GP2 Asia has its Asian champ… perfect excuse to call it quits

kobachampWell, Bruno Michel must be happy with himself this week.  He has reached the target of having an Asian driver win the GP2 Asia Series, as Kamui Kobayashi took the title this weekend in Bahrain.   Just as a note, the next Asian driver was Sakon Yamamoto in 9th, and then Hamad Al Fardan in 20th.  Not much of a talent pool, especially when considering Kobayashi is the Toyota test driver and Yamamoto is an F1-refugee driving for ART.

More than happy, though, Bruno Michel should actually be relieved and it should make for the perfect excuse to end this ill-fated invention on a “high note” (I’m being generous, of course, but any reason isgood to kill GP2 Asia).

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Where are they now #5: Alexandre Prémat

In my opinion, one of the best “true” drivers to pass through GP2 was Alex Prémat.  This Frenchman joined GP2 in the 2005 inaugural season with solid credentials, coming off a 2002 French Formula Renault 2.0 championship and a massively successful 2004 F3 season.premat1

That year he placed 2nd in the F3 Euroseries with ASM (now ART), behind champion Jamie Green, but in front of some serious talent like Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Robert Kubica and Nicolas Lapierre.    He also won the F3 Masters race at Zandvoort, event won in the past by Hamilton, Christian Klien and David Coulthard.  To cap it all off, he won the Macau GP in front of Kubica and Lucas DiGrassi.  This very demanding street circuit race has been won by legends such as Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher on their way to F1 glory.

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GP2 Asia … a lesson on how to destroy your clients

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So we have reviewed the 2 wonderful GP2 Asia seasons, both for their irrelevance in the motor racing world in generating new talent or serious competition and for their destructive impact on team finances – for almost every team on the grid.

Some questions for the GP2 management (or GP2 Gods if you prefer):

  • What is the objective of GP2 Asia?  The real one I mean, not the blah, blah, development, blah, blah, emerging markets, blah blah, off-season….. crap.  Are you trying to compete with anyone?  Does anyone ever, ever watch top-level racing during the F1 off-season?
  • Does this GP2 “winter series” need to be in Asia?  If it’s of no interest for drivers in that region, doesn’t it make sense to race in Europe…  Even a Sudam GP2 would make more sense!
  • Have you analyzed the impact of this category?  Impact in terms of media exposure (does anybody care, even the die-hard GP2 fans?), driver development and most importantly – team economics.
  • Do you think GP2 Asia has enhanced or destroyed value for GP2 as a whole?   Trick question, but by any measurement, GP2 Asia has contributed to make a difficult 2009 season in Europe even more unstable and devastating for many teams.
  • Do you listen to your “clients” (the GP2 teams)?  They are shouting for help and attention, but they are constantly ignored – powered by the arrogance of not admitting GP2 Asia should be terminated.
  • The ultimate question…. Will GP2 Asia have a 2009-10 season?  Please say no…..

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The devastating impact of GP2 Asia – part II

Though many questioned GP2 Asia for 2008-09 (current series), GP2 boss Bruno Michel and his team pushed on with what in hindsight reflects very little regard for the teams and their  survival.  Some (or maybe many) would venture to say that he wanted to see some teams go into financial difficulties, which they are suffering just as we get ready to start the 2009 GP2 Main season.

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The economic turmoil was already upon us, and cancelling the season would have been a timely decision applauded by most and criticized by the ignorant few.  But…. the season started at the October Shanghai F1 GP with a ragtag lineup of new and old drivers – most of them paying little or no money to the bleeding GP2 teams that were contractually obligated to field 2 cars without exception or mercy.  Rumours had surfaced that Michel would allow teams to show up with 1 car at this exceptional time, but as many had suspected the short-term once again primed over the long-term.

