Just 11 teams will assemble for the first race of the 2016 GP2 season as three teams have withdrawn from F1’s leading feeder championship.
Hilmer disappeared from the series late last season, Lazarus bade farewell over the winter and the Status team has not entered any drivers for the opening round of the new year this weekend. The roster has been bolstered by the arrival of top F3 squad Prema. But Carlin, which has already pulled its team from Formula V8 3.5, will have just a single car in GP2 this weekend.
Although the championship is entering its sixth season with the same chassis in a bid to keep a lid on costs it remains an expensive final step on the ladder towards F1. The sharp end of the field has an excellent pedigree of drivers, several of which are backed by F1 teams. The lower end, however, is propped up by several undistinguished but wealthy racers.
Last year Stoffel Vandoorne rewrote the GP2 record book and claimed the crown in dominant fashion. Runner-up Alexander Rossi has also moved on, leaving potentially one of the most open championships for several years.
Sergey Sirotkin, Pierre Gasly and Norman Nato have been the pace setters in testing – but that has been a poor guide to season-long form in the past.
As is now commonplace in GP2, the series follows the Formula One calendar’s European rounds. Changes for this year include a place on the support bill for the new race on the Baku City Circuit. Drivers will also tackle the punishing heat of Malaysia’s round of the championship. They will have plenty of time to recover from that, however – the season finale follows almost two months later in Abu Dhabi.
Bahrain has also been dropped from the calendar after hosting two rounds in 2015, while the round that one of those replaced – Germany, this year at the Hockenheimring – will return after a years absence.
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On the driver front the grid is largely filled with faces from last season, but there are some new additions who could be ones to watch, and quite a few have switched teams. The highest profile moves are Sergey Sirotkin to reigning teams champions ART, and Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly away from DAMS to the new Prema squad.
Gasly will be joined by 2015 Euro F3 runner-up Antonio Giovinazzi, but will be hoping he’s not upstaged by his rookie team mate in a season he desperately needs to shine as Red Bull’s driver academy begins to look a little thin. He’ll also be hoping to pick up a victory, as the last time he stood on the top step was September 2013.
Norman Nato makes the switch to Racing Engineering alongside Manor development driver Jordan King, as he looks to build on an uninspiring first season. Another driver moving teams to reignite his career is Raffaele Marciello. The former Ferrari junior driver was dropped from the academy last season after finishing seventh in a year he was expected to battle for the title and failing to win a single race.
Marciello replaces Mitch Evans at Russian Time, who’s switched to Campos after a trying season filled with unreliability and poor pace in the early races.
Luca Ghiotto led much of the GP3 championship last year but finished runner-up to Esteban Ocon. He remains with his Trident team for the step up to GP2 and will be looking to repeat his expectations-defying performance of 2015. His team mate, Philo Paz Armand, has risen quickly through the junior ranks but enters his fourth year of racing competition still yet to achieve a podium finish.
Marvin Kirchofer joins Ghiotto in stepping up from GP3 – and will race for Carlin – but crucially lacks a team mate to share data with. The last big name to join the grid is Oliver Rowland. The 2015 Formula Renault 3.5 champion had a season as impressive as Vandoorne’s – and showed well in the few rounds of GP2 he competed in as well, and will now contest a full season with MP Motorsport.
Of those who have stuck around, Williams development driver Alex Lynn is one to watch at DAMS, while Honda protege and McLaren development driver Nobuharu Matsushita could be a dark horse after impressing in his rookie campaign last season.
2016 GP2 drivers
|Nobuharu Matsushita||ART||Honda-backed driver won once in debut season last year in Hungaroring sprint race|
|Sergey Sirotkin||ART||Third last year with a single win for Rapax, now with the champions and a title favourite|
|Norman Nato||Racing Engineering||Won at Monaco in Formula Renault 3.5 but didn’t show that kind of potential last year|
|Jordan King||Racing Engineering||British F3 champion had a decent first year in GP2 but missed a reverse-grid win from pole at Spa|
|Alex Lynn||DAMS||Ex-Red Bull, now Williams-backed and in his second year at the top DAMS squad. Another title tip|
|Nicholas Latifi||DAMS||Has series-hopped over the past few seasons, now endorsed by Renault but needs results|
|Mitch Evans||Campos||The 2012 GP3 champion returns for a fourth year. Won twice with Russian Time last season|
|Sean Gelael||Campos||Well-heeled Indonesian racer is yet to prove he can be the next Rio Haryanto|
|Raffaele Marciello||Russian Time||Cast out of the Ferrari junior driver programme following a winless 2015|
|Artem Markelov||Russian Time||Podium from 22nd on the grid at Spa last year was a rare flash of potential|
|Gustav Malja||Rapax||Made a handful of starts last year, now set for a full campaign|
|Arthur Pic||Rapax||Surpassed his brother, ex-F1 driver Charles Pic, in terms of GP2 starts last year|
|Philo Paz Armand||Trident||Managed a best of tenth in half a season of Formula Renault 3.5 last year|
|Luca Ghiotto||Trident||Pushed Esteban Ocon hard for the GP3 title last year but narrowly missed out|
|Marvin Kirchhofer||Carlin||Third in GP3 for the last two years, won as many races as Ghiotto in 2015|
|Antonio Giovinazzi||Prema||European F3 runner-up last season with an impressive 20 podium appearances|
|Pierre Gasly||Prema||Currently the leading candidate for a Toro Rosso seat in 2017 but win-less in last two seasons|
|Oliver Rowland||MP Motorsport||Reigning Formula Renault 3.5 champion, Renault-backed but yet to drive their F1 car|
|Daniel de Jong||MP Motorsport||Managed a best of seventh from 70 GP2 appearances to date|
|Nabil Jeffri||Arden||Became the youngest person to test an F1 car in 2010, now Malaysia’s best F1 prospect|
|Jimmy Eriksson||Arden||Spent two seasons in GP3 with Koiranen but slipped from fourth to fifth last year|
2016 GP2 Spotters’ Guide
2016 GP2 calendar
Over to you
Who’s your tip for the GP2 title this year? And will the champion get a shot at F1?
Have your say in the comments.
The GP2 season will be screened live in the UK on Sky Sports F1. For coverage details elsewhere around the world see here:
Special feature: The first ten years of GP2 drivers
- The drivers of GP2’s first ten seasons: Part one
- The drivers of GP2’s first ten seasons: Part two
- The drivers of GP2’s first ten seasons: Part three
- The drivers of GP2’s first ten seasons: Part four
- The drivers of GP2’s first ten seasons: Part five
Update: After this article was published Carlin confirmed Sergio Canamasas will drive their second car.
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