GP2 Top Ten 2008

For the final instalment in my trilogy of Top Tens of 2008, I’m going to take a brief look at the GP2 Series. Since 2005, GP2 has positioned itself as the official finishing school of F1, despite not having official links with the FIA itself, and being more closely aligned with the commercial arm of F1, the FOM/FOA group operated by a Mr B C Ecclestone. It is the replacement for the then-ailing F3000 International Series which seemed to end up sending most of its drivers to America instead of F1. There’s nothing wrong with racing in America, but this is perhaps not what the official F1 feeder series should be doing. Fans of the IRL might liken it to the Lights frontrunners going off to race in Formula Nippon.

Before we continue let me point you in the direction of the Too Much Racing Sidebar. If you scroll down to the white section you’ll notice a new Last.FM box has appeared above the one that was already there. What does this mean? You can now play my personal radio station! If you’ve ever wondered what crap I listen to when I write this stuff, now you can find out. That’s right, any music I’ve played via Winamp has been noted in Last.FM and is now available to you. Just hit Play and continue reading.
Remember if you navigate away (to write a comment, or visit another blog) it’ll stop playing, so you might want to hit the little icon on the bottom right of the red area to pop-out the player. I highly recommend Last.FM to anyone who listens to music through their computer.

2008 GP2 Series
For the avoidance of doubt I am only considering the main GP2 Series which raced in Europe, starting in Barcelona and ending in Monza. The Asia Series hasn’t been considered.

1. Lucas di Grassi (P3 – Barwa Campos Team)
After finishing the 2007 GP2 season runner-up in points, Lucas spent the winter alongside Nelson Piquet Jr sharing the double-duty of testing the Renault F1 car and doing development work on the new generation GP2 car/engine combo. When the F1 drive went to Nelson and the test role was reduced by the F1 regulations, Lucas found himself without much work. So in June he jumped in to the Barwa Campos Team to replace the underperforming rookie Ben Hanley, and after missing the first three weekends (i.e. six races) goes on to out-score everyone else in the remaining 7 weekends of the season to wind up 3rd in points, just narrowly beaten to 2nd by Bruno Senna and ahead of the highly-rated Romain Grosjean.
Okay so he tested the new car before anyone else, but since then everyone but him had run six races and most of the field had also done the inaugural Asia Series so you’ve got to say they’d caught up by then.
I reckon that’s pretty impressive.

2. Giorgio Pantano (P1 Champion – Racing Engineering)
Pantano had a good season, taking the previously unfancied Racing Engineering team and transforming them in to race-winners – just as he did with Campos the previous year and FMS the year before that. Giorgio seems to have decided that if nobody will take him in F1 or IndyCar, he’ll prove himself by becoming a good development driver as well as a fast racing driver. Okay so his chance in F1 has been and gone which is a shame (2004 feels like an age ago), but what chance an IndyCar ride in 2009? He can’t stay in GP2 yet again, that’s for sure. Perhaps he’ll work on improving the fortunes of A1GP Team Italy, or worse, some team in Superleague Formula. At least the guy with most Feature race wins won the title, as it should be.

3. Bruno Senna (P2 – iSport International)
Bruno had some excellent drives this year, but is still prone to silly mistakes and misjudgements. It won’t take long to knock those out of his system, but didn’t people say that this time a year ago? He’s definitely still improving yet somehow this still feels like a year of unfulfilled promises. If he doesn’t dominate in 2009 I’ll be very surprised.

4. Romain Grosjean (P4 – ART Grand Prix)
Romain was expected to walk this year’s title after his performances in F3 last year and GP2 Asia over the winter break. As it turned out, his ART car was a lot more ‘pointier’ than the opposition and this was something he seemed to struggle with, perhaps his style not suited to those characteristics. The rest of the grid’s cars seemed more docile, with some commentators suggesting this was the key to ART’s dominance in the early years of GP2. With a change of teams on the cards he’ll be good next year. Very good.

