The idea that Formula 1 contains the 20 greatest drivers in the world is an unrealistic unfair assumption, especially when you consider the strength and breadth of talent outside of the supposed ‘pinnacle of motorsport’.
We all know various factors, such as finances, injury and just sheer bad timing can prevent an extremely promising driver from reaching single-seaters’ pinnacle, meaning that many great drivers have to display their talent in other top-tier series.
GP2 was created in 2005 to be the final step for drivers before they raced in F1, replacing the International Formula 3000 championship that was deemed to not be doing its job anymore in F1’s support paddock.
In its 13 years of running, before transitioning into the current Formula 2 championship, it and its Asian spin-off produced 37 drivers who raced in F1. The quality of the grid each year was as strong as you’d expect for F1’s direct support series, especially after rival Formula Renault 3.5 (latterly known as Formula V8 3.5) stopped.
It’s not just the GP2 drivers that have reached F1 that prove the series’ pedigree, with race winners in IndyCar, Super Formula, Formula E, DTM, GT World Challenge and the World Endurance Championship all using GP2 as a platform to becoming professionals.
Here are 10 of the best GP2 drivers (who raced between 2005-’17) to never make it to F1.
Adam Carroll NORTHERN IRELAND 37y/o
2019 Ferrari Challenge World Final winner, 2008-09 A1GP champion, 6th in 2007-08 A1GP – 5th in 2005 GP2, 7th in ’07 GP2
Adam Carroll missed out on the privilege of winning the first-ever GP2 race, but he did claim the second at Imola and won again three races later in Monaco. He was second in the points until his home Silverstone round, which ended his title hopes. One more win at Spa-Francorchamps helped him to fifth in the points, but it was a season that could have provided far more.
Carroll moved from Super Nova to Racing Engineering for 2006, without the Honda F1 support he previously had, and his year was dotted with driver errors and car issues. But he was competitive at Silverstone this time, taking two podiums and pole.
A move to the DTM for 2007 lasted only until Carroll found a way back to GP2 with the Giancarlo Fisichella-branded Scuderia Coloni team. He won at Silverstone, then started a four-race podium run with a win at the Hungaroring. His part-season resulted in seventh place, scoring more and finishing in a higher position than he had the year before.
Carroll juggled his 2007 and two-round 2008 GP2 cameo with A1GP duties for Status Grand Prix-ran Team Ireland, and it was the latter that revived his F1 hopes by winning the 2008-09 title. He was then in talks to join one of F1’s new teams for 2010, but was unable to raise the budget and ended up making cameos in IndyCar, Auto GP, Formula V8 3.5 and GP2 once more.
Sporadic sportscar appearances kept him in a car until his long-term partnership with Gulf Racing resulted in a full-time race-winning international gig in 2014. The Gulf link almost brought him into FE on several occasions too.
It wasn’t until he ended his Gulf association that he actually made it back into single-seaters, being hired by Jaguar for its FE debut in late 2016 and promptly being dropped after one season and five points. He’s since revived his career again via Ferrari’s own GT championships, he was linked to the Scuderia after his A1GP title, and won last year’s World Final.
Oliver Turvey ENGLAND 33y/o
currently 21st in 2019-20 FE, 10th in 2017-18 FE, 5th in 2014 Le Mans 24H – 6th in 2010 GP2 & 2009-10 GP2 Asia
Turvey’s FE record does him a total injustice considering how potent he is in the series, all while remaining a useful part of McLaren’s F1 simulator programme as he has done since 2012.
It never quite happened for Turvey in GP2 either, but his stock was high when he joined iSport for the 2009-10 Asian season after impressing in FV8 3.5 and winning the Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Award. The British team was the one to beat, and one win in the eight-race series put Turvey sixth in the standings.
iSport was the logical place to be for the rest of 2010, and Turvey was sixth again after a lengthy pointless spell in the first half of the season. On the plus side, he claimed four podiums and a pole. He joined Super Nova and Arden for post-season testing, but went for minnow team Ocean Racing Technology for the next Asian season which marked the debut of Dallara’s GP2/11.
Predictably results didn’t come easy and Turvey failed to score, and the Racing Steps Foundation-backed driver then found he was didn’t have the budget for the main 2011 season. He stood in for Mikhail Aleshin at Carlin for pre-season testing, and also made a race return in Monaco where he bagged an eighth place finish.
