Friday, June 27, 2008

Is GP2 better than F1?

Now don’t get me wrong, as Formula 1 will always be my undisputed Number One Heavyweight in terms of motor racing series, but I find it a bit odd that lately I’ve seemed more intrigued by the first few rounds of this year’s GP2 series vs. F1, (Minus the Canadian GP) to which I’ve been adding to my regimen of auto race viewing recently.

Perhaps this possible interest is spurned by what I found so attractive towards CART/Champ Car, as there were always a dozen plus potential winners on any given weekend, as the IRL tends to be somewhat similar to F1 at the moment. You know that the Big Three; Andretti Green, Ganassi and Penske have won the last 43 of 44 events, (Post Iowa) while Formula 1 routinely seems to be a “Dust-up” between Ferrari and McLaren, albeit Renault stepped into the breach momentarily with some Spaniard named Fredrico Suave… Yet the “Reggie” hasn’t been in the winners (Whiners?) circle since the heartbreaking Japanese Grand Prix; (Oct. 8, 2006) when Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari lump inexplicably went “KABLAMOE!” Most definitely costing him a potential 8th World Championship…

There are currently 17 Nations participating in GP2, which now begins its fourth season, with all three prior GP2 Champions having taken up residency in F1: Nico Rosberg, 2005; Lewis Hamilton, 2006 and Timo Glock, 2007, with other former GP2 competitors Heikki Kovalainen, Nelson Piquet Jr. and Kazuki Nakajima also having graduated to the big league of Formula 1.

This year’s crop of GP2 contestants features several F1 test drivers from Renault: Lucas Di Grassi, Sakon Yamamoto and Romain Grosjean, who was also the winner of the inaugural GP2 Asia series championship this winter; Red Bull: Sebastien Buemi and Toyota: Kamui Kobayashi.

Currently Georgio Pantano and Adam Carroll are the only two drivers to have contested the inaugural GP2 event in 2005 left on the grid, as David Hobbs quips: It’s a development series, which means you’re supposed to move up.

While Carroll has been recently competing in the A1 GP series, at age 29, the Italian Pantano is the oldest driver in the field, who’s made a living in the International F3000 series from 2001-03, which was the forbearer to GP2, as Pantano has been in these stepping stone series for six seasons and has 60 GP2 starts alone to his credit. Pantano has also competed in the Champ Car and Indy Racing League series after making what Bob Varsha noted was a coffee cup stop in F1… Having raced briefly for the faltering Jordan Grand Prix team in 2004 before his sponsorship checks dried-up.

In this year’s season opener at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Portuguese GP2 debutant Alvaro Parente stormed away from the field to win his maiden GP2 victory ahead of Bruno Senna and Andreas Zuber.

In Sunday’s Sprint race, Kamui Kobayashi became the first Japanese driver to win a GP2 event after leader Romain Grosjean was penalized for blocking in the later stages of the event. Having overtaken pole sitter Kobayashi earlier, Grosjean was given a stop-go penalty for his evasive maneuvers after the field had been bunched-up by a safety car.

Kobayashi began the Sprint race from the pole since GP2 inverts the top eight finishing positions from the day’s previous Feature race and having slipped to second in the race was pressuring Grosjean for the lead when the penalty was assessed. Kobayashi has now won a total of three GP2 events, with his first two wins coming during this year’s inaugural GP2 Asia championship.

Round 2 was held in Turkey at the Istanbul Autodrome, where the aforementioned Pantano put on a driving clinic during the Feature race, as Bob Varsha said; Pantano’s taking off like a Scalded Dog!” As I’m now convinced that this was scripted as the following day’s Sprint race would see the bizarre accident of Bruno Senna killing an errant Pooch running about the circuit.

The win was the Italian’s 12th overall, tying him with the legendary Jochen Rindt, who scored all 12 of his victories in F2; prior to becoming the only driver awarded the Formula 1 Championship posthumously. (1970)

In Sunday’s Sprint race, while driver’s Mike Conway and Bruno Senna were busy trying to avoid run-away animals, Romain Grosjean finally made good on his promise, as some pundits have picked him to become the 2008 GP2 Champion, when he won the shorter Sprint Race 2 and thus collected his first GP2 victory.

This year at Monaco saw the GP2 circus host two races for the very first time in the Principality, as Bruno Senna stormed away from the front row and led virtually wire to wire, including a major pile-up by fellow competitors in the downhill chicane. The win was even more special as it comes on the 15th Anniversary of his late uncle’s (Ayrton Senna) final Formula 1 victory in Monte Carlo and David Hobbs claims the young Brazilian not only looks like Ayrton but sounds like him also…

The following day’s sprint race saw Mike Conway run away from pole and hide all the way to the finish to take some solace in a victory after having been punted out of third place during the previous feature race.

While the F1 circus made a brief stop on the Il Notre Dam, GP2 took a brief holiday before resuming competition as part of the French GP weekend, which saw Bruno Senna claim his first pole of the season for the Feature race, while SPEED had an entertaining segment on elder statesman Pantano, who was making his unheard of 100th start in GP2/F3000 competition, with 65 starts alone in GP2…

And while Senna led handily until being forced to retire with gearbox issues, I’m assuming the French crowd was quite enthralled to see countryman Grosjean take over the lead… Until the unthinkable happened and he too was forced to retire with you guessed it! Gearbox troubles, which meant that Messer Pantano was left to take over the lead and cruise home to his 13th victory, tying Mike Thackwell for all time career F2/F3000/GP2 victories according to David Hobbs…

The following days Sprint race was quite a different story as the race was held in varying weather conditions, with drivers starting off on rain tyres and then having to decide when to switch over to slicks for a supposedly drying track which saw Pantano and Grosjean once again finish well outside of the points, upon retiring, while Sebastien Buemi took his first GP2 victory with Senna hanging on to finish fifth, while Pantano holds onto his championship lead over Senna due to his Feature race victory. Pantano leads Senna 35-28, with Buemi vaulting to third with 20 points and Grosjean lies fourth with 19 points.

And there you have it! Eight races and seven different winners… Can GP2 elder statesman Giorgio Pantano do the unthinkable and win the title? Or will somebody else like Grosjean, Senna, Buemi, Zuber or Parente spoil his party…