With the final group test of the pre-season about to get underway at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya, GP2 Series organiser Bruno Michel has claimed that the championship has never been better.
The Frenchman's assertion comes despite the global economic downturn, and the expected loss of Bruno Senna, a major draw for the past two seasons, but in light of a talented field likely to match anything that has gone before in the series' short history.
"When we launched this back in 2005, we had one aim - to build a category which would display and develop the talent and the capacities of young drivers aspiring to make it into Formula One," he reflected, "Five years later, I am delighted to say that our mission has been accomplished as seven current Formula One drivers are GP2 graduates, including having two F1 teams [McLaren and Williams
] relying entirely on the talent and experience of former GP2 drivers. This only makes our series the most successful feeder category for F1."
"We have had to adapt [to the economic climate], and we have taken important measures such as mid-season test cancellation, wind tunnel testing interruption, staff limitations and a significant decrease in the cost of some parts - to name a few," he added, "Between these measures and the fact that 2008 has been an expensive year for our teams [with the introduction of the Asia Series and a new car], their budget for 2009 should be cut by 20 per cent overall.
"GP2 remains one the most viable championship that exists, however. The cost control that we put in place since its inception has been efficient and successful. However, putting things into perspective, although it cannot be considered as a low-price series, one must not forget that our car is an extremely complex and competitive machine, lapping just five seconds slower than a F1 car and costing probably around a hundredth of the global cost of a Formula One car."
Michel also shrugged off the advent of the revived F2 category [see separate story] to underline the strengths that GP2 currently possesses as a supplier of future talent to the top flight.
"One of the keys to our success is to be able to run alongside Formula One," he pointed out, "That means that our drivers and teams are in the same environment of Formula One and their performance is constantly monitored by the F1 teams principals and experts. Not only do we produce dramatic races at a high-level, but we have become an exciting shop-window for teams and drivers.
"Another [ingredient in] our recipe to success is that we are running with cars extremely similar to the ones running in F1 and we are racing on the same track. Therefore, GP2 is the perfect training ground and stepping stone to the highest level of single-seater. The best example today is of course Lewis Hamilton, who grabbed the title in 2008 only in his second F1 season, highlighting our role as the most successful Formula One feeder category."
With 16 of last season's field looking certain to return for another crack at the title in 2009, and a glut of talented newcomers joining established front-running teams, Michel admitted that last week's Paul Ricard group test had been an exciting taster of what is to come when the series kicks off with another technological update in Barcelona next week.
"Those first three days have been very positive," he insisted, "Our 2009 update kit has been reliable and competitive from the get go - every day, track records were broken in all circuit configurations. We wanted to gain performance from our new engine and, so far, the results have been more than satisfactory.
"And, regarding our grid, the competition will see more experienced GP2 race winners face off against extremely talented rookies. Our 26 drivers represent 16 different nationalities on all five continents, and our field contains 24 race winners in single-seater categories, including GP2. Our championship has never been healthier or more successful with the 26 racers fighting to get a drive in the series. I am confident that we are looking at a very exciting new season."