Preview: GP2 back in Europe at Barcelona
10 May 2012
After four consecutive races in the desert at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, the GP2 teams and drivers will be looking forward to having a new view outside their garage this weekend as they're reunited with the F1 roadshow at the Circuit de Catalunya just north of Barcelona in Spain.
It's a track they know better than any other on the GP2 calendar, as they spent a good half of their off-season testing time on the 2.892-mile, 4.655-kilometre circuit. And anyone hoping that a change of scene will mean a change to DAMS domination seen so far in the series will be encouraged by how the most recent pre-season test held here didn't see Davide Valsecchi top a single session: Lotus GP's Esteban Gutiérrez was the most successful man overall in Catalunya in March, and Carlin's Max Chilton, Rapax's Tom Dillmann and Trident's Julian Leal also had their moments - as did Venezuela GP Lazarus' Fabrizio Crestani, who raised eyebrows with the fastest time on the very first morning.
With Josef Kral returning to his seat in the Barwa Addax #2 after being temporarily sidelined for Bahrain by Dani Clos, the only expected driver change is Auto GP World Series driver Victor Guerin taking over the Ocean Racing Technology #24 in the seat initially filled by Jon Lancaster. Brendon Hartley had been a late-notice substitute in Bahrain after the British driver hit problems with his financial backing.
"We are very content to have Victor come to Ocean," declared the team's co-directors, Tiago Monteiro and José Guede. "He is a very young driver but he has immense talent. It will be a very big challenge for him but we are here to help him. The objective is for him to get good experience by the weekend."
"I always wanted to race in the GP2 Series and I am very happy that Tiago Monteiro invited me to do so," said the 19-year-old Brazilian race driver. "I know Barcelona well, but the task will not be easy because I have to learn the car, which is totally new for me, in just a half hour practice!
"But I am relaxed," he insisted. "I want to get the most out of this experience."
This weekend is also the first time that the GP3 Series is joining the weekend race schedule alongside its big brother feeder series, making it a hectic time for all concerned - as Pirelli's racing manager Mario Isola pointed out.
"It's going to be a busy weekend for us in Barcelona, as we have F1, GP2 and GP3 racing together for the first time this year," said Isola. "However, this is also a great opportunity for everybody to see how the three championships complement each other, and this was very much the philosophy that we had when designing the tyres for each series, as part of a ladder of talent that can take drivers all the way up to F1."
The proof of how successful that ladder is proving is demonstrated by how last year's GP2 feature race winner Charles Pic has already graduated to the Grand Prix line-up in 2012. Last year's sprint race winner - Racing Engineering's Fabio Leimer - will be hoping a similar trajectory lies ahead for him in the future, too.
"I am very satisfied and think everyone can see that we are consistently fighting for top positions, which is very important for me," said the 23-year-old Swiss driver of his GP2 performance so far this season. "It is crucial for the championship to always score points, but I am also convinced that we can improve even further and I am confident that we will achieve this."
For other drivers who have had less successful starts to the GP2 season, this weekend's races in Barcelona attain special importance for their hopes for 2012.
"Barcelona is a fundamental round for my season," agreed Coloni's Stefano Coletti. "It is going to be crucial to score positive results to get back some lost ground in the classification.
"In some ways my championship is starting from Spain," he added. "From now on it is going to be necessary to get the most out of every single weekend for the rest of the season. We still are confident and both the team and I are extremely motivated to give our best."
His rookie team mate Fabio Onidi has been having a better start to the year. "More or less I am where I expected to be: managing to finish steadily in the top ten was my hope and my aim," he said.
Fellow rookie Rio Haryanto had an eye-catching sprint race last time out in Bahrain with Carlin, and he's hoping to build on that experience this time around.
"We had some good races in Bahrain and I feel that I'm improving with every round, so I'm looking forward to seeing what we can do in Barcelona," said the young Indonesian driver. "It's a track I know well through GP3 so there won't be the added pressure of learning the circuit this weekend."
"If I can get a clean lap in we can be on the front row for the races," said his more experienced team mate Max Chilton confidently. "As with the rest of the races this season it's going to be a case of tyre management during the race itself – with the circuit being quite difficult to overtake on I think most of the overtaking will happen in the last few laps of the race as the tyres begin to drop off."
The times for the GP2 sessions are 11am BST on Friday for the half hour practice session that follows F1 Free Practice 1, and 3pm for the qualifying session after FP2. On Saturday, the 37-lap feature race is scheduled to start at 2.40pm BST after the completion of F1 qualifying, with the 26-lap sprint race on Sunday morning at 9.35am in advance of the F1 Spanish Grand Prix.
All sessions will be shown live in the UK on the Sky Sports F1 channel.