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…

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One Response to Tests done… who is the GP2 Asia favorite?

  1. At first sight, I should say that my favorite driver to take the GP2 Asia championship is Romain Grosjean.

    After his poor experiente at Renault in F1 two years ago, he made a great season in Auto GP last year and could comeback stronger to GP2. He literally starts the GP2 Asia on pole position.

    For being my contryman, I’ll support Luiz Razia, however he must turn upside down his last results. In all practice sessions until now, he’s stayed behind the 2010 GP2 Asia champion Davide Valsecchi, his teammate

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