5. Pastor Maldonado (P5 – Piquet Sports)
The latest stupidly-quick-but-prone-to-crashing Venezuelan to come off the conveyor belt came on leaps and bounds this year. Last year he and Viso were pretty close, with Viso more consistent while Maldonado showed more long-term potential. This year Pastor demonstrated that potential to great effect with some excellent drives, but had a few too many retirements from races. Fast but erratic, and likes the old Banzai move even if it won’t work, just to show the others that he’ll do it.

6. Sebastien Buemi (P6 – Trust Team Arden)
The highly-rated Red Bull man was fair-to-middling, and perhaps a little overhyped. He was a very good A1GP driver in the Lola-Zytek, and seems to be slowly transferring those skills to GP2. It was a reasonable upper-midfield year and should be a title challenger next year. Seemed to always be around when others hit problems.

7. Jerome d’Ambrosio (P11 – DAMS)
This is a guy I didn’t rate at all going into the season. He seemed to make stupid errors early on which cost him a lot of points, but went on to impress me a lot through the year and if it wasn’t for that early form he’d be much higher in the points ranking and could easily have been 7th. Like Buemi he was one of the guys who was able to find good results when others threw them away, and was often up there on merit too, particuarly in the final rounds at Spa and Monza. One to watch with interest.

8. Vitaly Petrov (P7 – Barwa Campos Team)
Seems to have stopped making errors and has picked up some speed, but not quite there yet. He could use another year and looks like he’ll get exactly that. There’s not much more to say really.

9. Karun Chandhok (P10 – iSport International)
Karun seems to be one of those guys who always seems to be in the wrong place. He’s a fast driver and a professional one, yet seems to get involved in the pack when he maybe should be ahead of them given he’s in an iSport Dallara, one of the two top teams. This is possibly down to not getting enough out of qualifying, but he’s a good racer and runs very well when he qualifies up front. He works for it and goes for moves where others don’t. Perhaps he’s the new David Coulthard? One thing’s for sure: Vijay Mallya shouldn’t be dimissing him so readily.

10. Alvaro Parente (P8 – Super Nova Racing)
Alvaro had always struggled with a budget in every formula he’s raced in, so he knows a good fight. He impressed at the first round in Barcelona with a win in his first race and 7th in the reverse top-8 sprint race, but then seemed to drop back during the year. He’s a fast driver, a good guy, and deserves another year in GP2.

Other Surprises?
Luca Fillipi who should be in this list but fell out with ART, prompting a move to Arden, which didn’t seem to work either. He showed a huge amount of promise in 2007 and was expected to iron out the bumps this year. Didn’t happen. Shame. He needs a stellar 2009.

Mike Conway should have done better although he was with Trident..

Christian Bakkerud fell apart again with his customary back problems, ironic given his name, which is unfortunate because he was an excellent F3 driver.

What of 2009?
The backmarker BCN Competicion team has been bought by the ex-Jordan F1 driver (and now SEAT touring car driver) Tiago Monteiro and renamed as Ocean Racing Technology. With the team relocating from Spain to Portugal you can’t expect much improvement early on, but perhaps in the long-term?

We’re going to have an unmissable 2009 championship with Senna vs Maldonado vs Grosjean the main title fight, with probably Buemi and one or two others sticking their noses in with a few wins. I can’t wait!
In the meantime the ’08/’09 Asia Series is already under way with the 1st-generation cars. When I eventually get around to watching those races I may just post a little top ten as a warm-up to the main season.

In the meantime, have a great New Year, whatever you’re doing!

Cheers!

Happy Christmas (should you celebrate it) to my two or three regular readers and modest handful of occasional stoppers-by. Thanks to you all for making my first experience of blogging a pleasant one. I’ve certainly enjoyed learning about the World of Blogs* and all the racing fans living within it and I hope my sometimes overly-long comments on your blogs haven’t been too intrusive. For those who don’t have a blog but still visit here, thanks for dropping by! Keep coming and feel free to comment from time to time. You might find yourself becoming a blogger before you know it – I did.
*I just can’t bring myself to use the word ‘Blogosphere’.

