McLaren team boss Ron Dennis has poured cold water on Giorgio Pantano's chances of breaking back into the top flight next season, despite the fact that every previous GP2 Series champion has graduated to Formula One

Improving on the success rate of predecessor F3000, the grand prix support series has delivered champions Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and Timo Glock straight into F1 seats - with Williams, McLaren and Toyota respectively - as well as providing opportunities for the likes of Nelson Piquet Jr, Heikki Kovalainen - both of whom finished as runner-up in GP - and Kazuki Nakajima, but Dennis remains far from convinced that any of this year's crop deserve such instant promotion.

The veteran team owner's view adds further credence to the belief that Bruno Senna may have been a 'better' GP2 champion in 2008, given that Pantano had already had once chance to crack F1, with Jordan, in 2004. On that occasion, the Italian appeared unprepared for the top flight and, allied with claims that he was poorly managed, failed to see out the season. Ironically, the man who took over while Pantano was sidelined was Glock, who himself was left to work his way back into the top flight, via both Champ Cars and GP2, and took four years to do so.

The GP2 points table will show that Pantano was a worthy champion, finishing the season twelve points ahead of Senna, with four wins to the Brazilian's two, but the overall view may be clouded by two factors. Firstly, Renault F1 development driver Lucas di Grassi ended the year just a point behind Senna, having missed the first three double-headers but claimed three wins thereafter, and, secondly, both Pantano and Senna made hard work of trying to claim the title, managing just 17 points between them over the final three rounds.

There were mitigating circumstances and, in Pantano's case, three potential feature race wins - which would have taken his tally over 100 and his win count to seven - went begging in the run-in. But, if Dennis' perception that there just isn't the level of talent in GP2 this year is shared by the rest of the paddock, then the champion may struggle to join his predecessors.

"Exceptional talent in GP2 jumps out at you," the McLaren boss told reporters at Monza, "At the moment, there are some guys lacking a bit of experience that could do well next year, but I don't think there's anyone in GP2 that jumps at you as being a phenomenal talent at the moment."

Senna's case as a more worthy champion will be backed up by the fact that he is at least being talked about in F1 circles, with rumours that he could be on his way to any number of teams next season, Italian Grand Prix winner Toro Rosso and the improving BMW Sauber among them. It doesn't hurt, either, to have a famous surname.

"Of course, it is the feeder series, and some great drivers have come out of GP2," Dennis added, "There are some young ones who will maybe get better next year, just no-one who is really sensational. They have the odd good race, but no-one has been dominant."

Pantano, at 29, is four years older than Senna, and older still than many others in the GP2 field, and that too may count against him, even though he has shown his ability to help develop a race-winning car after turning both Campos, in 2007, and Racing Engineering this year into regular frontrunners. Not being talked about, however, is almost as bad as receiving a bad press.

Senna, coming to the end of his second year in GP2, has been racing cars for little over four years, having skipped karting and plunged almost straight into F3, and is thought the most likely to make the jump to F1, whether it be in 2009 or 2010. Of the rest of the field, only a handful are being touted as potential grand prix drivers.

di Grassi will be hoping that his strong return to GP2, after finishing as runner-up to Glock last season, will pay off with a possible Renault seat, although he may face opposition in future years from fourth-overall Romain Grosjean. Further down the final standings, Sebastien Buemi is due to test with Toro Rosso, alongside Takuma Sato, this week, while Karun Chandhok is expected to benefit from India's increasing presence in F1, and Kamui Kobayashi from Toyota backing.

Elsewhere, however, Luca Filippi could have blown his chances of graduating, despite links with Honda, after managing just six points with two of the series' top teams, and likewise Javi Villa, having been linked to a possible BMW role, after a lacklustre third season with Racing Engineering. Mike Conway, despite taking his first GP2 win this year, is openly exploring options in the US-based IndyCar Series, while several others have lined up rides in either A1GP or the new Superleague Formula series to keep them employed for the next few months.


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