that wasn’t to be the case. He failed to score points at all in the first five rounds.

At many of those events he struggled in qualifying and went backwards in races, but he did achieve a P2 start in Austria, only to spurn it by shutting the door on the Marussia pair on his inside. He was much better after the summer break, taking P3 finishes at Spa and Sochi and a couple of sixths as well, but those four races were the only ones where he registered. He’s put some of his difficulties down to having three different engineers during the year.

Fontana’s now had three low-key years since winning the F3 Open title. Perhaps the highlight of this year was a rapid performance on a single day’s testing in FR3.5. If his support from the Lotus F1 Team was under threat, maybe this promise will be enough to save him. Season rating: 6

Matheo Tuscher12. Matheo Tuscher

Switzerland, Jenzer Motorsport, age 17

29 points, 1 podium, 1 fastest lap

After Niederhauser and Fontana moved on, Tuscher filled the void of the home grown talent to lead the Jenzer attack. And it was a relief to see him there, after the driver who was F2 runner-up at 15 had spent the majority of 2013 on the sidelines.

Despite that absence, he was immediately fast, taking P2 in the second Barcelona race. He was again challenging for the win in Spielberg, but was forced onto the grass as he tried to pass Luis Sa Silva, causing them to collide. At Spa he had his best chance of victory – Kirchhofer and Niderhauser’s mishaps left him as the best slick-shod runner, only to spin away the lead at Eau Rouge.

It might have been a disappointing season in the context of what he had achieved before, but he’s still the youngest in the field and can still improve massively if given the chance. While another year with Jenzer would be good, it would be even better to see him in a top team next year – and he’ll be a very tempting proposition if none of the above return. Season rating: 6

Robert Visoiu13. Robert Visoiu

Romania, Arden International, age 18

23 points, 1 podium

Visoiu is unfortunately another to add to the pile of those that disappointed. At Arden he already had a popular seat, so it made sense to stay for 2014 for this third GP3 campaign, and hope to emerge from the shadow of his Red Bull-backed 2013 team-mates.

But while last year he scored a couple of reverse grid wins, all he could manage this year was a single podium, and he dropped two championship places. Qualifying became even more of a struggle for him than it had been before – only twice did he line up inside the top ten. At the first of those in Hungary, he flew from fourth to second at the start but botched his late move for the lead on Stanaway and fell to third.

It wasn’t a positive season, but Visoiu has previously shown some decent promise, and most importantly is still very young. If he makes the correct next moves – with an FR3.5 move seeming likely – he could yet succeed. Season rating: 5

Patrick Kujala14. Patrick Kujala

Finland, Marussia Manor Racing/Trident, age 18

22 points

After being in a little at the deep end in his rookie GP3 season in 2013, Kujala made a step forward this year, although his season did not live up to the promise shown at the beginning. In Barcelona, he qualified fifth and finished fourth after passing Kirchhofer.

In Austria he went one better on the grid, but was stopped from getting a good result by the contact from Fontana. After that, the pace was not so good, and a couple of strong starting positions ended with non-finishes. Marussia Manor’s collapse forced a switch to Trident, and his P9 in Sochi was the team’s second best result of the year. But at the end of it all, to the outside anyway, his move away from Koiranen didn’t look like a wise one.

He’s another with time on his side, and who has shown promise. He chose to test with Arden in post-season, but with budget seemingly not an issue, ART would perhaps give him the most reliable platform for next year. Season rating: 6

Kevin Ceccon15. Kevin Ceccon

Italy, Jenzer Motorsport, age 21

20 points (4/9 rounds)

Over a year after his last race in GP2, Ceccon was handed a return to GP3 by the Jenzer team for the final four rounds, after previously contesting the full 2012 season with Ocean. He began solidly with a pair of 11th place finishes at Spa.

At Monza he picked up his first points with sixth in race two, followed by a fifth in Sochi and then a ninth and a sixth in Abu Dhabi. He was the team’s top scorer while he was there, and only scored nine points fewer than their top driver Tuscher did all year.

Really, Ceccon should be racing at a higher level, but he’s still young enough to be a GP3 driver if that’s what it’s going to take for him to be racing something in 2015. Season rating: 6

Riccardo Agostini16. Riccardo Agostini

Italy, Hilmer Motorsport, age 20

18 points (8/9 rounds)

With a European F3 campaign not starting as well as hoped – a bit like his Auto GP programme last year – Agostini made a GP3 switch for round two with Hilmer, which included much of the JD Motorsport squad that took him to the 2012 Italian F3 crown.

It didn’t take long for him to make an impression in his new series, scoring a sixth and a fifth at Silverstone, followed by two more points finishes at Hockenheim. This was a fine job, given his and the team’s lack of car experience. Unfortunately he would score just one further point at Spa, but did finish half his races inside the top 12 and was the only Hilmer driver to score at all.

