Turkey GP – driver rankings

Eventful Saturday and boring Sunday at the Turkish GP2 race this past weekend.

Saturday’s race finally saw the Pastor Maldonado many of us were expecting, with a dominant win over several drivers who had to seriously fight for their top 8 position.  Davide Valsecchi had a tough fight with Perez and Bird,  with the Mexican pulling off a good show that was marred by his low-fuel exclusion after the race.   Giedo van der Garde put in a strong weekend for Addax, while Razia is making the best of a very regular and strong season.  Michael Herck kept DPR up in the points, a common sight these days, while Vietoris was finally able to show his talent in his rookie GP2 season.  Dani Clos was eventually 8th after Perez was DQ, a very lucky turn of events after a very tentative race in the top 10.  His Sunday win is a great feat for this 2nd year driver, but he was again very fortunate to see a combative Vietoris pull out with engine problems.

The Sunday race saw Razia once again on the podium, while it not clear why Maldonado was not able to charge through the field.  His Rapax seems to be very quick when on its own, as in preseason testing, but has serious difficulties when in traffic.

Major disappointment for the weekend was Jules Bianchi, the ART title favorite having trouble to get up in the points regularly and in matching fast teammate Sam Bird, who is now tied with Bianchi in the points.  Also disappointing was Marcus Ericsson, once again out of the points with a very nervous couple of races.  Super Nova continues to be the only pointless team this season.

Now, a long break until the Valencia race….

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Super Nova’s gamble

(c) Super Nova Racing, 2010

After the second race of the season, Super Nova is very surprisingly the only GP2 team at zero points.  Given the trend in the recent past, we would have probably expected DPR, Trident or maybe even Coloni to be bringing up the rear.  But the team that finished 3rd last season is now dead-last in the standings, and its 2 drivers are showing serious difficulties to bring the car up into the points any time soon.

It all starts with the gamble taken by David Sears and his team late last year, signing 2 rookies to drive his cars, unlike the team’s strategy in the very recent past.

In 2009, Super Nova had 2 strong veterans:  Luca Filippi and Javi Villa.  In 2008, promising rookie Alvaro Parente (WSR champ) was joined by series regular Andy Soucek.  And in 2007, Filippi and Mike Conway drove for the British team.

Marcus Ericsson comes with a solid CV under his belt, having won the British Formula BMW and Japanese F3 championships and putting in a highly competitive season in British F3 as well.  Josef Kral, came in after placing 3rd in a competitive Formula Master season, battling it out with drivers like Alexander Rossi and Fabio Leimer.

So a calculated bet from Sears and Super Nova nonetheless, probably helped by the bleak economic outlook for the 2010 grid when these 2 drivers were signed.  Being a top-5 team allows you to pick and choose early in the process, and Sears picked fast drivers with strong bank accounts to race his cars.    What surely tipped the balance was that Sears probably saw that experienced drivers with a €1.3 million-plus budget were not too abundant this year, and he made the wise business decision in signing Ericsson and Kral.

Pérez was firmly with Addax, Clos with Racing Engineering and D’Ambrosio with DAMS.  His only real options were Giedo, who opted for the “highest” spot possible after his break-up with iSport, Valsecchi, who was very intelligently drafted by Paul Jackson and Pastor Maldonado, who I believe is in for a partial GP2 season waiting for his jump to F1 any day now.

Now Super Nova is not the only team with 2 rookies.  ART has Bianchi and Bird, Arden has Pic and Gonzalez and Ocean has Leimer and Chilton.  The explanations for all these is quite more simple, though.

ART makes it it’s business to draft in top rookies:  Hamilton, Grosjean, Hulkenberg the most renowned.  Yes, they are usually paired with a “veteran” (Premat, Filippi, Maldonado), so Bird’s signing was a bit of a surprise.  Arden has a strong rookie in Charles Pic, and Gonzalez is there merely because Javi Villa’s negotiations fell through at the final hour.  And Ocean has Leimer because he’s Monteiro’s protegé and Chilton who has a strong budget behind him, plus Ocean is not a top-5 team that would have had much to choose from had it held out for other drivers.

So will the Super Nova gamble pay off?   The season goes by quickly, and the key now is to keep the energy and intensity within the team at high levels.  As rookies in such a demanding category and atmosphere, both Ericsson and Kral are susceptible to giving up, so the team must rally and put in a good show at the Istambul track, where Super Nova has been on the podium before with Adam Carroll, Javi Villa and Luca Filippi.   David Sears and the team are in for their toughest GP2 season yet.

Monaco GP – Driver rankings

A race that separates the men from the boys, saw the rookies fall in line behind more experienced drivers.  Clos took pole and Perez and D’Ambrosio the victories – with Bianchi the best rookie in both races.   Solid weekend for other veterans such as Razia, Valerio (despite his accident), van der Garde and Maldonado – who once again had an irregular couple of days.

Apart from Bianchi, clearly the top rookie, thoroughly impressive drive from Johnny Cecotto – putting his Trident Dallara in 4th place on Saturday after a strong race from the back on Friday.  Not a great weekend instead for Sam Bird, Christian Vietoris or for either of the iSport drivers, while Ho-Pin Tung reminded us why he had already passed through GP2 without any glory.   The only one happy to see him was the Dallara sales guys…

Spanish GP – Driver rankings

Rankings for the first race weekend of 2010.   Very different race at the end from the script originally expected.

Favorites like Jules Bianchi and Christian Vietoris failed to impress this weekend, while rookies suck as Charles Pic and Fabio Leimer were protagonists, winning a race each.   Strong season opening results from Dani Clos, Giacomo Ricci and Luiz Razia, while Pastor Maldonado seemed to be struggling with his setup all weekend long.   Apart from the race winners, the clear standout this weekend was Sam Bird, putting in 2 impressive drives.  Seems like he has the pace and he was clearly above his teammate in race pace during the two races.

Rookie Oliver Turvey was also quick at Barcelona, much faster and convincing than Asia champ Valsecchi, who seemed off during the event.  Finally, great first race from Sergio Perez, his weekend marred by a ridiculous behavior on Sunday as he sprayed the track with his blown Mecachrome’s oil.

Starting 2010 lineup complete

With the announcements (what a surprise!) of Ricci at DPR, González at Arden and Zaugg at Trident we now have a complete lineup for the first race at Barcelona this weekend.  How long will these guys last?  Nobody knows for sure and will depend on a white knight showing up with the cash and the ability of teams to fund drivers in order to avoid the penalty for not showing up on the grid.

Though González has put together some money from PDVSA, it is not enough to last the whole season.  Arden was caught in a tight spot after their wait for Javi Villa came up negative, having to settle for a rookie with a limited budget.   Ricci’s case is clear, though we all hope Mr. Herck will let him freely outperform young Michael, which he will surely do given the chance.  In the case of Zaugg, another in a long list of budgetless drivers filling in the gaps.   No doubt he will put on a good show, as did Davide Rigon last year, but we’ll see how far he is allowed to test the limits of his Dallara.

The show is almost here… tomorrow look for the season preview from GP2insider…  If you want to check out one of these today, look at Will Buxton’s solid preview published earlier today:  http://willthef1journo.wordpress.com/2010/05/04/the-gp2-season-preview/