With the first Feature Race of the 2011 GP2 Asia Series only a few of hours away, how timely would it be for a very quick season preview?
Of course, when writing “season”, I realise that this year’s Asia Championship only contains three rounds – once this weekend at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi and twice at Sakhir in Bahrain.
It can therefore be rather difficult to validate the worth of the Championship, when it runs for such a short period; however for the first time in its run, GP2 Asia has garnered much attention and notice.
This year sees the introduction of the new spec chassis for the series – the GP2/11. The new car has been aimed to replicate the modern Formula 1 car to some degree and as such has followed a similar aerodynamic path of a wide front wing and a tall, but square-shaped rear end. Whether the attempt to mimic the top level remains to be seen.
Such is the demand for seat time in the new car, the entry list for this year’s Asia Series run represents many that will be high fliers in the Main Series, as opposed to the weakened fields that have taken part in recent years.
We will see soon as the Renault-Mechachrome engines burst into life – now the race to become the 2011 GP2 Asia Series Champion begins.
DAMS driver Romain Grosjean probably has the most to lose in this brief championship. Having been dropped the Renault Formula 1 team at the end of 2009, the Swiss driver took time out to compete in Auto GP, winning that series, despite not attending every race. Grosjean won the GP2 Asia Series three years ago and may need to show race winning – if not Championship winning – form, if he is to keep his Formula 1 hopes alive.
Grosjean has gained an early boost with pole for today’s Feature Race.
The reigning GP2 Asia Champion, Davide Valsecchi, returns with the new Team AirAsia squad – an offshoot of Formula 1’s Team Lotus. While Valsecchi’s situation may not as perilous as Grosjean’s, the Italian still needs to pull some victories out of the bag – and I believe he may do just that. He showed some good speed in pre-season testing and appears to be building confidence; however this will be his fourth year in GP2 – if he’s going to make his case for Formula 1, he’s needs to do it now.
Valsecchi will be starting from 3rd on the grid in Abu Dhabi.
The one driver who looked brilliant quick throughout testing was young Frenchman Jules Bianchi. While the Ferrari reserve did not have the best of GP2 Asia campaigns last year, Bianchi really began to show his hand in the Main Series, eventually finishing 3rd overall despite garnering no wins. Now entering his second year of GP2 competition, Bianchi may well be about to shine and has the potential to give ART GP another GP2 title.
Bianchi qualified an excellent 2nd for this afternoon’s race.
New iSport International signing, Sam Bird, suffered much poor luck during his début GP2 run last year; however on occasion he displayed a fantastic turn of speed. While Bird is undoubtedly one of the best overtakers in the field, his skills have often had to come about following his own errors. Should he curb some of those mistakes and keep his head up front, then he may add to his Monza victory from last September.
Following an indifferent qualifying session today, Bird will start from 11th at Yas Marina.
Giedo van der Garde
Going into his second season with Barwa Addax, Dutchman Giedo van der Garde will be looking to make a splash in 2011 following a couple of so-so years. In 2009, van der Garde scored three Main Series victories, but was highly inconsistent during the rest of the year – last season, he found consistency, but was not victorious anywhere. If van der Garde can reconnect those winning ways to his new found consistency, results should come.
Van der Garde will get away from 5th on the grid in Abu Dhabi.
Spain’s Dani Clos did not have a good 2009. An aborted Asia Series run, followed a year of of struggles in the Main Series left many scratching their heads as to how much talent Clos actually had. In fairness to the Racing Engineering driver, he really came alive in 2010, eventually taking one win and four podiums on his way to 4th in the Main Championship. Expect great things from the 22 year-old this year, but also watch for the odd moment when he goes completely off the boil.
Clos starts alongside Valsecchi in the Feature Race with a good qualifying effort in 4th.
Occasional Potential Surprises
As with every Championship, we will see the occasional surprise result from young contenders as they find their feet in the series. So don’t be shocked if the likes of Marcus Ericsson (iSport), Oliver Turvey (OCR), Charles Pic (Barwa Addax), Fabio Leimer (Rapax), Mikhail Aleshin and Max Chilton (both Carlin), Luiz Razia (Team AirAsia) and / or Esteban Gutierrez (Lotus ART) grab the odd podium or race win.
I’m going to stick my neck out and say the 2011 GP2 Asia Series Champion will be…
The opening Feature Race from the shortened version of Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina circuit will be broadcast live from British Eurosport 2 at 1pm (GMT). Live timing will also be available from gp2series.com.