It was almost two years until he raced again, this time in the European Le Mans Series. He won on his debut, and added LMP2 class success at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2014. A side-step to Super GT occurred before in the summer of 2015, Turvey made a stand-in appearance at Team China Racing in FE.
Scoring immediately grabbed the paddock’s attention, and he’s been at Team China/NIO ever since. His sole podium is not why his peers rate him among the most underrated in the series, rather it’s been the lower points finishes he’s taken as NIO has slid down the order. In the 2017-18 season he was 10th in the points, despite missing two races through injury.
Sam Bird ENGLAND 33y/o
currently 10th in 2019-20 FE, 3rd in 2017-18 FE, 2nd in 2016 WEC GTE, 10th in 2015 WEC – 2nd in 2013 GP2, 5th in 2010 GP2
Sam Bird’s first year in GP2, with ART Grand Prix in 2010, was plagued with technical issues and bad luck, but he was known as a ferocious overtaker from the off and he finally got to stand on the top step of the podium at Monza after 24 starts.
He switched to iSport for 2011 and bounced back from a tricky Asian campaign with three consecutive podiums in the main series. No more podiums came after and while he was 10 points away from being runner-up, he ended up sixth in the points.
Bird continued his Mercedes-Benz F1 test duties, as he went for a change of scenery in 2012 by racing in FV8 3.5. He just missed out on the title there, prompting a return to GP2 the next year with new Motopark-ran team Russian Time.
This produced Bird’s best campaign, with five wins and consistent scoring making him a title contender until the final race.
Similarly impressive performances in sportscars in 2014 made it look like Bird would be lost to single-seaters, until Virgin Racing signed him for the then-new FE. He won on his second start in a memorable display in Putrajaya, and to date is the only driver to win a race in each of the series’ six seasons.
Third place in 2017-18 stands as his best run of form, and scene of the most dominant performances in FE history when he won by over 11 seconds despite a drive-through penalty in Hong Kong.
As well as FE, Bird has notched up a FIA Endurance Trophy title, podiums at the Le Mans 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours, and had a factory Ferrari contract through three WEC seasons.
Raffaele Marciello ITALY 25y/o
currently 5th in 2020 Intercontinental GT Challenge, 2018 GTWC Europe champion – 4th in 2016 GP2, 7th in 2015 GP2
If Ferrari had been willing to put in a little more cash for Raffaele Marciello’s GP2 exploits, then the Italian may well have ended up being a title-winning driver in a title-winning team, and an F1 driver as a result.
At first, he was placed at Racing Engineering as reigning FIA European Formula 3 champion, and he claimed a win, a pole and three other podiums in his rookie season. In the process, he became one of only eight teenagers to win in the main series.
Rather than remain with the team, which had a title-capable car, Marciello moved to Trident for his second season and while he did score more points with the decidedly midfield team he failed to win a race and ended up splitting with Ferrari.
Being free of the Scuderia’s politics and pressures seemed to help his continued improvements in pace, although again he didn’t win a race in his third and final season with Russian Time – a team in its second season of being run by Virtuosi Racing.
However, he was still a title contender, and against the dominant Prema at that, taking six podium finishes and remaining in title contention until the penultimate race. He was promptly signed up by Mercedes, albeit for GT racing rather than F1.
The highlight of his first year as a pro driver was fifth in the GTWC Europe Endurance series, and he won the overall title (combining Endurance and Sprint) a year later and the FIA GT World Cup in 2019.
His status as one of the top GT racers of the moment is more than assured, but what is more tantalising about the 25-year-old is what he could achieve in a single-seater return. He’s tested for HWA Racelab in FE, and a race seat in the series with Mercedes or its customer squad Venturi would probably be the final bit of proof needed to show what F1 missed out on.
Oliver Rowland ENGLAND 27y/o
currently 9th in 2019-20 FE, 10th in 2018-19 FE, 2015 FV8 3.5 champion, 4th in 2014 FV8 3.5 – 3rd in 2017 F2, 9th in 2016 GP2
Competing in F2 as recently as 2017 and racing in single-seaters for a squad with a technical link to a current F1 team means Oliver Rowland could actually race in F1 in the near future – just as Antonio Giovinazzi had to be patient for his chance.