I will return before New Year with a GP2 Top Ten to close out that little series of blogs. I think as we head into 2009 it will be time to stop looking back at 2008, so I’m thinking about little bits on all the changes coming up. We’ll see if I get around to that!

In the meantime have a great few days, whatever you’re doing. Don’t eat too much turkey or drink too much mulled wine!

F1 Top Ten 2008

Here is my top ten list of drivers for the 2008 F1 season. Disagree? Let me know!

2008 FIA Formula 1

1. Hamilton (P1 – Champion)
The fastest driver over the full season. He made some elementary mistakes such as the Montreal pitlane, on other occasions he destroys the field, such as in the rain at Silverstone. On the whole he was the better of the two championship protagonists.

2. Kubica (P4)
Was consistent throughout the year, the only exceptions being when Heidfeld also struggled which means you can put those occasions down to car or team problems, and not driver. Even after BMW stopped developing the car in order to concentrate on ’09, he took it into the middle of the title fight until a couple of rounds remaining, when most observers tipped the top four points places as a Ferrari/McLaren lockout. He’d have done so even without Raikkonen’s troubles. The BMW wasn’t as good as the McLaren or Ferrari yet Robert managed to keep himself in the title fight until surprisingly late in the season.

3. Massa (P2)
Felipe has improved significantly over the last 12 months and is nothing like the driver he was when at Sauber a few years ago. He’s applied himself to learning from Michael Schumacher and the lessons are paying off. I still tend to under-rate him and have to actively think to include him in any list like this. I wonder if his fellow drivers do the same?

4. Raikkonen (P3)
Kimi didn’t seem to be all there this year. Somehow he made little to no impression in several races yet comes away tying the record for most fastest laps in a season. This points to not being able to run with the car when it has a heavy fuel load or cold tyres (or maybe both). When the car is fast, light, and has hot sticky tyres he’s able to push with the best of them – unfortunately for him he was invariably too far behind by that stage of the race.

5. Alonso (P5)
Had a fair-to-middling first half of the season when you often forgot he was there, then suddenly he came alive to win two races and finish strongly in a host of others. I’m not sure if he’d finally got over the McLaren fiasco in his head, or if Renault made some improvements (or maybe both) but something definitely clicked to once again allow Fernando to look like the champion driver he is.

6. Heidfeld (P6)
‘Quick Nick’ had another good-but-not-quite-good-enough season. He’s had quite a lot of those now, which is a shame as he’s shown a lot of promise ever since he first arrived in F1 all that time ago and I’ve always rated him even when others haven’t. He just struggles to sustain it over a season. Ought to have matched Kubica more often than he did. Perhaps that shows just how good Robert really is?

7. Vettel (P8)
An excellent season! There were times he completely embarrassed the ‘main’ Red Bull team in what is basically the old Minardi team running customer cars. I guess it shows Stoddart was kind of right, the team DID have it (whatever ‘it’ is), when it comes to the operations and strategy side anyway. Sebastian showed his talent throughout the season, even as the other Seb has noted this was as much down to the car suiting the German and not the Frenchman. It doesn’t matter what the car advantage is, you still have to do the job as my next choice demonstrates.

8. Kovalainen (P7)
Very disappointing. He shouldn’t be finishing 7th in points in a McLaren and I’m tempted to drop him further back because of it. As I said above, it isn’t any good just driving a quick car, you still have to put the performances in and Heikki just didn’t manage it. This is a shame as he struggled last year in the Renault too. He had what I’d call a Coulthard kind of year, with Hamilton taking the role of Hakkinen. Just like DC he’s quick on his day but always seems to fall back for some reason, or always have the bad luck in the team.

9. Rosberg (P13)
I’m a Williams fan. The team are not where they should be. Both Nico and Kazuki did a good job in a less-than-great car, and were fighting among the Red Bulls and Toro Rossos quite often. Williams have invested in the flywheel KERS while everyone else has gone to batteries, I think it’ll help them enormously! I’m looking forward to watching their improved progress next year.

