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Preview: Top young drivers descend on Monaco

by Peter Allen

Photo: GP2 Media Service

GP3 joins GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5 on the streets of Monte Carlo, creating a bumper weekend of junior action featuring some of the most promising racers around…

Pau, Zandvoort, Macau. All highlights of the junior single-seater calendar. The Monaco Grand Prix weekend might be centered around Formula 1, but it also sees a host of budding F1 stars of the future aiming for glory, across three different categories. A victory in Monaco in any car will stand out on any driver’s CV, and success there could do wonders for these youngsters’ careers. Eight of the F1 drivers taking part this weekend have Monaco support race wins, sharing, by my estimates, no less than 14 victories between them.

One of the drivers on the GP2 grid has a Monaco win too – and that’s championship leader Davide Valsecchi. The Italian scored the only win of his 2011 campaign in the feature race last year, also handing the team now known as Caterham their first win. Valsecchi has been much better in 2012 following his switch to champions DAMS, and should be the man to beat this weekend.

Another man to look out for could be fellow series veteran Giedo van der Garde, who’s already started ten races around the Principality stretching back to a one-off appearance for the F3 Euro Series back in 2005. He scored second-place finishes in FR3.5 in 2008 and in GP2 in 2010. Driving for last year’s winners Caterham, he’s on form at the moment having claimed pole at the second Bahrain weekend and then won the feature race last time out in Barcelona.

Stefano Coletti meanwhile will be looking for victory at his home circuit, where he’s previously finished fifth in both GP2 and FR3.5 the past two years. Fellow Monegasque driver Stephane Richelmi will not only hope to continue his good qualifying results of late, but actually manage to convert that into a strong result.

Onto GP3, who are finally making their first visit to Monaco after problems finding space for their paddock probhibited them in previous seasons. It will be a new experience for 25 of the 26 drivers, with only Kevin Ceccon having raced around the Grand Prix circuit before as part of his four-round expidition into GP2 last season. Despite only being his second weekend in GP2, it was his strongest performance of his mini-campaign, finishing the races in 11th and 12th. This weekend he’ll hope the mechanical gremlins that blighted his Barcelona weekend have gone away.

Ceccon may be the only one to have raced on the GP circuit, but Aaro Vainio did win the Monaco Kart Cup, which uses some of the circuit around the harbour’s edge, in 2008. The Finn will be one of a number of drivers, also including Conor Daly, Antonio Felix da Costa, Daniel Abt and Tio Ellinas, out to stop title favourite Mitch Evans from extending his points lead this weekend.

Formula Renault 3.5 joins the party in Monaco each year for a single race, which was won in the two previous seasons by Daniel Ricciardo. Two of the favourites to win this year are GP2 refugees Sam Bird and Jules Bianchi. Bird was on pole last year but stalled at the start. Bianchi meanwhile was a podium finisher in 2010 before retiring from the 2011 feature race after a collision caused by a mechanical issue. Both finished second on the road in races at this year’s season opener in Motorland (although Bianchi was excluded from his podium finish).

Bianchi’s teammate Kevin Korjus finished fourth on his Monaco debut last year, two places ahead of Arthur Pic. Pic claimed two poles at Motorland and in Monaco he’ll hope to repeat the success of older brother Charles, who won there in both FR3.5 and GP2. Championship leader Robin Frijns will be making his first Monaco appearance.

The nature of the Monaco circuit means that qualifying for all three championships will be split into two groups. The fastest driver from the two groups will start from pole, with the others from that group lining up directly behind them. The fastest driver from the other group will lineup alongside on the front row, with the remaining drivers from the group behind them.

Monaco also means that the weekend gets underway on Thursday. For GP2 and GP3 the weekend lasts from Thursday through to Saturday, while FR3.5 are the first to hit the track on Thursday morning yet won’t race until Sunday morning as the curtain-raiser to the Grand Prix.

Schedule (local time GMT +2)


Formula Renault 3.5 Practice – 8:30 – 9:15
GP2 Practice – 12:00 – 12:30
GP2 Qualifying – 16.55 – 17:30
GP3 Practice – 18:15 – 18:55


GP3 Qualifying – 7:40 – 8:15
GP2 Race 1 – 10:30 – 11:35
GP3 Race 1 – 12:30 – 13:05


Formula Renault 3.5 Qualifying – 9:00 – 9:55
GP2 Race 2 – 16:10 – 17:00
GP3 Race 2 – 17:55 – 18:30


Formula Renault 3.5 Race – 11:10 – 12:00