Bernie belittles GP2 Asia

Amidst the many unfortunate comments made in the past days by F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, especially as documented by Adam Cooper in both his website and Twitter account, one has greatly centered my attention… and should stir up some emotion in the GP2 organization.

In statements to the BBC (listen to the audio bit), Ecclestone said regarding the cancellation of this weekend’s Bahrain race:  “And as you know we pulled the GP2 race. It’s the Asian series, so it’s not terribly important, and it doesn’t give a bad message to anybody…”

Hmmm… if I was Bruno Michel or a CVC board member, I’d be seriously pissed off.  Better yet, if I was a GP2 team I’d be questioning what the hell the teams are doing there in the off-season (not just this year, but any year), selling impossible-to-sell seats to drivers and wishing this series was over as quickly as possible.

Great call from GP2 organizers

Very smart and safe call from GP2 in canceling this weekend’s race in Bahrain.    Not only is the overall safety of all team members in jeopardy in unstable situations such as these, but also holding a festive event in such an atmosphere would be completely inappropriate.

When or if the race gets rescheduled is relevant for the teams, but it is surely all less critical when compared to the violence and death the kingdom is experiencing this week.

Let’s hope peace arrives soon to all in Bahrain and pray for the safe return of our GP2 friends.

Will it be a Bianchi-Grosjean battle?

Jules Bianchi has drawn first blood at the inaugural GP2 Asia race in Abu Dhabi.    Bianchi pipped Grosjean at the start and never looked back, with the Frenchman probably remembering Fernando Alonso’s futile attempts to overtake Petrov in last year’s F1 finale at the same track.  The UAE track is noted for its lack of overtaking spots, and Romain can surely back-up Alonso on this one now.

Though a pretty uneventful race, after the scary crash caused by Dani Clos’ stranded RE car on the grid, we now see that drivers are going at it with no thoughts of championships or points.  The race was a nonstop spectacle of outbraking, pushing and nudging here and there, where many were still coming to grips with a very new GP2/11 car.

Most notable is that 2 of the championship favorites, probably THE favorites for many (including most GP2i readers), were ahead of the pack.  Strong drivers like Bird, Pic, Ericsson, vd Garde and Razia were caught in the lap-by-lap struggles while the 2 Frenchmen pushed on ahead.  Only a very convincing Davide Valsecchi, making us remember his 2010 Asia season with iSport, was able to more or less keep up the pace – giving an ecstatic Air Asia team a podium in its debut race.

Pity about Max Chilton’s penalty, my pick for surprise driver of the year, as he was defending 8th from Coletti yesterday.  Great comeback from the Monaco driver, though, after a couple of troubled races with Durango in 2009.    Also notable was Josef Kral, who is clearly aiming to put his name up among the favorites.

In today’s sprint race we will see if these 2 guys try and push up the field or if the “others” can pull away and make it their race today.  Later today we will see if this will be a French battle for the title, or if there’s still a fight in this very, very short “championship” series…

2011 GP2 Asia picks & predictions

My picks & predictions for this year’s GP2 Asia season:

Driver’s championship top 10:

  1. Sam Bird
  2. Charles Pic
  3. Romain Grosjean
  4. Jules Bianchi
  5. Dani Clos
  6. Esteban Gutierrez
  7. Marcus Ericsson
  8. Davide Valsecchi
  9. Giedo van der Garde
  10. Luiz Razia

Biggest surprise: Max Chilton

Biggest dissapointment: Fabio Leimer

Team championship:

  1. iSport
  2. Lotus ART
  3. Barwa Addax

For most poles I had picked Charles Pic, but given that Grosjean already has 33% of the poles, this prediction is pretty much useless!

Feedback? Comments?

Tests done… who is the GP2 Asia favorite?

After 4 track days of both teams and drivers getting to grips with the new 2011 GP2 car, the stage is now set for this weekend’s GP2 Asia opener at Yas Marina.

This year’s GP2 Asia field will be the most interesting ever, as the new car has attracted all serious drivers to get some track time in this 3-race “test” called GP2 Asia.    Teams must be elated to have their 2011 budget pretty much met so early in the year, with a relatively clear vision of how the year will now play out.

So, at this point, we can only begin to ask:  who is the favorite for GP2 Asia this year?