10. Barrichello (P14)
Rubens didn’t read the script. After closely matching Button last season, this year Jenson was supposed to come along and wipe the floor with him as he got every more disheartened. In reality Rubens thrashed Button and dragged the shitbox of a Honda to finishing positions it had no right being – the highlight being 3rd at Silverstone which was achieved entirely down to his strategic calls and his right foot. Note that he made the call on the tyres, not the team. Lesser drivers wait for the team to call them in.

Special mentions:
Anthony Davidson and Takuma Sato for dragging a turd of a Super Aguri around Albert Park, Sepang, Bahrain and Barcelona all the while wondering if they’d still have a job the next day. After Barcelona they didn’t have a job. Don’t fall into the schoolboy error of assuming these are bad drivers – they are not.

Normally I would include a Red Bull driver in this list. Frankly neither of them did a good enough job, and were regularly beaten by the ‘junior’ team. I expect the big team to trounce the little one next year.

This is a quality field of drivers. We’re lucky in that these days we don’t have the journeyman pay-drivers propping up the field any more, as we did until very recently indeed. No Ricardo Rosset or Enrique Bernoldi now!

2009 will be a very interesting year with all kinds of permutations brought about by the change in rules. Will the slicks and KERS give us more overtaking, will it change the fortunes of any of the teams/drivers? Will more teams struggle to survive? Will Honda get a buyer and if so, who will it be? So many questions!

Christmas List

This week’s United Open Wheel Word Butchers Association question:

What’s on this year’s Christmas List for the IRL?

- Start talking about the new chassis / engine formula so we can get excited about it!

- Make sure the international TV package is good. There are a LOT of IndyCar fans outside the USA and we feel like an afterthought sometimes. Gary and Larry made sure to namecheck all the countries their feed reached and it was nice to hear.

- Make sure the Indy Lights champ of every season gets a test with a major team. Do they already? I have no idea. Surely if they get a test, somebody down the grid will take a chance on them.

- I don’t care about a series sponsor as long as the cars are well stickered-up and look good. Make sure each team has sponsors, and try to attract even more. Yes, this is tough to do these days.

- Make sure safety car periods are kept to a minimum, and the clean up is as fast as safely possible. Don’t extend yellows just to squeeze in a pit sequence or a TV commercial break. TV should fit to the sport, not vice versa.

- Ditch Sonoma, a track with no fans looks stupid. See Bahrain in F1.

- Bring in Road America for 2010 (if not 2009). Also try for Michigan Speedway. Keep the street races to no more than 3 per season (Long Beach, Toronto, St Pete). I’d like to see the schedule mixed around a bit. I don’t like having oval-heavy to start with, road-heavy to end with.

- Above all else: survive this downturn intact, even if it means not doing some of the above until things quieten down.

I know that’s a lot of hard things to ask for, and they are all needed…

Thanks to Joel for this week’s question.

Come back tomorrow for my F1 Top Ten!

IndyCar Top Ten 2008

To close out the 2008 season, and to put some content on this thing, I’m using the age-old device of the Top Ten List. First up is IndyCar, then there is Formula 1, and then I’m finishing with GP2 (if I can stretch that to ten drivers).

2008 IRL IndyCar Series

1. Dixon (1st in points)
Performed well for nearly the whole year, with just the blips at Watkins Glen and Sonoma the only real exceptions. A worthy champion although there remains the question mark over whether he’d have done so well without the advantage of his pit position.

2. Castroneves (2nd)
I think he was solid throughout the whole year, wasn’t he? Didn’t quite have enough for the title despite scoring very strongly in the last third of the year (he never finished lower than 2nd in six consecutive races). Just as in the points race, and on the track, deciding where to place Helio and Scott on any list like this is a very close run thing.

3. Kanaan (3rd)
Managed to take what was generally an underperforming AGR team and still finish 3rd in points ahead of Wheldon and Briscoe, in a year when you could make a serious case for Ganassi and Penske having a performance advantage over every other team. All the while he seemed to be the glue holding AGR together as it seemed to be trying to fracture. Not bad Tony, not bad.

