Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Where have All of the recent GP2 Champions Gone?

It seems to me that something's  currently broken in this Feeder Series, the final step in the ladder to thy pinnacle 'O motorsport, aka Formula 1, namely that it isn't graduating its series champions to the B-I-G' Show Not to mention barely ever being seen on Stateside television...

Although "Peacock-lite's" (NBCSN) lead announcer Leigh Diffey said it would be on the air Saturday, (July 25) as I stumbled into I-T listed simply as "Auto Racing" on my NFB Newsline for The Blind TV Guide. And Eureka! I actually got to watch; Err listen to the Hungarian Feature race round following F1's Qualie re-airing - Ditto for the Belgian Feature Race round, albeit once again shown late night, i.e.; 10PM Pacific...

GP2 Series Champions
2005: Nico Rosberg, Germany
2006: Lewis Hamilton, United Kingdom
2007: Timo Glock, Germany
2008: Giorgio Pantano, Italy
2009: Nico Hulkenberg, Germany
2010: Pastor Maldonado, Venezuela
2011: Romain Grosjean, France
2012: Davide Valsecchi, Italy
2013: Fabio Leimer, Switzerland
2014: Jolyon Palmer, United Kingdom

Although this year's F1 rookie crop is comprised of more past Formula Renault 3.5 competitors, GP2 is represented by Brazil's Felipe Nasr, who finished third overall in 2014, albeit behind rookie sensation Stoffel Vandoorne who finished runner-up and is leading this year's championship quite handedly! With Nasr simply taking his "Banco du Brasilia" dowry to Sauber F1, who've just confirmed him for a sophomore season with the Swiss team.

Scuderia Toro Rosso's impressive A-L-L Rookie lineup this season features ex-F3 Hotschue' Max "Dutchboy" Verstappen, who finished third overall in FIA European F3 in his maiden 2014 campaign - his debutant single seater season before becoming the youngest ever driver at thy tender age of 17 racing in F1! Which prompted the FIA to create the "Verstappen Rule!" Which limits drivers advancing into F1 too quickly with new Superlicense requirements.

Max's team-mate is NO slouch either, as 20yr old Spaniard Carlos Sainz, Jr. graduated to Formula 1 after winning the '14 Formula Renault 3.5 series, as both are products of the Red Bull Junior Driver academy.

and then there's the old fashioned way of landing a Formula 1 drive, ergo 'Mega Dinero (cash) as the proverbial Tail-gunner Charlie Manor-Marussia F1 team gladly took FR 3.5 Alum's Great Britain's Will Stevens cheque, whom reportedly paid a cool half million for his One-off with Caterham at Abu Dhabi last year.

Meanwhile Manor's second seat is currently occupied by rejuvenated single seater Pilote' Roberto Merhi - who spent time in DTM before returning to cars without roofs en route to giving Carlos Sainz a run for his money before ultimately finishing third overall in FR3.5 last season.

As the Spanish driver has spent much of the season pondering if or when he'll be jettisoned for a nebulous "Pay Driver?" Although he hasn't exactly been setting the World Series by Renault championship on fire this year, not to mention his NASTY accident he caused at Spielberg,  resulting in double elimination from both rounds by Steward's decision!

But seriously? NONE of the last three years GP2 series champions have graduated into Formula 1 rides; Go figure? Although Merhi could finally be replaced by Manor Marussia F1 reserve driver Fabio Leimer if I've ARSE-sumed correctly? Since its probably the worst kept secret that Merhi's simply on a race-to-race dealio' until somebody better funded comes along...

Will the curse of the Italians befall this year's champion as it has the past two seasons? When Switzerland's Fabio Leimer won the title in his third year of competition, scoring three wins out of 63-races, which probably isn't a huge winning percentage, right? As I've got NO idea if this is partly what caused the young Swiss driver to become the first Non-Italian to be shunned by Formula 1 teams for a race seat, whilst Britain's Jolyon Palmer has also befallen the same fate.

Thus, prior to 2013, the only GP2 champions not to move up to Formula 1 the next season were Italy's Giorgio Pantano and Davide Valsecchi, albeit Valsecchi briefly enjoyed being a Lotus F1 "simulator Jockey, " while Pantano has faded from my radar screen since his attempts to kick start his Open Wheel Racing career with a brief return to Indy Cars in 2012.

Pantano, winner of the GP2 crown in '08 at the ripe 'Ol age of 29, was apparently deemed too old for Formula 1 and thus was never given a shot - and that's before teenager's like Russia's Daniil Kvyat  and Netherlands "Boy Wonder" Max Verstappen made their way into the pinnacle 'O motorsports.