Unlike Giovinazzi, Rowland never truly looked like he was going to win a GP2/F2 title, and the only time he actually led the standings was in his first full season with midfield team MP Motorsport in 2016 as a Renault F1 junior.
Rowland gained mileage across four rounds in 2015 during his FV8 3.5 title year, and he picked up his first podium in Monaco a year later. Two more at Silverstone elevated him into his surprise points lead, but he ended the year in ninth.
As Rowland’s team-mate’s struggles proved, the lack of wins was down to the machinery more than the driver, and for 2017 the Briton was rewarded with a Renault development role and a top DAMS seat. A long-awaited first win came in Monaco, but by then it was already fairly clear that the title was headed in the direction of Prema’s Charles Leclerc.
All Rowland had to do was hold on to second in the points, but a steady run of podiums and a second win at the Hungaroring wasn’t enough. Renault didn’t think he was ready for F1, and he joined Williams as a ‘young driver’ as a result for 2018.
Beyond some scarce sportscar appearances, it looked very unlikely Rowland would be racing full-time again any time soon until Alex Albon’s surprise call up to F1. This opened up a seat at Nissan e.dams in FE, where Rowland had made one start in 2016, and DAMS picked Rowland after having already lauded him as a reserve, and of course having worked with him in F2.
His pace was blindingly evident as a rookie, taking three pole positions and two podiums. The errors that meant he didn’t convert them into wins were more than evident, but the 27-year-old is still improving and should be seen as F1 standard.
Mitch Evans NEW ZEALAND 25y/o
currently 2nd in 2019-20 FE, 5th in 2018-19 FE, 7th in 2017-18 FE, 10th in 2015 Le Mans 24H – 4th in 2014 GP2, 5th in ’15 GP2
After winning the GP3 title and completing his European racing adaption in 2012, big things beckoned for Mitch Evans.
The Mark Webber protege remained with his GP3 team Arden for his debut year in GP2, but he was only able to score on seven occasions – although that did include four podiums and third-place finishes in both Monaco races.
For the following year, he took over from Bird at Russian Time, now run by iSport, and continued the team’s strong form.
Despite a tricky start to the year Evans scored a podium at Monaco and achieved his maiden win at Silverstone. He repeated the feat two weeks later at Hockenheim, and three more podiums followed to take him to fourth in the standings.
Evans remained with the team for 2015 but could not find form until late in the year where he claimed sprint race wins at Monza and Bahrain. He qualified in second place in Italy before being excluded and sent to the back of the feature race grid but recovered to finish a remarkable third which set up his win a day later.
Campos Racing gained from Sean Gelael’s considerable financial support for 2016, and this enabled the Spanish team to sign Evans despite the Kiwi having already conceded his F1 dream was over and he would be better to focus on other racing.
His one win of the year came in mixed conditions at the Red Bull Ring in a one-two for the team, and before the year was up he had been signed by debuting FE team Jaguar for the 2016-17 season.
Evans has flourished in the series since, taking his first pole at Zurich in his sophomore season (and the first where Jaguar had a competitive package), winning in Rome last year and launching a title challenge this year with victory in Mexico City.
Luca Filippi ITALY 34y/o
16th in 2019 TCR Europe, 21st in 2017-18 FE, 21st in 2015 IndyCar – 2nd in 2011 GP2 & 2009-10 GP2 Asia, 4th in 2007 GP2
After winning the 2005 Auto GP title, and completing an F1 test with Minardi, an enthusiastic 20-year-old Luca Filippi headed to GP2 with Coloni for 2006. A string of poor results with the team, despite the chemistry between them, meant a mid-season switch to BCN Competicion and no upturn in form.
He spent 2007 with David Sears’ Super Nova team, another he would build a strong repertoire with, and took victory from pole in the Bahrain season opener. More podiums would follow, but a string of retirements stopped his title chances and despite three podiums in a row at Monza and Spa he missed out on fourth in the points on win countback.
In 2008 Filippi drove for Meritus, ART and Arden with poor form but did become Honda’s F1 test driver. Honda’s demise at the end of the year killed Filippi’s F1 ambitions, but a return to Super Nova provided a lifeline and more inconsistent GP2 form. Of his seven points finishes, four were podiums and one was a win. Somehow he ended up fifth in the points.