4. Wheldon (4th)
Had a generally good year but probably could have done better. I think he’d agree with that. His first half of the year (mostly ovals) was better than his second half of the year (mostly road courses) which pre-season you would have expected. I’m not sure if the tipping point was the whole thing of whether Kanaan had taken his seat, but it seemed that it knocked his confidence in the team. If so, I don’t blame him.

5. Briscoe (5th)
Much improved. Some bad luck early on cost him points and at one point there were suggestions that his drive was in question. He bounced back with a win at Milwaukee which seemed to change things for the better. He’ll show well next season as I think a lot of the little niggles will be ironed out.

6. Hunter-Reay (8th)
Poked his nose among the Big Three more often than you might have expected, and took a great win at Watkins Glen.

7. Servia (9th)
Oriol was the top-scoring ‘transition’ driver because he’s a solid driver with tons of experience, and it showed. KVR’s steadily increasing pace on the ovals was almost certainly down to him.

8. Power (12th)
Servia scored more in points but Power showed more flashes of brilliant driving. Unfortunately some bad luck tangling with other cars meant the end results often weren’t what they could and should have been.

9. Andretti (7th)
He had a reasonable year, less good in terms of results than before but that’s probably down to AGR hitting a bad patch by their standards. I didn’t like Marco much before this season but he seems to have reached a good place in his head and he’s growing on me as a driver. I was impressed by his run at Milwaukee until the crash.

10. Patrick (6th)
Scored her first win in the big cars by being able to conserve fuel while others couldn’t (or wouldn’t). The rest of the year wasn’t much to write home about but again that was probably as much down to AGR as anything. She finished ahead of Andretti in the points and picking between them is a close call, but I’m marking her down because she whines even more than he does, and that’s an accomplishment. Not sure if she’s whining more now or if Marco has cut down, I suspect the latter so I mark him higher accordingly (plus Marco gets bonus points for doing A1GP). If Danica isn’t careful she’ll soon rival Scott Speed or Nigel Mansell in the whining stakes. I guess it keeps her at the top of the Recent Articles lists on the websites.

Surprise Of The Year
Moraes jumping straight from Formula 3 and scoring some decent results through the year considering his experience and the size of his team – even if his first oval at Homestead was a bit of a culture shock for him.
The other surprise was Mutoh, he had some very good races.

Driver I Most Enjoyed Watching
Ernesto ‘EJ’ Viso. How can you pick anyone else? I watched him in GP2 last season (where he had a similar reputation as he gained in IRL) and it was fun to see him adapt to American racing and their unique interpretation of blocking rules. I seem to remember Doornbos struggling with it last year! It would be great to see Doornbos vs Viso in IndyCars.

Caveats

I have a terrible memory. I’ve probably forgotten some major event/s which should mean a driver is ranked higher / lower than I’ve put them here. And if you disagree with me, make your case in the comments!

2009 News
I’m sure you’ve all by now seen the news that the Belle Isle race has been cancelled*. I can’t say I’m too upset at this news! The race was a procession. It all looked great on TV, particularly the ALMS cars, yet both races were pretty boring in terms of racing. Sorry to all the people in the Detroit region who will miss out but hey, maybe they can bring the Michigan speedway back instead.
* yes we use two L’s in Britain

I mentioned Robert Doornbos earlier, and he has apparently been negotiating with HVM. However, a report in Autosport magazine this week quotes him as saying he’s close to a drive with NHL and the HVM reports are wide of the mark.

“I’ve seen the reports but they are not true. I’ve been talking to HVM but Newman/Haas/Lanigan is the team I’ve been in contact with most. I want to be in the best team possible and hope to have a deal signed by Christmas, but I don’t know exactly who that will be with. I hope I can bring ING to the IRL in 2009.”

ING sponsorship would be huge, racing fans will know them from their involvement with Renault in F1.
There are also reports of Bourdais talking of going back to America which everyone else in the World of Blogs is getting excited about at least on the IRL side, but I still don’t believe it’ll happen. I think he’ll remain a STR driver and I want that to be the case.

Finally, check out the I Am Mindy Show at MyNameIsIRL.com. Go to the site and type ‘podcast’ into his new search box at the top of the page. He’s done two shows now at roughly half hour each, so go now and listen to both!

