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.