Top 10 GP2 Driver of the Year 2011:
18 (Asia), 53 (Europe)
2nd (Asia), 3rd (Europe)
Jules Bianchi came into 2011 with high hopes of lifting a GP2 championship. He'd come close before - third place in 2010 - and felt that this was to be his year to take it up another notch and put himself firmly on the flight path into F1, where he was already selected as Ferrari's test and reserve driver and a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy.
As far as Bianchi could see the main competition would come from Romain Grosjean, who was returning to the series for a full season in a bid to reignite his own F1 prospects. Bianchi must have been expecting a titanic, season-long battle with the DAMS driver, and sure enough in the very first race of the season - the GP2 Asia outing in Abu Dhabi - it really was an epic head-to-head between the two of them. And Bianchi came out top.
Unfortunately a penalty for Bianchi in the sprint race, and then a slow start in the Imola feature and a crash in the sprint, meant that Grosjean took the GP2 Asia title anyway. Bianchi shrugged it off and headed into the European championship with a solid third place in the opening round in Turkey, and then ... Well, it all went a little pear-shaped.
Over the next seven races he wouldn't finish higher than seventh - and there were three retirements. He was becoming worryingly accident-prone, making costly contact with Grosjean in the Spain feature and following it up by hitting Giedo van der Garde at the start of the sprint event which resulted in a very nasty accident. He hit van der Garde again in the next feature race at Monaco and got a penalty during the sprint race for passing during a safety car period; and then pinched Marcus Ericsson at the first corner of the Valencia feature to put them both out of the race on the spot.
Bianchi's season was self-destructing, but going into Silverstone he promised to pull it all together and do better - and he was true to his word, promptly taking victory in the British feature race. It was like a switch had been thrown: he didn't finish out of the points for the rest of the year, going on to claim four more podium positions along the way to third place in the championship.
The first half of the season may have shown that Bianchi needed more experience, but the second showed his true talent - and moreover, the ability to bounce back when all appears to be going horribly wrong. That's one of the most important and impressive mental talents any driver can have in his arsenal.
Top 10 GP2 Driver of the Year 2011 results so far:
3. Esteban Gutiérrez
4. Luca Filippi
5. Charles Pic
6. Marcus Ericsson
7. Sam Bird
8. Giedo Van Der Garde
9. Tom Dillmann
10. Luiz Razia