A return to Meritus resulted in runner-up in the 2009-10 Asia season, but Filippi only made it onto the main series grid after Sears picked him as a substitute for the injured Josef Kral.
Filippi joined Coloni for GP2 Asia in 2011, but went for Super Nova in the main series and claimed one podium in the first 10 races. The team was faster than the results suggested, but Filippi’s return to Coloni resulted in three wins in eight races and the title runner-up spot. He also came just short of a second Auto GP title with Super Nova, and signed off the Coloni team in 2012 with another pole and win in a two-round cameo.
After that Filippi instead went to IndyCar part-time, then landed a NIO FE seat before switching to touring cars and continuing his highly rated development work for various parties – including F2.
Alex Lynn ENGLAND 26y/o
currently 4th in 2019-20 WEC GTE, 16th in ’19 GTWC Europe, 16th in 2017-18 FE, 29th in ’17 IMSA – 6th in 2015 & ’16 GP2
After winning the GP3 title as a rookie in 2014, Red Bull junior Alex Lynn looked to be the next British driver to make it to F1. At the end of the year, he tested for Lotus though, then ended his Red Bull association to join Williams as a development driver.
For 2015 he stepped up to GP2 as expected, and joined reigning champion team DAMS alongside Pierre Gasly. He won at Barcelona and the Hungaroring but too many non-scores left him sixth in the points and as second best rookie.
His win tally that year was nothing to be sniffed at, but his three 2016 wins – bettered only by Prema’s dominant duo – in his second season with DAMS was of little improvement due to a barren run in the middle of the year.
Prototype sportscars beckoned for Lynn rather than F1, with his highly-rated work at Williams eventually turning into F3 simulator preparation for the team’s future race driver Lance Stroll.
After two high profile endurance racing wins, Lynn made it back into single-seaters in a cameo FE appearance with Virgin. Taking pole on his debut in New York more than guaranteed a return to the championship.
He was rewarded with a full-time drive for the 2017-18 season, but was outscored by 127 points by team-mate Bird and dropped come season’s end. The sportscar world hadn’t forgotten his rapid pace, and Aston Martin signed him up.
Despite being a sportscar rival, Lynn was then free to concurrently make a FE return with Jaguar in 2019 as a mid-season replacement to champion Nelson Piquet Jr, and narrowly missed out on retaining the seat for the current campaign.
It’s an opportunity Lynn shouldn’t be worried about losing, as his current employer Aston Martin is entering F1 next year…
Robin Frijns NETHERLANDS 28y/o
currently 15th in 2019-20 FE, 4th in 2018-19 FE, 5th in ’19 DTM, 2015 GTWC Europe champion – 15th in 2013 GP2
Frijns has a GP2 record that doesn’t really do him much justice. He has just 12 starts to his name in the category and those came as part of a rotated driver line-up with Hilmer Motorsport in 2013. At that point he was hot property – he had beaten Bird and Jules Bianchi to win the previous year’s FV8 3.5 title and was also Sauber’s F1 test driver.
It took three races for Frijns to show what he was capable of: winning the Barcelona feature race and storming to second in the sprint after struggling with the Pirelli tyres in Bahrain. He never reached those heights again and then lost his drive.
Frijns had planned to start the year with Trident but didn’t have the budget, hence missing the season opener, and the same financial shortfall cost him his seat for the Hungaroring round. At Spa a few weeks later he made an unexpected return after one of his team-mates also ran out of money, but that was it for Frijns’ time in GP2.
Fortunately for him, his career didn’t end entirely and he remained in the F1 paddock in 2014 as Caterham’s reserve.
Audi team WRT handed him a sportscar drive for 2015, and despite a year on the sidelines, he eased to the GTWC Europe title, more than proving what F1 had missed out on and securing a long-term future with the team. At the end of the year, he also got signed by Andretti Autosport for FE and took an unbelievable podium in Putrajaya on his second start despite serious car damage. After two seasons with the American outfit, which included an IndyCar test, Frijns lost his drive as a result of landing a factory Audi contract.
This was a loss for FE and a benefit for the DTM, where Frijns took seven podiums before returning to FE with Audi customer team Virgin. Following on from another GTWC title with WRT, Frijns took two wins on his single-seater return.
