2 more signings prior to first tests

2 more driver signings have been announced just in time for Wednesday’s GP2 tests.

First, GP2 champ Rapax Team has signed Colombian driver Julián Leal for its Asia campaign.   It is understood that Rapax and Leal are still talking about a GP2 Main Series linkup, but for now the ex-Auto GP and WSR driver will only contest the Asian campaign with the team led by Andrea Bergamini.

Also, Luiz Razia has just been announced as Air Asia’s first signing for 2011.  Razia can now be considered a GP2 veteran, and will try to improve his solid season with Rapax last year as Pastor Maldonado’s teammate.   Razia will also have a role as reserve driver for Team Lotus, as announced by team owner Tony Fernandes.

Three slot still open:  the second seat at Air Asia and both Ocean drives.

Rumors are Air Asia could be set to announce Karun Chandhok as their second driver and F1 reserve driver along Razia, fielding a very experienced team for the rookie outfit.  As for Ocean, no clear indication on who could drive.  I thought Brandon Hartley was a possibility, but earlier today he tweeted from the UK!  Other options could be Antonio Felix da Costa, known protege of team owner Tiago Monteiro.  The mystery will be solved in a few hours…

Chilton completes Carlin lineup

As expected, Max Chilton has signed with Carlin, completing the team’s 2011 lineup alongside WSR champ Mikhail Aleshin.

Only 5 spots still open for the 2011 season…. With tests starting next Tuesday, we expect announcements in the coming 2-3 days.

Thank you to our friend Fujer for the heads-up!

González signs with Trident

Venezuelan driver Rodolfo González has signed with Trident for the full 2011 season, as posted by the team this morning.

González had a troubled rookie season with Arden, greatly overshadowed by a very quick Charles Pic.  He will now be paired with Stefano Coletti, who should prove a good yardstick for Rodolfo this season.

Active week of GP2 driver announcements

GP2 teams are hard at work closing their driver lineups for both the imminent GP2 Asia Series as well as the European races.

So far today, the news are:

  • Racing Engineering confirms Dani Clos and Nathaniel Berthon in GP2 Asia
  • At the same time Racing Engineering confirms that the 2011 lineup for Europe will be the same as last year, with Dani Clos and Christian Vietoris
  • Surprisingly, Johnny Cecotto has signed for Super Nova, when it was highly expected that he end up in Team Air Asia given that he drove the GP2/11 in the shakedown run and had been linked to the team due to a possible Team Lotus F1 test/reserve role
  • WSR champ Mikhail Aleshin will stay with Carlin in GP2, adding even more level to next year’s championship
  • Also, earlier this week DAMS announced the expected re-signing of Gravity driver Romain Grosjean along with GP3 grad Pal Varhaug (is a Gravity contract in the works)

With this, 19 slots have been filled and there are 7 to go.  Only Ocean and Air Asia have yet to confirm at least one driver, with a seat remaining at Rapax, Trident and Carlin.

The key difference this year is that with the exception of Vietoris, all announced drivers will race in both Asia and Europe this season, with the arrival and exclusive use of the new car for both series serving as an important incentive for drivers to rack up track miles.

Coloni completes 2011 lineup with Jakes

Swift steps by Paolo Coloni have led to a full lineup very early in the preseason with the signing of James Jakes, after confirming Michael Herck several months ago.

Jakes has been on everyone’s GP2 list for 2-3 years now, but the British driver had never found the right place for himself in the series.   He has raced intermittently in GP2 Asia, and finally made it into a GP2 race in Abu Dhabi for the season closer in November.   This ride with Coloni, a predictor of what was to come, has permitted Paolo’s team to once again show its ability at wooing and signing drivers, albeit this year with a bit more talent in each seat.

You may remember that last year Coloni signed veteran Alberto Valerio, a GP2 race winner, and quick-but-wild Bulgarian Vlado Arabadzhiev.  Though it was not a winning combo in anyone’s book, more was expected from the affable Valerio, who ended up pulling out of the agreement before the season concluded.

