Will 2011 be a competitive season?

Though recently other commitments have kept me away from writing in the blog, I have been pondering this question as the season was getting closer to D-day.  Tomorrow, we will see the Main Series back on track, with some teams in better shape than others, but with all sharing a strong will to get ahead in this new GP2 Series “cycle”.

This season may have a familiar 2010-ish ring to it, as one of the strongest drivers in the series, Romain Grosjean, is not in what I would consider a top team.   Last season, we saw Pastor Maldonado pull off a championship season with Rapax, a strong but solidly mid-field team in its previous GP2 history.  Now DAMS, a team that has seen many strong drivers cycle through it, most notably Kamui Kobayashi, is in a position to regularly challenge for wins and podiums.

Apart from Grosjean, the usual top team suspects line-up a strong group of drivers, with the added bonus of Air Asia/Caterham adding a competitive couple of guys to the field.

Let’s run through the top guys on the grid this season, in no particular order:

Bianchi:  For many, this Nicolas Todt protege should take the title this season if he is to stake his claim as a true future Ferrari driver.  Bianchi has proven strong in the past, but as happened in his F3 Euroseries stint, I have the feeling he is more of a second year driver and will be highly more combative and competitive this season.

Bird: A driver who last year was under great threat of being overshadowed by Jules Bianchi at ART, Bird had a strong season in 2010 and was able to gather enough backing to return in 2011, though this time with iSport.  With his new team, Bird feels more at home and he will have a great shot at the title.

Ericsson:  After a 2010 to forget at Super Nova, Ericsson’s iSport seat was a smart choice by Marcus and manager Kenny Brack.  Though he still lacks the race speed, he will very likely challenge for podiums regularly this year.

Grosjean: The favorite for many, Romain will have the best shot at fulfilling this potential if he’s able to keep his raw speed under check.  There is no doubt that Grosjean will win many races this season and if he can find regularity, he will take the title.

Valsecchi:  Valsecchi comes back for yet another GP2 season with yet another team.  I’m not sure if he just doesn’t feel comfortable anywhere for more than a season or if he’s looking for something that may just not be there.  At Air Asia he should stake his claim early as team leader, where he has shown more speed than teammate Razia.

Pic:  No doubt a fast driver, Pic has yet to win a championship anywhere he’s raced.  Last season started off well at Arden, but went significantly downhill after that.   He has lined up with a team that should give him a better car, but that in itself may not be enough.

Other title contenders:

In this list, I place drivers that could be contenders for wins, though not likely for the title.

1- Dani Clos had a solid 2010 but he lost out at the end due to some mistakes and timid driving.  Not changing teams may not have been the best option, but Clos probably had a limited budget to work with.

2-Teammate Christian Vietoris has yet to shine in GP2, after pulling off strong performances in F3.  Though I’m sure he’s a fast driver and capable of more wins, I must confess I was surprised that Gravity kept him on at Racing Engineering instead of finding him a seat elsewhere.

3- Stefano Coletti had a refreshingly strong couple of races in the Asia Series.  It is good to see the impeccably maintained Trident cars on top, and hopefully Coletti will have more podiums to show for it.

4- Davide Rigon will be a serious contender for wins and podiums.  He will only be hindered if his lack of budget places limits on the material he has to work with at Scuderia Coloni.   One of my favorite drivers on the grid, Rigon will surprise many this season with some poles for sure.

5- Finally, we cannot count out veteran Luca Filippi.  The well-mannered and fast Italian will try and put a seriously underperforming Super Nova team up where it should be.  This will not be an easy task, and I am very certain Filippi will be replaced rather sooner than later as David Sears must be hard at work looking for a paying driver.

If there are any surprises are to be found in this year’s grid, it could come from:

1- Michael Herck, who has been seriously improving year after year and could be helped by having a real teammate in his pit box.

2. Fabio Leimer, who had a promising start to his rookie season but failed to find the form with Ocean.  A seat at Rapax gives him no more excuses.

3. Luiz Razia, who should find his way to the podium more regularly if he is to continue progressing in his F1-linked career.

4. Max Chilton, who has proven his speed during the preseason with Carlin.  The instability in the other car should boost Max’s position as lead driver, and his experience should begin to shine through.  Aleshin would be a second candidate no doubt, but I am not too certain that the Russian will last through the season.

Finally, the rookie that should give us something to talk about is definitely Esteban Gutierrez. He has both the right budget and the right team to shine.

Well, that’s my rundown for the coming season.  Our curiosity and doubts will begin to find some answers tomorrow during qualifying.  Above all, let’s hope for a safe and entertaining season!

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