The numbers and facts speak for themselves:

  • Regarding driver rotation
  • After 5 races, a total of 41 drivers have paraded through the GP2 Asia Series – representing a rotation of about 66%… not even club level karting sees these figures on a bad weekend.
  • 11 drivers (27% of those that have paraded through here) have raced only 1 race!
  • Only 15 drivers (37% of the total) have raced in every GP2 Asia race this season; this represents less than 60% of the 26 GP2 seats available… highly irregular for a serious racing category.
  • Trident, a team in serious, serious difficulties has used an incredible 7 drivers and I would venture to say that several of them have raced for free:  Ricci, Rigon, Vallés.
  • Even Arden has suffered the confusion of Dr. Marko at Red Bull’s objectives in GP2 Asia.  He has used 3 drivers in the Red Bull seat at Arden:  Mika Maki, Renger van der Zande and Edoardo Mortara.  Dr. Marko must be seriously wondering what the hell GP2 Asia is good for, a confusion that probably help cement his decision to leave GP2 in 2009 altogether. Read more of this post

The devastating impact of GP2 Asia – part I (the 2008 season)

GP2 Asia is probably one of the worst inventions in modern motorsport… well, maybe a distant second to Superleague.

milosdubai1Created in 2008 to reutilize the original GP2 cars and at the same time broaden the scope of the series, GP2 Asia was conceptually targeted at bringing out emerging talent from the “other side of the world”.   If you recall, originally all teams had to have at least 1 Asian driver.  This requirement was only met by 7 of the 13 teams, a generous statistic since Adam Khan lasted only 1 race with Arden and Chandhok (iSport), Kobayashi (DAMS) and Tung (Trident) were merely extensions of their GP2 Main Series relationships.   Also, Fauzy (Super Nova) and Yoshimoto (Meritus) were GP2 “veterans” brought in for a decent showing by these teams.

So basically, only DPR with Armaan Ebrahim of India followed through in the true spirit of GP2 Asia.

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The evolution of GP2 teams – Average position

GP2 teams have enjoyed very diverse fortunes since the category was launched in 2005.  So, which are the “best” teams?   To avoid subjective discussions, and base the answer on hard data, here is the average position in the team championship since 2005, as well as their “label” according to the 3 groups we created in an earlier post (stars, survivors or backmarkers):

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The chart shows what we expected at the top and at the bottom, with some surprises – such as Arden and Piquet, which are higher that expected.  Both still live off their best seasons when Kovalainen (Arden) and Nelsinho (Piquet) were fighting for the GP2 title.In terms of economics, the chart helps illustrate one of our basic points about GP2 success:  if you are consistently successful on track, you will be financially viable.  Today, as illustrated in previous posts, all the teams in red are GP2 backmarkers and facing serious financial troubles.  As simple as this chart and its interpretation may seem, how come some teams are at the top and some at the bottom when they all started out on equal ground in 2005?

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Where are they now #4: Xandi Negrao

If I’m not mistaken, Xandi Negrao is – after Giorgio Pantano – the GP2 driver with the most starts in the series history: a total of 64 races.   The dubious honor that Xandi holds on his own is being the GP2 driver with the most starts and no wins to his name – not a great statistic to lead.

Xandi Negrao started off his GP2 career in 2005 as the series was inaugurated, partnering fellow Brazilian Nelson Piquet Jr. in the Hitech/Piquet Racing team.   Negrao was financially supported by his family’s pharamaceutical business, and he came into GP2 with a strong record as the F3 Sudam champion, with 10 wins in 18 races.

xandi1Unfortunately, this pedigree did not spill over into European single-seaters and Negrao proved to be lacking in serious talent.  In his 64 races his best result was a 2nd place in the sprint race at Istambul in 2007, with his best points tally at 13 in 2006.

Negrao wisely chose to move on, racing sporadically in 2008 with the Emerson Fittipaldi’s Brazil A1GP team and in the FIA GT1 series, with a decent showing and 1 win in 10 races with a Maserati MC12.  Today, Negrao is back in Brazil, racing a Stock Car series, much like a Brazilian WTCC, where national F1 and open wheel glories go out to pasture – such as Luciano Burti, Antonio Pizzonia, Gualter Salles, Tarso Marques and Enrique Bernoldi.

Though his early success showed signs of promise, the advantage he enjoyed in his home turf did not translate into European competitions.  Makes you wonder about the level of competition in the F3 Sudam in the recent past…. definitely not what it used to be.