Mark Webber already has strong ties to the GP3 Series, but happily accepted the opportunity to help launch its second generation car in the build-up to this weekend's Italian Grand Prix.
Monza has long been the venue for important events in the sister GP2 Series and, having announced that there would be significant changes to the existing car ahead of next season, GP3 organisers felt it fitting to invite Webber to officially unveil the uprated 2013-spec junior category machine. The Australian, who shares the team principal title at MW Arden with Red Bull F1 boss Christian Horner, was offered the chance to fire up the new 400hp engine - and looked very happy with the results.
As previously announced, the second generation car replaces the current 280hp turbo-charged engine with the naturally-aspirated 400hp unit, and will feature revised sidepods, nose and engine cover. Recent development tests have shown that the car is expected to be at least three seconds faster than its predecessor, more separating its from the comparable F3 category and providing a better step towards GP2.
“I am very proud of this new generation car," GP3 Series CEO Bruno Michel commented, "Our main objective was to make sure that GP3 remains the best way to prepare young drivers for the next steps, GP2 and F1, which is why we designed a more powerful and more selective car that, among other things reduces, the gap between GP3 and GP2.
"We're convinced that the way we've positioned the GP3/13 is the right one for the next three seasons. Even if the car has evolved quite a lot, the costs will be almost similar to what they were before. That was key. The teams will not have to buy a new car, [as] we will provide them with a development kit. We will keep a calendar of eight race events in 2013.
"So far, since the inception of the GP3 Series, the field has always been competitive and I am sure that our new package will be even more attractive to young drivers who will crave to race in front of the GP2 and the F1 paddocks. Racing on the same European F1 tracks and on a car that will prepare them best for GP2 before, hopefully, going further. More than ever before, GP3 is the best logical stepping stone for drivers whose ambition is to move to F1. Now, it all boils down to selecting the nine teams for the next three seasons with at least two cars per team, three maximum, so we will have a top figure of twenty-seven cars on the grid. We will announce the teams entry list soon."
Webber's involvement in the series was rewarded at Monza with a first title for MW Arden and, on a more personal note, for his Kiwi protégé Mitch Evans. The crown was decided in the most tense circumstances, however, as Evans, despite starting from pole, was a first lap casualty in race one and had to start the finale from the back of the grid, while sole rival Daniel Abt had a clearer view of the first corner. Evans again ran into problems as, after making his way onto the edge of the top ten, he suffered a puncture that relegated him back to the tail of the field. Abt, however, had to win the race and, despite leading from halfway, was denied on the penultimate lap by fellow rookie Tio Ellinas, allowing Evans to claim the title at the second time of asking.