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.

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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!

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