Now, Coloni brings in 2 faster drivers.  Jakes, who has been seen in many categories, pulled off a decent F3 Euroseries campaign in 2007 where he finished 5th.  Last year, when we all expected him in GP2, he resigned with his F3 team, Manor Motorsports, and went into GP3 with expectations of being a title contender.   He finished a disappointing 8th, with 2 podiums but no wins under his belt.

On the other hand, we have written extensively about Michael Herck.  A determined driver, who has seriously improved in previous years.  It will be interesting to see him function within a team not controlled by his father, where Michael will hopefully thrive and show he is capable of podiums in this category.

As a final note, and with no intention of undermining Paolo Coloni’s ability in signing 2 paying drivers this early in the year, I must confess I am very suprised to see these drivers, especially Jakes, fall in where they did.  With the GP2 grid still wide open, especially regarding mid-field teams (eg. Super Nova, Arden) the offer from Coloni must have been seriously tempting.

Bird and Ericsson reportedly sign with iSport

Italian magazine Italiaracing has reported that iSport has filled both of its seats for 2011 with 2nd year drivers Sam Bird and Marcus Ericsson.  If confirmed, Paul Jackson’s team has put together a very solid lineup that will hopefully lift iSport back into the top 3 spots for 2011 and will have its drivers seriously contending for wins this season.

2011 was a disappointing season for Paul Jackson and iSport, especially after dominating GP2 Asia with Valsecchi and Turvey, with the Italian taking the title last season.  Much more was expected from the team and the 2 drivers, with only 1 in-extremis win by Valsecchi  at the last race of the season in Abu Dhabi, and 3 podiums for the team all season.

The deal, as reported, is for both GP2 Asia and the Main series, so we will be seeing Sam and Marcus from next month’s Abu Dhabi tests with the new iSport machinery.

Sam Bird was one of the best drivers of 2010, starting off strong and finishing off strong, with a mid-season where he struggled and found it hard to keep up the pace.  Bird is clearly capable of much more this season, even if he was with ART during 2010.  Though a fear with most ART drivers (read this older post), Bird seems to have stood up well as the ART “second” driver last year, with no clear outward favoritism for Nicolas Todt’s boy Jules Bianchi.  Maybe Bianchi’s lackluster season helped, or maybe Bird proved strong enough to continuously challenge for equal attention from this team.   He substitutes Oliver Turvey as the British driver at iSport, something that should definitely make Paul Jackson proud.

On the other hand, Marcus Ericsson was one of the biggest disappointments in 2010.  Part of David Sears’ bet for 2 strong but inexperienced driver last year, the team had a very difficult time getting into the points.  We have all seen Marcus’ potential in F3, so it is clear that 2011 will be a much better year for him, where he will be challenging consistently for wins and a top 5 spot in the final standings.  Few teams will give him a stronger package than iSport.

With these reported signings, the number of confirmed drivers is up to 9 out of 26 seats.

Is Chandhok headed to GP2 again?

As the rumors mount regarding the GP2 grid, some of these seem to be inevitably linked to F1.  The most clear is the Lotus Racing – Air Asia relationship, where they are brothers or cousins at best.

With confirmed news that Karun Chandhok is looking into signing up as Lotus’ reserve driver for 2011, it leads all to infer that a GP2 drive with Air Asia is in the works.  A very logical solution for this new team, as it brings in a talented, experienced and winning driver who can quickly put the car in the top half of the grid.  As all teams start with a new chassis, the running start that more experienced outfits usually have will be reduced by this factor.

It is important to consider that Chandhok is still eligible for GP2, as he did not complete a full season of F1 last year, courtesy of the finances of HRT and the generosity of Sakon Yamamoto.  Even Bruno Senna could step back into GP2, though I would find it very difficult to see him on the other side of the paddock fence this year.

Also, as Johnny Cecotto seems to be in the running for the second seat at Air Asia, an experienced driver with a sophomore year one like Cecotto seems like a solid combination.