Jolyon Palmer took the GP2 Series title in emphatic style at Sochi Autodrom on Saturday, to the delight of his DAMS team and former F1 racer father Jonathan.
For Palmer, this title was suitable reward for a year of hard work, consistency and dedication.
Whereas in previous seasons, Palmer’s form had been patchy, the Englishman pulled the year together to firmly beat chief rival Felipe Nasr.
“We fought for every pole and every feature race win,” said Palmer after the race. “We barely made any mistake. It’s been an absolute dream season and to be Champion at the earliest opportunity for me is the icing on the cake.”
Naturally some will look to this champion and comment that after four years in GP2, he should be at the top by sheer virtue of experience, but that would do some disservice to the Briton, whose work ethic has improved greatly since joining the DAMS team.
Palmer continued: “We tested with DAMS and they were very keen to sign me for the year. We went for that option and straight away, on the first day with the team, I realised that the hunger was there for them as well.”
Irrespective of DAMS’ obvious qualities, Palmer was initially wary, but any fears were quickly set aside by the team’s level of performance. “Going to a new team, you never know how that’s going to pan out. The first day of testing in Abu Dhabi, we topped and from there we never looked back really. We took the first pole in Bahrain and we took a win that weekend as well. I’ve gotten so well with the team. They’ve done a really good job all year. The mechanics, the engineers…
“I think the only mistake all year was Monza qualifying. Even so, that weekend turned out great as well. I love working with the team and together we’ve done a very good job.”
Yet lingering doubts do persist as to Palmer’s ultimate quality. As a driver, he has matured greatly in the past eighteen months, starting with an upturn in form in the second-half of last season and while Palmer rightly deserves his GP2 Series success, it will be interesting to see where the Briton goes next; however Formula One is, quite obviously, high on the agenda.
“I feel ready for it,” says the new champion. “I’m driving at the top of my game right now. I know the tyres thanks to GP2. It is the perfect Series to feed into Formula One: it is the same tyres, the same tracks, the cars are even now a similar speed especially into the corners. I feel absolutely ready for it and I am confident it can happen.”
However it has taken several seasons for the 23-year-old to get to this stage and in that time, his promotion to F1 has not been a subject discussed greatly and has not been part of any junior driver programme.
As the likes of Daniil Kvyat, Kevin Magnussen, Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas have already moved ahead, one wonders if the Formula One paddock has already looked beyond Palmer.
If he is looked over, the DAMS racer will become third consecutive GP2 champion and the fourth since 2008 not to obtain an F1 seat the following season, but Palmer is convinced this title will help his push to the top level. “The first priority was to win GP2 and I was always confident that if I did win GP2 I was going to be in Formula One. Now that’s done and I’m confident I’ll be in Formula One. I’m not saying it is going to be easy, but this title is a big help. We’re going to have to wait for a few weeks and see what happens.”
Palmer’s main rival Felipe Nasr has been rather ineffective at times this season and – this is not a sly remark upon Palmer’s efforts – the Brazilian far too often let his English rival take too many easy points.
Despite holding the position of Williams F1 reserve driver, the former British F3 champion was overlooked – an indication from the famed team that maybe Nasr has not done enough.
Whether the F1 paddock believe Palmer is deserving of a seat is another question and if he does make an appearance, it may prove to be an expensive move for the GP2 Champion.