Home Featured GP3 Series 2012 driver-by-driver review

GP3 Series 2012 driver-by-driver review

by Peter Allen

Photo: GP3 Media Service

With another cracking GP3 season having come to an end, it’s time to file each driver’s end-of-term report…

Mitch Evans1. Mitch Evans

New Zealand, MW Arden, age 18

151.5 points, 3 wins, 6 podiums, 4 pole positions, 4 fastest laps

Evans began the year as the overwhelming pre-season favourite and finished it with the title. He proved his pace with pole in half of the qualifying session – and thus collected 16 crucial bonus points. However, he would have expected more than six podiums from the 16 races, and six non-scores nearly cost him the title that he should have won. To give him the benefit of the doubt though, luck wasn’t always on his side with three of those poor results down to punctures.

He may not have been as convincing as we had expected, but it must be remembered he’s still only 18, his first two years in Europe have been impressive and he remains one of the most promising talents around. Next up for Mark Webber’s protege? Either GP2 or Formula Renault 3.5, depending on what his budget allows. Season rating: 9

Daniel Abt2. Daniel Abt

Germany, Lotus GP, age 19

149.5 points, 2 wins, 7 podiums, 1 pole position

F3 convert Abt entered his first season of GP3 off the back of some pace-setting times in testing, although by the midway point of the season he’d only collected a couple of reverse grid podium finishes. Pole on home soil at Hockenheim proved he did indeed have great speed, and at Spa he pulled off the overtaking move of the season to grab his first win. But it was Monza that was perhaps the greatest weekend of his career to date, as he so nearly managed a double win from the fourth row of the grid to snatch the title.

His consistency was particularly impressive (he finished in the top seven in 13 of the 16 races), as was his clean driving style and his ability to stay out of trouble. In fact, all of that’s probably linked. With budget no issue, a GP2 move is on the horizon although he’s also getting some FR3.5 practice in. Season rating: 9

Antonio Felix da Costa3. Antonio Felix da Costa

Portugal, Carlin, age 21

132 points, 3 wins, 6 podiums, 1 pole position, 5 fastest laps

After a poor 2011, Felix da Costa had to deliver in 2012. And things didn’t look great early on, having thrown away pole in Barcelona with a jump start. It was a surprise to see him signed up by Red Bull but that seemed to rejuvenate his GP3 campaign as he blew the opposition away to win at Silverstone. He wrote off his title hopes after his double retirement in Germany but then followed up his landmark two wins in Hungary with two second-places in Spa and would have won the title without gearbox gremlins in Monza.

Some areas certainly still need work, but Felix da Costa has certainly relaunched himself as a name to keep an eye out for. And his budget concerns are gone for as long as he can remain in Red Bull’s good books. He’s already shining in FR3.5 and should be a title favourite there next year, assuming he isn’t fast-tracked into F1. Season rating: 9

Aaro Vainio4. Aaro Vainio

Finland, Lotus GP, age 19

123 points, 1 win, 4 podiums, 2 pole positions

Vainio’s season began oh so brightly, with his Monaco win giving him the championship lead. Follow-up podiums in Valencia and Silverstone kept him in touch with Evans, but his race two collision in England gave him a penalty that impacted his German weekend. The pace returned for Hungary with pole, but he wasted it with a poor start before the wrong call on tyres prevented him from winning on Sunday. Cruelly knocked off track by Ellinas in Spa, he then ended the year by stupidly getting caught ignoring yellow flags in both of Monza’s races.

2012 will be the year that Vainio confirmed the promise he showed in karting, but there’s clearly some refinement to do yet. As part of Nicolas Todt’s management stable, a step up to GP2 with Lotus would be obvious although an intermediate year in FR3.5 can’t be ruled out – he does after all only have three years of single-seaters under his belt. Season rating: 8

Matias Laine5. Matias Laine

Finland, MW Arden, age 22

111 points, 1 win, 4 podiums

Laine was without doubt 2012’s most improved. Last year he somehow managed no better than a 14th place finish all season, even with a year in the F3 Euro Series under his belt. But he showed frontrunning pace in post-season testing and carried that into the new campaign, notching up a podium in Barcelona and adding another in Valencia. Come Spa he had the pace to win and although he threw it off the road in Race 1 he did manage to take the chequered flag first at the second attempt.