Although obviously I've forgotten watching the Italian whom Nico Rosberg grew up with a poster of him on his wall and called him probably the best Karter  ever, while Fernando Alonso said he was Invincible! Did race briefly in Formula 1.

As how could I forget actually watching him race for Jordan Grand Prix the majority of the '04 season, especially since I was elated over Timo Glock's debutant points scoring finish at Il Notre Dam as Pantano's replacement...

Giorgio got his first crack at Indy Cars in 2005 for Chip Ganassi as a third entry for the Indy Racing League's Road Course events that season before Cheep' scaled back to a two car effort the following year. Then Pantano substituted for the injured Justin Wilson at Dreyer & Reinbold in 2011 before one final IndyCar splurge again with Ganassi in '12 and has since focused his efforts upon becoming a  Sports Car driver in Europe, as his previous ride, an McLaren MP4-12C GT3 car isn't all bad, right? As don't know what he's racing this year.

Meanwhile, Davide Valsecchi who became a Lotus F1 reserve driver in 2013, apparently didn't do himself any favours after being overly critical of being passed over as Kimi Raikkonen's replacement when the Finn left Lotus for back surgery. As the team opted for the experienced Heikki Kovalainen instead in hopes of moving up in the F1 Constructors table, which Heikki failed to help the team accomplish with his two 14th place finishes.

Subsequently, Valsecchi found himself out of "Simulator Jockey" employment with the Enstone squad, whom he claimed hadn't paid him! (Hmm? Sound familiar... Like can Y'all say, Charles Pic, Bailiffs & Spa!) As apparently the Italian has since been plying his trade in Sports Cars, along with a Pre-season IndyCar test, albeit presumably lacked the necessary Dinero to garner the ride.

Obviously Fabio Leimer, like champion predecessor Valsecchi was hoping to join the  list of past GP2 champions graduating to F1 drives, but apparently stumbled over funding issues?

As although I'm purely speculating here, as noted above, perhaps Fabio will finally get his chance in F1, albeit with the Minnowesqe Manor Marussia squad - although that door seems to have closed again, with Merhi apparently now set to see out the season...

Ditto for the reigning champion Jolyon Palmer, who's patiently waiting in the wings as a Lotus F1 test driver, although Pastor Maldonado hasn't exactly co-operated with the team's plan to run Palmer in Friday morning Free Practice-1 sessions whilst claiming his massive PDVSA Oil money backing entitles him to 100% track-time!   

As it was a tad bit strange listening to "Joly" as the colour commentator during the Hungarian GP2 Feature race on NBC Sports - while he grew upon Mwah during the Belgian Feature Race rebroadcast...

And whilst this year's runaway GP2 points leader Belgium's Stoffel Vandoorne, a McLaren F1 reserve driver is hotly tipped for a potential Formula 1 drive as BLOODY 'JENSE'S replacement next year? He'll have to usurp Kevin "Bacon" Magnussen, the 2013 FR 3.5 Champion and 2014 McLaren F1 race driver for the seat...

thus, if GP2 is still the preferred final stepping stone to F1, it's no longer guaranteed its championship winner in arguably the top European single seater series will automatically ensure making their living racing in Formula 1, a la the remaining past GP2 champions: Nico Rosberg; 2005, Lewis Hamilton; 2006, Nico Hulkenberg; 2009, Pastor Maldonado; 2010 and Romain Grosjean; 2011.

For example, Mitch Evans, the GP2 racer and NOT the past Hydroplane driver; Hooah! Has exclaimed how he's now focusing upon Sports Cars over a potential shot in Formula 1, although he's still campaigning in GP2 this season with Russiantime Racing, it appears the doors to F1 are closed for the promising Kiwi at the moment, a la Brendon Hartley, now a Porsche Factory Driver in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) series - like his past team-mate, the 2014 series runner-up Sam Bird.

While its NO secret that the best way to ensure your advancement into Formula 1 is to have a Shit-load of money, it never hurts having the clout of an automobile manufacturer backing your every step up the ladder, which is what the relatively unknown Pascal Wehrlein to Mwah is currently doing with Stuttgart's help.

As the current 20yr old German DTM Hot-Shue' Wehrlein is now rumoured to be in the frame for a Manor drive  next year when the team switches to three pointed star power, aka Mercedes, which would suit their current F1 Team's reserve driver nicely...

Germany's Wehrlein not denying Manor rumours

Alas, will GP2 continue being Formula 1's preferred final grooming step or will the continued trend of selecting drivers from other single seater categories, most notably Formula Renault 3.5 become the new norm? Only time will tell - as hopefully Renault won't pull the pin on its Feeder Series ladder system, which would be a Huge Blow to aspiring single seater racers...