Word-Butchering Talent Scouts

I’ve kindly been asked to join a co-operative of bloggers known as the United Open Wheel Word Butchers Association, which has been set up to cross-promote a selection of racing blogs to like-minded people.
After you’ve read this post take yourself over to the UOWWBA site and check out some of my colleagues’ blogs in the sidebar there, you might find some you’ve never seen before. I’d never seen Pit Out before and I’ve gone on to bookmark it (I also added it and Planet-IRL and Motorsports Ramblings to my sidebar). Pit Out is close to what this blog would be like if I could find the time / effort to update it as often.

Part of being with the UOWWBA is to answer a weekly question, in order to get our own individual take on any given burning issue. This week’s question is this:

“You have just been appointed to be the new “talent scout” for the IRL. Your first mission is to bring 5 drivers to the series. These can be former drivers from Indycar or from any other series. Which 5 would you pick and why?”

So here are my picks in no particular order:

1. Paul Tracy.
This might only be for the one season because let’s face it, even if Champ Car had continued Paul would be getting close to the end of his open-wheel career by now. His career should end the way it seems to have ended. He should go out fighting, that’s the Paul Tracy Way. I miss watching him race. I wish we could see him adapt to what he once called ‘those crapwagons’. When ‘unification’ was announced he was one of the first drivers I wanted to watch mix it among the IRL crowd, alongside Wilson, Servia and Power. He needs to be back. Just for one season. He just DOES dammit.

2. A J Allmendinger.
I don’t know much about this guy, but what I do know is that once he stepped up from a midfield team to Forsythe he completely killed the opposition. Then walked away. He shouldn’t be trolling around in back-of-the-field N-word teams. Even if Toyota plus Red Bull shouldn’t be back-of-the-field teams. Just like Toyota and Red Bull in F1, in fact.

3. Sam Hornish Jr.
Because he was getting better at road courses, wasn’t he? In any case we need drivers who are stronger on ovals than on road courses, as much as we need drivers who are stronger on road courses than on ovals. And we need flag-bearers from the ‘old’ IRL just as much we need those from the ‘old’ CART. Hornish is the best of that bunch. And the same applies to Hornish as it does to Allmendinger, vis a vis being in NASCAR.

4. Justin Wilson.
It looks like Justin is out of a ride so I’ll include him here, because he damn well shouldn’t be out of a ride. I hope N/H/L get some more funding and are able to run a second car with him in it. I’m sure he must be ‘first call’ in that instance. Look at his progress on road courses this year. He was one of the few to take it to Bourdais regularly in Champ Car. He dragged a half-assed Minardi around the F1 tracks to positions it should never have been, that car being the only one at the time without power steering.

5a. Robert Doornbos.
It looks like he may have signed for HVM, I’m not sure if that’s an announcement or just a rumour I’ve seen on websites. In any case he’s wasting his time in Superleague Formula. His sporadic F1 appearances showed potential, which he went on to prove in Champ Car before the series collapsed from under him. He was supposed to go into 2008 as a serious title contender against Wilson and Power. In reality he spent the year scratching around making a living in SF, A1GP and GT racing. He needs to be back in a top line open wheel car. I think he’d love ovals.

In case he’s signed already, an alternative no.5:
5b. Alex Lloyd.
He’s British, I’m British, and he’s a proven winner in that he’s the 2007 Indy Lights champ. The Indy Lights champ should always get at least few races in the main series during the following year or two. I know running the Indy 500 itself is a big deal, and if the winner of Lights always wins a prize drive at the 500 then that’s fantastic – but I don’t think they do. He needs a run with somebody who can give him a fair shot even if it is only half a season. Maybe he can run the road courses for Fisher (or a second car?).

For the last twelve months the automatic entry to this list was Dario Franchitti. Thankfully he’s back already!

Thanks again to Kohl for the invite to join the OWWBA.

To everyone else, I promise I *will* get the first of my Top Tens posted next weekend! I’ll probably start with the IndyCar one.