While he didn’t have the out-and-out pace to be an unlikely title contender, he was a consistent top scorer, finishing every race in the second half of the season in the top seven and he therefore didn’t finish up too far shy of the leaders in the final standings. Could now stick around for a third year for a title attempt, but hasn’t shied away from making a step-up before. And at 22 he needs to get a move on. Season rating: 7

Conor Daly6. Conor Daly

United States, Lotus GP, age 20

106 points, 1 win, 5 podiums

Daly didn’t quite have the pace to match his teammates, but still put in a good campaign. Took the reverse grid race win at Barcelona to boost his reputation in Europe as well as back home and land himself some aero testing duties with Force India, but then came four non-scores. First a jump-start penalty, then his notorious Monaco accident, then another jump-start in Valencia and a race two collision for which he was to blame.

Unable to make up the ground to the title contenders, he did nonetheless record four podium finishes from the remaining races and was a consistent feature towards the front of the grid. Another who will surely be in GP2 or FR3.5 next year, as he seems as hungry for F1 as ever. Could probably do with more work on his standing starts, something he’s still a relative newcomer to. Season rating: 7

Patric Niederhauser7. Patric Niederhauser

Switzerland, Jenzer Motorsport, age 20

101 points, 2 wins, 4 podiums, 1 fastest lap

Niederhauser was the most impressive of the ‘real’ rookies (i.e. discounting those who made the largely sideways step from F3). The Formula Abarth champion started with two top-fives at Barcelona and then won in Valencia from the reverse grid pole. Silverstone saw him drive through the field in tricky conditions to take a podium, and he then used his wet weather skills again to take a win at Hockenheim and a second place in Hungary.

He didn’t have ultimate frontrunning pace in the dry but wasn’t far off and he should start as a title favourite for 2013 once the top six have cleared off. You’d think he’s likely to stay with Jenzer for another year, but Lotus are going to need some drivers… Season rating: 8

Tio Ellinas8. Tio Ellinas

Cyprus, Marussia Manor Racing, age 20

97 points, 1 win, 2 podiums, 3 fastest laps

While Niederhauser accumulated more podiums and points, Ellinas was probably the quickest of the rookies. In pre-season testing he looked like one of the only threats to Evans, but that never came to fruition. He had several chances for a top result, first at Barcelona where he led until a jump start penalty, then at Valencia where he bullied his way past Kevin Ceccon at the final corner to take third only to be stripped of it afterwards. His hopes at Silverstone were dashed by the weather and the need to change tyres, while in Germany he was disqualified from qualifying after finishing fourth for a technical infringement.

Things finally came together at Monza, coming second in race one and then winning race two and showing what he should be capable of in 2013 if he can cut out those mistakes, which have to be expected of a Formula Renault graduate. Season rating: 8

Kevin Ceccon9. Kevin Ceccon

Italy, Ocean Racing Technology, age 19

56 points, 1 podium, 1 fastest lap

Auto GP champion Ceccon was forced to take an effective step-down when a GP2 deal fell apart, and lined up with a team that was new to GP3 and two teammates who hadn’t raced a single-seater last year. If he didn’t already know he was in for a tough year, he would have done after his car broke down in qualifying and the first race in Barcelona. He used the fact that he was the only driver with prior experience around Monaco to drag his car to a podium and set the fastest lap. He managed to score points in each of the next five races and was on the podium in Germany before being penalised after his team didn’t have the tyres fitted in time.