Returning for a full campaign in 2015, with pre-season testing under his belt, would make a lot of sense. Season rating: 6

Pal Varhaug17. Pal Varhaug

Norway, Jenzer Motorsport, age 23

12 points

The man who won the first ever GP3 race in 2010 returned to the series with the same Jenzer team after three years that included stints in GP2 and Auto GP. For a driver of that experience though, it would not prove to be a happy return.

He qualified ninth in Barcelona but that and the following rounds were difficult, and he failed to score from the first five rounds. The right strategy at Spa brought him his season-best finish of fifth from 21st on the grid, and he scored again with eighth on the Sunday. His final point would come with tenth in Sochi, though he did also finish the season on a relative high with ninth in Abu Dhabi.

With his single-seater career most definitely going nowhere, Varhaug really needs to switch his focus to another form of racing. Season rating: 5

Roman de Beer18. Roman de Beer

South Africa, Trident, age 20

8 points, 1 fastest lap (5/9 rounds)

Some strong testing performances helped de Beer to get the Trident GP3 seat he had been aiming at since the end of 2012, when his last race mileage had come in the Italian F3 series. Unfortunately though, his campaign would only last five rounds.

Things didn’t start brilliantly, retiring on the first lap of the season after contact with a team-mate and then being disqualified from race two for failing to serve a drive-through. He was brilliant in Spielberg though, finishing fourth in race two from 12th on the grid. That would be Trident’s only points finish of the season. The three tough rounds that followed for de Beer meant those were his last.

That one glimpse of promise he showed means it would be great to see de Beer back in GP3 next year but it remains to be seen it that’s possible. Season rating: 6

Luis Sa Silva19. Luis Sa Silva

Angola, Carlin, age 24

6 points

Sa Silva managed to bag a second season in GP3 with Carlin and did at least manage to improve on 2013 by scoring some points but, mathematically at least, his team would have been champions even without his contribution.

Those first points came in Austria – when Carlin were dominant – when he finished eighth in race one from tenth on the grid. That put him on reverse grid pole for race two but wasted the opportunity when he forced Tuscher onto the grass, causing contact. His best result of the season was seventh in Monza, a good effort from P14 on the grid. There often was decent progress in races – in a series where overtaking is tricky – but he only twice qualified better than 18th.

Sa Silva has been testing in both GP2 and FR3.5 recently but Auto GP, where he scored a podium on his debut at the final round, would be a more sensible move. Season rating: 5

Luca Ghiotto20. Luca Ghiotto

Italy, Trident, age 19

4 points, 1 pole position (2/9 rounds)

Ghiotto’s main focus of 2014 was on a rookie campaign in Formula Renault 3.5, but he kept himself sharp in the championship’s summer break by joining Trident for Spa, where he made quite an impression.

In traditionally tricky conditions, he and the team got the timing just right to claim a shock pole position on his debut. He led the race until being forced to pit by the drying track – a decision that was perhaps left unnecessarily late. He was back at Monza two weeks later, but his home round was somewhat more low key, qualifying 19th.

He returned to the team for post-season testing and went very well indeed, topping two sessions. A move to GP3 next year would be a step down from FR3.5 but it may be tempting. Alternatively, a full or partial campaign on the side may be a possibility. Trident would no doubt be keen to make it happen. Season rating: N/A

The rest

Alfonso Celis was the only other driver to score points, finishing seventh in race two in Sochi having threatened to take points several times in the third Status entry. Two drivers did the full season without scoring – Nelson Mason at Hilmer and Santiago Urrutia at Koiranen, who both found the step up to GP3 tough despite impressing in F3 Open in 2013. Missing a single round, meanwhile, was Ryan Cullen, whose second season with Marussia Manor ended with their collapse before resurfacing in Abu Dhabi with Trident.

Trident used a massive ten drivers across the nine rounds. Former Indy Lights competitor Victor Carbone left after struggling in the first four rounds. Ex-F3 driver Mitch Gilbert did five rounds in the middle of the year, showing glimpses of speed once he got a violent crash out the way in his first qualifying session. His management stablemate John Bryant-Meisner did Spa and Monza, Denis Nagulin did the opening round and Kang Ling the finale.

One Trident driver though got perhaps the most global exposure of any in the whole series, despite his campaign ending during his first practice session. Euroformula Open regular Konstantin Tereschenko entered at Spa, only to suffer a spectacular roll after being launched off the kerb at the final chicane, ending his weekend early.

Hilmer also went through numerous drivers early on before things settled down. Ivan Taranov‘s planned season lasted just the opening round, where Beitske Visser also took part before handing over to Agostini. Ex-FR3.5 racer Nikolay Martsenko took over the Taranov car for Spielberg, and would return for his home round in Sochi. In the intervening five rounds the car was driven by Sebastian Balthasar, but he was unable to repeat promise shown in German F3 and FA1.

Adderly Fong did the opening four rounds for Jenzer, then disappearing until his F1 run in Abu Dhabi with Sauber. Christopher Hoher took over for Hungary before Ceccon’s arrival.

Carmen Jorda‘s third GP3 season came with Koiranen, but it ended two rounds before the end, when Stoneman took over and hauled the car from the back to the front.