Alexandre Premat FRANCE 38y/o
2008 LMS champion, 4th in 2008 Le Mans 24H, 10th in ’08 DTM, 2005-06 A1GP champion – 3rd in 2006 GP2, 4th in 2005 GP2
Premat has the distinction of being team-mate to GP2’s first and F1’s most recent champions Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. They both achieved the feat as rookies with ART, and Premat was second-best each time. It was probably the double defeat that did for his F1 hopes, but Premat hardly disgraced himself against two top talents in some of GP2’s strongest grids.
Premat was something of a protege of ART co-founder Frederic Vasseur, winning the French Formula Renault title in 2002 as well as F3’s prestigious Zandvoort Masters and Macau Grand Prix event in 2004 when he also came second in the F3 Euro Series to team-mate Jamie Green.
In GP2, Premat was bettered by fellow F3 graduate Rosberg, but did beat him to sprint race victory in Hungary and inherited a win at Istanbul Park. Rosberg comfortably won the title ahead of FV8 3.5 champion Heikki Kovalainen, with Premat on little over half of his points in fourth, half a point behind FR Eurocup champion Scott Speed.
The top three moved on, and Premat entered 2006 with a target on his back. He’d beaten Hamilton as F3 team-mates and was confident he could do it again. In reality, it would be a repeat of 2005. Premat did beat Hamilton to a win at Barcelona after spinning him on the last lap, but only four other times did he finish ahead, and ended up third with one point less than 2005.
Alongside his GP2 exploits, Premat was also proving himself as a top-line single-seater racer in the inaugural A1GP season, with he and fellow GP2 driver Nicolas Lapierre – another of the GP2’s under-appreciated aces – helping the DAMS-run French team to dominate. Premat won seven of the 10 races he started.
But the closest he got to F1 was a practice outing for Spyker. After talks with Champ Car teams, he joined Audi in the DTM for 2007, taking three podiums for the manufacturer as well as the 2008 Le Mans Series title. He then moved to Australian Supercars, where he struggled at first but won last year’s Bathurst 1000 for DJR Team Penske alongside Scott McLaughlin.
British F3 champion and Macau Grand Prix winner Mike Conway is the definition of a driver who gets better with age, and after a couple of tricky campaigns in GP2, he became one of the world’s top prototype sportscar and Indycar racers.
Conway joined GP2 full-time in 2007 as a Honda test driver but struggled to just a single podium at Silverstone while team-mate to frontrunner Filippi. A switch to Trident for 2008 netted a win in Monaco, but that was as good as it got.
He landed a full-time IndyCar drive without issue, claimed a podium as a rookie but had his progress curtailed by a heavy crash in the Indianapolis 500 that put him out of action for months. On his return he earned a reputation as a street course specialist, winning the famed Long Beach Grand Prix twice and adding wins at Detroit and Toronto to his resume.
During this time he also entered the sportscar arena, quickly rising into the Toyota LMP1 team and becoming a star of endurance racing. He’s currently leading the 2019-20 WEC season. One chapter of his career that could have been even larger too was FE, where he impressed at Venturi and was supposed to front Dragon Racing’s entry into the series.
Richie Stanaway is almost the opposite of Conway, being rapidly quick in his youth but failing to match that potential in professional competition. He won back-to-back-to-back titles in Formula Ford, Formel Masters [a predecessor of Formula 4] and F3 before stepping up to FV8 3.5. That was cut short by a crash at Spa that left injuries which have plagued the rest of his career, and he returned to racing in 2013 with DAMS in the Porsche Supercup and as a factory Aston Martin driver in WEC.
His career was still being supported by DAMS boss Eric Boullier’s Gravity Sport Management, and he coordinated a return to single-seaters while maintaining the Aston role. It was worth the commitment, as Stanaway took two GP3 wins and a podium in FV8 3.5.
Status moved into GP2 for 2015, and its GP3 driver Stanaway followed. Clashing WEC commitments meant he missed two rounds, but before then he claimed two wins and came home 10th in the standings in a car that wasn’t truly up to it. That he didn’t return in 2016 was a travesty, especially as a focus on WEC and then Australian Supercars has yielded limited success.
Written by Peter Allen, Rachel Hillmann, Craig Woollard and Elliot Wood