GP3 champions Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Gutierrez made their F1 debuts this year.
This year 27 drivers are vying to follow in their footsteps – and will do so in new and significantly quicker cars.
Last year’s GP3 championship came to a thrilling climax at Monza and the new series begins this weekend. Jack Leslie (@JackLeslieF1) explains why you should watch it.
GP3’s place on the Formula One support bill makes it a highly attractive option for aspiring grand prix drivers. Sitting on the rung below GP2, it is a highly competitive series which gives drivers the chance to show what they can do in front of some very influential people.
The fourth year of the category will see the GP3-10 chassis replaced with a new, more powerful and lighter racing machine. Testing has revealed it to be three to two seconds per laps faster than its predecessor.
The races themselves have a predetermined distance that is worked out before each round; they both last the same amount of laps and have a 30 minute limit. Points are awarded to the top ten in race one and top eight in race two with an additional two point reward for the driver with the fastest lap. As in GP2 the starting grid for the second race is based on the finishing order from the first, with the top eight reversed.
2013 drivers and teams
Conor Daly is starting his third year in the category and Tio Ellinas is back for a second season at Marussia Manor. Both will be looking on this season as a crucial opportunity for them to continue their upward progression towards F1.
Daly stood on the top step of the podium with ART (formerly Lotus GP) last year and remains with them in 2013. Ellinas finished eighth in last year’s GP3 season and has a drive in a Formula One car to look forward to later in the year.
Another series returnee, Aaro Vainio, will be hoping to challenge for the title with successful Formula Renault 2.0 team Koiranen GP who are making their GP3 debut.
ART, who fielded Bottas and Gutierrez in their championship-winning years, will also field British Formula Three champion Jack Harvey and European F3 Open racer Facu Regalia.
Red Bull-backed Russian racer Daniil Kvyat is another name to watch as he makes his GP3 debut for MW Arden, who Mitch Evans won the title for last year. Kvyat made his F3 debut last weekend at Hockenheim and scored a podium finish.
Samin Gomez and Carmen Jorda (who also raced last year) are the series’ female contingent, racing for Jenzer and new team Bamboo respectively. Patric Niederhauser returns to line up alongside Gomez at Jenzer, with David Fumanelli also competing in GP3 again with the Trident team.
Finally there are two drivers seeking to revive their careers after disappointing Formula Renault 3.5 campaigns in 2012. Kevin Korjus has been quick in testing for Koiranen GP. Lewis Williamson, who was dropped from Red Bull’s young driver programme after just five races last year, is a late signing at Bamboo.
The key specifications of the new GP3/13 car are better in every respect than the old machines, with its distinctive and unappealing engine note.
The new engine puts out 400bhp – a major step up from the 280bhp available last year – and sits in a chassis which at 630kg is 20kg lighter than the one it replaces. It also produces less drag and reaches as a top speed of 290kph (180mph), over 30kph higher than last year.
Its aerodynamics have been designed to improve overtaking opportunities. The new car also gives teams a wider range of set-up possibilities on components such as the suspension. The series continues to use Pirelli tyres with a range of three different compounds on offer during the season.
During its first run at pre-season testing in Portugal those who had experienced its predecessor reported the new car was tricky to master. That should provide the 2013 grid with a fascinating new challenge.
Nor will the series return to Monaco, where it raced for the first time last year and saw a terrifying crash involving Conor Daly and Dmitry Suranovich.
As usual every round of the championship will be a double-header. It begins at the Circuit de Catalunya this weekend and will remain in Spain for the Valencia round. It then follows F1 to Silverstone, the Nurburgring, Hungaroring, Spa Francorchamps and Monza.
New for this season will be the final round of the season at the Yas Marina circuit in early November. That means there is an eight-week wait between the penultimate and final race weekends.
Over to you
Will you be watching the GP3 series this year? Who’s your tip for the title? Have your say in the comments.
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Images © GP3/LAT