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.
  • Regarding driver profiles
  • Asian drivers? Only 6.  And only Hamad Al Fardan and the seriously untalented Kevin Nai Chia Chen worth noting as “new”.  The highest ranked one as of today, pending the final race in Bahrain, is F1/GP2 veteran Sakon Yamamoto in 13th place.
  • Race winner and top-rated rookie Nico Hulkenberg quit the GP2 Asia Series to focus on his F1 testing and to share the racing mileage with teammate Pastor Maldonado.  How can anyone take the category seriously if one of the top drivers in one of the top teams uses it as a mere testing ground?
  • Pending the final Bahrain GP, 80% of the points have been awarded to only 9 drivers, showing the huge magical chairs game being played and the absolute lack of talent in the series.

Looking at the leading drivers, out of the Top 10, 7 are GP2 veterans – only Sergio Perez, Nico Hulkenberg and Edoardo Mortara are rookies.  Not exactly a place to cultivate new talent.  Of these Top 10, ALL but one of them will race in GP2 Main with the same team – the only exception is Diego Nunes who is racing with Piquet GP and will move to iSport in Europe.

What this means is that GP2 Asia is being sold as a “pack” by the teams as the only way to get a paid driver in a seat and as a way to survive.  If I’m not mistaken, the only relatively regular GP2 Asia drivers this season (meaning 2 or more races) that will not race in GP2 Main (as of today) are :

  • Sakon Yamamoto – that irregular, deep-pocketed, ex-F1, ex-everything driver
  • James Jakes – a good British driver that surprisingly has not yet signed into GP2 Main with DPR
  • Hamad Al Fardan – the sole Middle East representative who has done a decent job but cannot seem to find the €1 million for Europe
  • Kevin Nai Chia Chen – shouldn’t we apply the 107% rule to him?

Every other driver that has completed every race will do GP2 Main:  Kobayashi, Valsecchi, Petrov, Rodríguez, Pérez, d’Ambrosio, Nunes, Villa, Razia, van der Garde and Herck.   This “pack” sales strategy is even working for other category’s benefit, as FMS has put in Rodolfo Gonzalez to fill the seat left vacant by Andy Zuber, as a “gift” for the Venezuelan that has signed with the team for the Euroseries 3000 season.

Trident Racing, as mentioned before, is clawing its way through the category, not unlike Meritus, FMS or even Ocean.   To better illustrate this point, only in travel and logistics costs, each race puts the teams back almost €40.000, without including the operating costs of putting the Dallara on track.   These teams cannot even find the cash to cover this cost for this category in which no one is interested, at least no one with any real objectives of growing as a race driver.  The few who have €400k-plus are better off saving their cash and running a European category like F3 Euroseries… and they know it and are turning their backs on Asia.

As a result, Trident and the other GP2 Backmarkers are seriously bleeding money thanks to Bruno Michel and the 2009 GP2 Asia stubborness.

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