He was competitive again in Hungary before things fell apart towards the end of the year with double non-scores at Spa and Monza. It’s hard to see the budget situation being resolved, so another year in GP3 may be his best option. With Ocean no longer around, hopefully a top team will give him a chance. Season rating: 7

Marlon Stockinger10. Marlon Stockinger

Philippines, Status Grand Prix, age 21

55 points, 2 podiums, 2 fastest laps

Things started surprisingly brightly for second-year driver Stockinger with a second place in the Saturday race at Barcelona followed up by reverse grid victory in the shortened race two in Monaco. Sadly he never hit those dizzy heights again, as he followed that with a run of six consecutive non-scores and only managed to pick up a handful of points in the remaining races.

It was a campaign that showed promise but ultimately he should have done more at a team that knows what it’s doing. With a company as wealthy-sounding as ‘Swiss Finance and Investment Corporation’ behind him, he should have the budget to make the step up to GP2 next year. Season rating: 6

David Fumanelli11. David Fumanelli

Italy, MW Arden, age 20

47 points, 1 podium

Fumanelli came to GP3 with some promising testing performances, and he backed these up when he finished in the top five twice in Monaco – passing teammate Evans in the first. A podium followed at Valencia thanks to the aforementioned Ellinas-Ceccon scuffle. He sadly missed the Silverstone races due to a family illness, and that seemed to take the wind out of his sails as he only mustered a couple more points finishes before the year was out.

Overall it was a bit of a disappointing season considering his off-season promise and the results his teammates enjoyed. He could still scale similar heights next year though if he were to return. Season rating: 6

Tamas Pal Kiss12. Tamas Pal Kiss

Hungary, Atech CRS GP, age 21

38 points, 1 podium

A race winner last year, Pal Kiss would have been hoping for a stronger season. Unfortunately Atech are certainly one of the weaker teams in GP3 and that seemed to limit his competitiveness. The undoubted highlights of the year was finishing second on merit in the first of the two races in Monaco. He did add a second podium in the wet-dry Sunday race on home soil before having it taken away for crossing the pit exit line.

Regardless of results, Pal Kiss will now be eyeing a step-up following two years in GP3. In fact, he’s already made it with his appearance in FR3.5 at the Hungaroring. Season rating: 6

Giovanni Venturini13. Giovanni Venturini

Italy, Trident Racing, age 20

31 points, 2 podiums

Venturini’s mid-season switch from FR3.5 to GP3 was a surprising one, but it also turned out to be a successful one. In just his second weekend he was on the podium on the Saturday at Hockenheim. Two more top ten finishes followed at Spa before he was back on the podium at his home circuit of Monza after starting from the reverse grid pole.

The signs are promising if he wanted to return next year, particularly with a stronger team, but with GP3 having been a step down from FR3.5 and Auto GP he might be eyeing a return to faster machinery. Season rating: 7

Robert Visoiu14. Robert Visoiu

Romania, Jenzer Motorsport, age 16

24 points, 1 podium

Visoiu started the season with a bang with an eighth and a second in Barcelona, but strangely that was as good as things were going to get, only adding further points finishes in the wet-dry race at Silverstone and the Monza season finale. His drive through the order at Silverstone was particularly impressive, although like Niederhauser it seemed the Jenzer was suited to the conditions.

The wisdom of stepping up to GP3 after only one year in Formula Abarth has to be questioned, but he was at least reasonably competitive. One way to look at it is he should be more prepared for 2013 than if he’d done another year in Abarths. Season rating: 6

William Buller15. William Buller

United Kingdom, Carlin, age 20

20 points, 1 win, 1 podium

Buller’s GP3 campaign was undoubtedly a disappointing one. He showed at the mid-season test at Valencia that the pace was there, but he never once translated that to a race weekend – only twice qualifying within the top eight all year. His Silverstone win from the back on slicks is obviously the highlight and did prove that he can indeed drive.

He combined his first GP3 season with his third in F3, and while that has gone somewhat more successfully, you have to wonder whether switching from one car to the other has held him back a bit. He’s been at this level long enough now, so expect a step up to GP2 next year. Season rating: 5

Alex Brundle16. Alex Brundle

United Kingdom, Carlin, age 22

19 points, 1 podium

Like Buller, Brundle’s campaign was disappointment – although expectations were probably a little lower. He posted three straight top ten finishes at the start of the season but failed to maintain that form. Did use a wise tyre choice on a drying track in Hungary to nick a podium. His qualifying was particularly poor, never managing better than 12th.