The grid is full of talented drivers, many second/third year guys and a couple of promising rookies.  Let me run by the ones who will fill the headlines:

Experienced returnees:

  • Romain Grosjean:  The most highly-touted returnee is no doubt Romain Grosjean, fresh from his F1 experience and following a brief GP2 comeback at the end of last season.   It seems unlikely that he will be called to fill in for the injured Kubica at Lotus Renault, so we will get a year filled with Romain’s talent and wild antics in both Asia and Europe.
  • Dani Clos: The most promising 3rd year driver has to be Dani Clos, back for a 3rd season with Racing Engineering.  Though many times believed at risk with his budget, his strong showing last year must have bolstered support for the only Spanish driver remaining in the field.
  • Davide Valsecchi:  One of the veterans, Valsecchi seemed poised to head to F1 with HRT, and made a last-minute arrival to the series with Air Asia.  The defending GP2 Asia champion will find much more resistance this year, as the Asian championship will be highly contested by many young drivers hoping to make an early mark in this shortened series.
  • Luiz Razia:  The Brazilian, much more experienced every year, will try to build on a good 2010 season with Rapax, which started out with astounding consistency but ended less impressively for Luiz.  This season, he will have to fight with Valsecchi for the lead driver role in this new team, though I expect Razia to be the leader of a team that aims for wins and podiums immediately.
  • Giedo van der Garde:  The Dutch driver was also expected to pop up in F1 this season, but a tight and expensive market closed the doors for Giedo.  He was quick enough, though, to keep his seat at top team Addax, even with the strong interest this team holds for aspiring champs.   Giedo was seriously overshadowed by Sergio Pérez last year, and 2011 should prove no easier with Charles Pic in the same pit garage.

Second year challengers: The group with the most promise and where my money is for the group where both the Asia and Main Series champs will come from.

  • Jules Bianchi:  After a strong but irregular freshman year in 2010, Bianchi has his make-or-break year this season with Lotus-ART.   His mental strength will be key for pulling off a consistent season, not distracted by talk of F1 reserve roles or duties as a Ferrari driver.
  • Sam Bird:  Last year’s most surprising driver, Bird has now teamed up with iSport for what will surely be a winning combination.  Though not really affected by Bianchi’s theoretical protagonist role at ART last season, Bird is surely better off with Paul Jackson and the highly professional British team.  One of my favorites…
  • Charles Pic:  The Frenchman is in a great position to finally prove all his doubters wrong.  With the Addax team, Pic now has no more excuses, after lining up with a sub-par Arden team last year.
  • Fabio Leimer:  After starting out strong in 2010, he had a very lowly season with Ocean.  For this year, he was one of the first to sign, teaming up with championship winners Rapax.   Should be a contender for podiums, though I cannot see him contending for the crown this year.
  • Oliver Turvey:  Though still not confirmed for the Main Series, Turvey had a very strong 2010 with top team iSport.  After losing his Racing Steps Foundation support, Tuvey has managed to get a seat with Ocean for Asia, which should prove a good launching pad for the Brit.  He did well in last year’s Asia series, and a good showing during this 6-race season could be important for him to secure a full time ride in Europe.
  • Marcus Ericsson:  One of the biggest disappointments of 2010 (along with his Super Nova team), Ericsson has switched to iSport alongside Sam Bird.   Many have their hopes pinned on the Swede, with this being possibly his last chance at proving his talent in the bigger series after shining in F3 earlier in his career.  As is the case with Pic, there are no more excuses on the team side this year.

Rookies:

  • Esteban Gutierrez:  The GP3 champ makes the natural step into GP2, with one of the best rides with Lotus Art and his role as Sauber F1 reserve driver.  Gutierrez has the talent and the team, but having 2 drivers like Esteban and Jules in the team could be a bit of an Alonso-Hamilton in McLaren several years ago.  He will win races this year, but not on my top 5 for championship contenders.
  • Mikhail Aleshin:  The arrival of the WSR champ, the first to make the step into GP2 since Giedo van der Garde, is as low-key as the Russian himself.   Continuing his winning relationship with Carlin, they will have to work together to overcome their rookie season in GP2

Tomorrow we will get the first clue of who will lead this year’s GP2 Asia Series.  Watch for my top 5 GP2 Asia prediction early tomorrow morning…

Valsecchi closes out Asia grid with Air Asia

The final spot for the 2011 GP2 Asia grid was filled by Davide Valsecchi, as announced by the team.

The rookie team fields a very solid and experienced lineup with Valsecchi and Razia, giving the team a strong push to start strong as it faces this new category.

I had my doubts whether the sporting rules allowed Valsecchi to return for another GP2 Asia season after he was crowned champion last year, but I guess this announcements answers my question.  That said, I am not sure why the rules for Asia and Europe have to be different, since any GP2 Main champ could not return the following year…  Is this a clear message (once again) of the weakness of this makeshift category… an excuse for a long, extended preseason test?

Caldarelli and Turvey with Ocean

Rookie Andrea Caldarelli and last year’s GP2 Asia runner-up Oliver Turvey have signed for Tiago Monteiro’s Ocean squad.

A good combo for the Portuguese team, especially in bringing in Tuvey after he was dropped by RSF at the end of last season.