We all know that GP2 is considered the main stepping stone for drivers looking to get into Formula 1. The entire layout and design of the series is centred around familiarising the drivers with Formula 1, so it would be easy to assume that the best of the GP2 drivers will do well in Formula 1. However, this has not always been the case.
As you know, all GP2 cars use the same chassis, engine, and tyre supplier. This is to give an even ground, and good opportunity to all the drivers. In recent years, all of the GP2 champions have made a name for themselves in F1. These include Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Timo Glock and Nico Hulkenberg. However, at the same time, there have been drivers who do well in Gp2 then flop when they go into F1. Nelson Piquet Jr, Scott Speed and Giorgio Pantano all spring to mind.
The good and the bad drivers all came together in GP2. For example, in 2006, the GP2 championship was fought between Lewis Hamilton and Nelson Piquet Jr, not two names you usually compare. When Lewis got into F1, he immidiately shone, nearly taking the world championship in his first year. On the other hand, Piquet struggled at the back in a Renault, and was being trounced by his team-mate Fernando Alonso. He constantly crashed, accidentaly and on purpose, and left the sport halfway through 2009. So, the question is, why did a driver like Piquet do so well in GP2?
Here is just one of the battles Hamilton and Piquet had in GP2:
One possible answer is that his team, HiTech/Piquet Racing was well funded by his father, Nelson Piquet Sr. This extra funding could have meant that he was getting an unfair advantage. But, this could be cancelled out when you take a look at iSport International. The only link to F1 this team have is that their advisor, Jonathon Williams, is a son of Frank Williams, the boss of Williams F1 Team. However, this doesn’t give them any financial advantage whatsoever. And, their drivers have been doing well, with most getting into F1, such as Timo Glock, Karun Chandhok, Bruno Senna and Scott Speed. So, with a big difference in two successful teams, both can get drivers into F1. This means that the point of overfunded teams doesn’t apply here.
To further confuse matters, you then have to take into account the most successful GP2 team there is: ART Grand Prix. Some of their drivers do well in F1, like Hamilton, Rosberg and Hulkenberg (probably). But, some of their best drivers never worked well when they got to the top. Romain Grosjean springs to mind here. In 2008, he was 4th overall. In 2009, he was withdrawn from the last 4 races, as he was given a drive with the Renault F1 Team. Despite missing the last 4 races, he still managed to get 4th overall again, even though he was with a different team. When a good driver like him goes into F1, you would expect him to slightly challenge his team-mate, even if it is Fernando Alonso. While I feel that he did slightly better than Piquet (neither got any points at all that year, with Piquet getting 10 races and Grosjean 9), he still wasn’t good enough, and was not retained for 2010. He was replaced by Vitaly Petrov, who finished 13th, 7th and then 2nd in 2007, 2008 and 2009 respectively.
So, as the years went by, Petrov got better and better in GP2. A second place finish in 2009 was enough to get him up into F1 for 2010. So far, he hasn’t done too badly, though he hasn’t scored a point yet. In my opinion, despite his good form in GP2, he won’t last more than a few years in the big league.
Then we get to a very strange case: Kamui Kobayashi. He did well in the GP2 Asia Series, winning it in 2008, but was very poor in the main GP2 series. In 2008 and 2009, he finished 16th both years, only getting 23 points in those years. When Timo Glock was unable to race in Brazil 2009, Kobayashi was given his chance. He took it and ran, qualifying 11th in a rain-soaked session, and finished 9th in the race after a battle with the world champion Jenson Button. He later called the Japanese driver “absolutely crazy”. In Abu Dhabi, he finished 6th, getting his first ever points, and beating drivers like Kimi Raikkonen. He is best remembered for his overtake on Jenson Button, which was the move that got him a drive with Sauber in 2010. So, my question here is, how could such a mediocre driver in GP2 do so well in Formula 1?
I’m not sure there is a definitive answer to these questions. But, we can have a look at the 2010 season this year to see can we learn more. The championship starts in May, has 11 rounds, and ends in November. My favourite for the title is Jules Bianchi, driving for ART Grand Prix. He has been given an unspecified role in the Ferrari team, and there are rumours that if he wins the championship, he could be given a drive with Sauber for 2011. So, if he does win the title, we can see how well (or badly) he does in F1 the year after.