And like Buller, Brundle combined his GP3 campaign with something else – sportscars. He was clearly already planning for a future away from single-seaters and given he’s been doing quite well in prototypes, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t make the move full-time next year. Season rating: 5

Lewis Williamson17. Lewis Williamson

United Kingdom, Status Grand Prix, age 22

11 points

Ditched just five races into life as a Red Bull Junior after a tough time in FR3.5, Williamson was deservedly handed another chance back in GP3 where he had shone last year. After a quiet time at Hockenheim he found more speed in Hungary to record two top tens and improved again at Spa, although would have hoped for more than seventh from the reverse grid pole. Was down on speed at Monza, for whatever reason, and then suffered contact in both races.

He would have been best off doing a second season of GP3 this year, and given he’ll be 23 next month he could have done without losing a year. If he gets the chance to come back next year with a top team, he’ll be a title contender. Season rating: 7

Alex Fontana18. Alex Fontana

Switzerland, Jenzer Motorsport, age 20

8.5 points

For the second season in a row, Fontana joined up with Jenzer towards the end of the campaign. This time he showed that he should have done a full campaign in GP3, rather than F2 where he has struggled to get the results his talent deserves. He got himself as high as sixth in the second Hungaroring race until the slick runners got by, and then at Spa he got a double points finish including fourth in the second race.

With those promising performances it wouldn’t be a surprise to see last year’s European F3 Open champion make a full-time move to GP3 for 2013. Season rating: 6

Alice Powell19. Alice Powell

United Kingdom, Status Grand Prix, age 19

1 point

Powell came into GP3 highly-rated by many, and certainly made a bright start by driving from 26th 11th in the second race in Barcelona. She qualified 11th for the next couple of rounds, but then seemed to drop backwards for the remainder of the year before a strong Monza race delivered her first point in the championship.

A little more could have been expected from her given the amount of fuss made in some quarters, but it was a solid debut season and should set her up for a successful sophomore year if she can get the budget together. Season rating: 4

Fabio Gamberini20. Fabio Gamberini

Brazil, Atech CRS GP, age 20

1 point

Following a promising campaign in the F3 Open last year, Gamberini was given a chance at Silverstone to see what he could do – not easy given the changing weather conditions over the weekend. Considering that, it was impressive that he finished up eighth in race two, even if it was a wet-dry race where tyre strategy was key. Sadly, he didn’t get the budget together to carry on but is competent enough to race at this level if he can return in 2013. Season rating: 6

Fabiano Machado21. Fabiano Machado

Brazil, Marussia Manor Racing, age 26

0 points

The disappointment of the season? Quite possibly. Now we weren’t expecting him to be a frontrunner but if you win the South American F3 title – even with little competition – you can’t be a muppet. It was a surprise then to see him mixing with the single-seater newbies and the others at the back of the pack. Any hopes of progress at the end of the season were not helped by his crash landing at Hockenheim that ruled him out in Hungary. Time to go back home, I’m afraid. Season rating: 3

Robert Cregan22. Robert Cregan

Ireland, Ocean Racing Technology, age 23

0 points

In perhaps the most random addition to the grid for this year, Cregan made the move from the V8 Supercars Development Series. Considering that, he didn’t actually do too badly. He scored a couple of 11th place finishes in Monaco and at Hockenheim, and later bounced back from the Spa shunt that hospitalised him to qualify a fine 14th at Monza. It’s still hard to work out what he’s trying to achieve by being in GP3, though. Season rating: 4

Dmitry Suranovich23. Dmitry Suranovich

Russia, Marussia Manor Racing, age 17

0 points

Although he started racing cars midway through 2011 in Formula Abarth, Suranovich did arrive in GP3 off the back of a respectable Toyota Racing Series campaign where he got a podium. He qualified ninth at the season opener but failed to repeat that form, so often qualifying on the back few rows. In fact he was largely anonymous, except for his part in Daly’s Monaco smash. Even allowing for a lack of experience, a driver with potential would have shown better. Marussia may want to look elsewhere for their Russian F1 driver of the future. Season rating: 3

Kotaro Sakurai24. Kotaro Sakurai

Japan, Status Grand Prix, age 18

0 points

Last year’s British F3 National Class champion in effectively a class of one, Sakurai’s step up to GP3 allowed us to see how he stacked up to the competition. His early performances were respectable if unspectacular – qualifying 12th in Monaco was nothing to be ashamed of. Unexpectedly, he then encountered budget issues. Unexpected because if he didn’t have his budget assured, surely there were more promising options for Status to choose? This was rectified when Status replaced him with Williamson. Season rating: 4

John Wartique25. John Wartique

Belgium, Atech CRS GP, age 22

0 points

Second to Cregan in the most random move of the off-season rankings, Wartique made the move from one-make trophies for Clios and Peugeots. And like Cregan he made a good fist of it despite his inexperience with single-seaters, running particularly competitively in Valencia with a 12th in the first race. Sadly he lost the seat due to a lack of budget and although he returned for his home race at Spa, he stuffed it in the tyre wall early in free practice in the wet. Oops. Having done well in karts before he wanted to try out single-seaters, but he’s probably left it too late. Season rating: 4

Vicky Piria26. Vicky Piria

Italy, Trident Racing, age 18

0 points

Having shown nothing special in two years of Formula Abarth, it was no surprise to see Piria struggling towards the back of the pack. There were some occasional promising moments, most notably at Spa-Francorchamps – a good barometer of driving ability and bravery – where she qualified 13th and remained competitive in the races. Needs to show some improvement next year, but ultimately she has no long-term future in this discipline. Season rating: 3

Facu Regalia27. Facu Regalia

Argentina, Jenzer Motorsport and Atech CRS GP, age 20

0 points

Only did two weekends, but was still the only driver to compete for two different teams. Already undertaking programmes in Auto GP and F3 Open this year, Regalia decided he needed to try something else when he found a spare weekend. Showed well in the difficult conditions of the Silverstone weekend with two top 14 finishes, while Hungary was a bit less fruitful. The sort of driver that will probably step up to GP2 next year if he opts to put all his sponsorship eggs in one basket. Season rating: 4

Carmen Jorda28. Carmen Jorda

Spain, Ocean Racing Technology, age 23

0 points

There were some suspect drivers lining up on the grid at the start of this year, but Jorda still somehow managed to look like she was in a totally different league. Her best qualifying result was 23rd, and even then she was the last of those to set times and not have them disallowed. In Monza for example, she was 5.8 seconds off pole, but perhaps more worryingly more than two seconds off the car in front. And with F3 and Indy Lights on her CV, she couldn’t even play the inexperienced card. Season rating: 1

Ethan Ringel29. Ethan Ringel

United States, Atech CRS GP, age 18

0 points

With just a few single-seater races in America under his belt, Ringel was always going to be facing an uphill struggle in GP3. And so it proved to be, only once qualifying inside the top 20 and failing to make much progress in the races either. If he came to GP3 with ambitions of F1 he may as well forget them, as a good driver would have done better even with that lack of experience. Season rating: 2

Antonio Spavone30. Antonio Spavone

Italy, Trident Racing, age 18

0 points

Like Piria, Spavone hadn’t shown much in Formula Abarth to show he was worthy of racing in GP3, but here he was. He didn’t do very well in the opening four weekends, after which his deal collapsed which probably served him right for undertaking an ambitious dual programme with Auto GP. Season rating: 3

Jakub Klasterka31. Jakub Klasterka

Czech Republic, Jenzer Motorsport, age 18

0 points

A last minute addition to the grid before Barcelona who hadn’t raced for over two years, Klasterka was rather in at the deep end. And so it proved to be, although qualifying 22nd of 26 in Barcelona was pretty respectable considering he’d only had a 30 minute practice session to learn the car. At least it got his name out there. Season rating: 3