The GP2 Series kicked off in grand style as Formula 1’s official support race at the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix: 24 drivers put their cars through their paces for the first time in race conditions, Heikki Kovalainen battled with much of the grid to claim a fantastic debut win to set up his title assault, and a tweak on pitstops from the second round in Barcelona gave us the current regulations and made the racing even better, with four winners from the first four races.
The second race in Germany was the first to be viewed by an increased TV audience following a change in F1 qualifying regulations, and the world could finally see what the series was all about: Clivio Piccione came out on top of a breathtaking five-way skirmish against Nico Rosberg, Nelson Piquet, Neel Jani and Adam Carroll, with the lead changing seeming at every corner to win what has subsequently been called one of the most exciting races ever. At the mid point of the season Kovalainen led Carroll and Gimmi Bruni in the standings, but all that was about to change.
Just after the traditional mid-season test in Paul Ricard, Kovalainen took his third win of the season in Magny-Cours, with Nico Rosberg claiming his first victory of the season on the Sunday. The win opened the floodgates for the German, who followed up with Saturday wins at Silverstone and Hockenheim. Despite Kovalainen taking two more wins in Turkey and Italy, Rosberg’s consistent point scoring exploits meant that as the championship arrived in Bahrain for the season finale, the duo were split by just three points. Nico did what was previously thought to be impossible: he took the first ever double win, and in doing so secured the first ever GP2 championship.
New faces and a new team saw 2006 open at a new event in Valencia: Nelson Piquet Jr got his championship underway with a win, but alongside him on the podium stood Lewis Hamilton, the rookie clearly delighted with the strong start to his season. The Briton had still to stand on the top step as the teams arrived at the Nurburgring, but not for long: two wins from the weekend soon ramped up the pressure on the Brazilian and changed the complexion of the title race.
Hamilton would have won in Spain too but for a punt from his teammate on the final lap, although the smile returned to his face in Monaco, where he emulated his hero Ayrton Senna and dominated the weekend ahead of a triumphant homecoming to Silverstone for another double weekend win, where Piquet ending the weekend in hospital as a result of severe hay fever.
This being GP2, their rivals weren’t about to roll over and retire. Giorgio Pantano and Timo Glock struck back in Magny-Cours, while Gimmi Bruni and Glock split the wins at Hockenheim. It was Piquet though who was to set the championship alight, scoring the first perfect weekend in GP2 history at the Hungaroring while Hamilton floundered. The Brazilian also won the first race in Turkey to put himself on level terms with his rival, but Hamilton’s incredible fight-back in the second race meant that the title went down to the wire in Monza for the season’s final race.
With the pressure on for the pair, Pantano stepped up to crush the competition at his home circuit, but Hamilton had done just enough behind him to take the championship, and with it gain promotion to Formula 1.
The 2007 season opened in the heat and dust of the support slot at the Bahrain Grand Prix: Luca Filippi and Nicolas Lapierre led the pack home before a return to Europe saw normal service resume: Bruno Senna laid down a marker on Saturday in Spain ahead of Glock, who claiming his first win of the season the following day.
Three months split the first three races, but Pastor Maldonado confirmed his reputation as the Monaco master by making short work of the street circuit and dominating the entire weekend. Two weeks later came Magny-Cours, a weekend which will mostly be remembered for Ernesto Viso’s horrifying crash on the opening lap, a graphic, if undesired, advertisement for the strength of the GP2 car.
Arriving at the Nurburgring there had been nine different winners from nine races, but Glock was determined to ignite his title challenge on home soil: he won the first race and continued this form in Istanbul and Monza, while Lucas di Grassi emerged as his closest challenger following a string of quiet but excellent results, culminating in a superb win on Sunday in Turkey.
Once again the championship came down to the wire on the closing weekend, this time at a stand-alone event in Valencia. Glock had a nightmare first race as rain threw out the strategy book, but the German kept his head while di Grassi spun on the slippery track and, when Glock romped home to win the final race of the season, the championship was finally his.
Barcelona hosted the opening round of the 2008 season, fresh on the heels of the final pre-season test at the circuit: newcomer Alvaro Parente put his knowledge to good use by dominating the first race, but as ever controversy wasn’t far away: Kamui Kobayashi was handed his first win of the European season when Romain Grosjean was penalised for his heavy-handed efforts at the front as the race restarted with 3 laps remaining.
The Frenchman made up for it with a fine win at the next round in Istanbul, but not before Pantano handed the field a driving lesson in the first race, decimating his opponents to break out a strong lead in the championship on a weekend that saw rival Bruno Senna’s weekend destroyed by a stray dog on track. But the Brazilian came good at Monaco, soaking up race long pressure from Maldonado to emulate his famous uncle’s drives in the Principality for a victory that was reported in newspapers all around the world.
Pantano, however, went from strength to strength: clearly adoring the characteristics of the second generation car, the Italian won the next three Saturday races in a row in France, Britain and Germany: Senna did what he could to keep up, taking a win at Silverstone and podiums when he couldn’t take the top spot, but the Italian outscored his rivals each weekend to pull away in front.
And then di Grassi happened. The Brazilian returned to the series in the fourth round, and his famous knack of chipping away with solid results was undiminished in his absence. But it was at the Hungaroring that he stepped up a gear, holding on despite race long pressure from Andreas Zuber to claim the feature race win before throwing caution to the wind: wins in Valencia and Monza put di Grassi into the frame as an unlikely championship contender, while Pantano and Senna’s challenges seemed to splutter with uncharacteristic mistakes from both men, culminating in the Italian being disqualified from the Spa weekend after a collision with di Grassi in the first race.
But with the final weekend being held in Pantano’s backyard, there could only be one result: a penalty for crossing the white line while exiting in the lead may have lost the Italian the win, but when Senna failed to score in the first race the title went to Pantano, who celebrated by doing donuts and throwing his gloves to his adoring fans before returning to the pitlane to thunderous applause.
Romain Grosjean was determined to add the 2009 main series title to his 2008 Asia Series crown: a win and a second in Barcelona, followed by a win in Monaco, looked like a great way to get his championship underway, but a big crash in the second race seemed to put the French driver onto the back foot as his rivals chased his lead down. Maldonado almost inevitably won the race, while newcomer Nico Hülkenberg and Vitaly Petrov took podium finishes to keep in touch.
Di Grassi and Petrov claimed strong victories in Istanbul, which saw the Russian overtake his fancied teammate in the title fight, but it was the German round at the Nurburgring that was to throw up its now customary siege on the top spot: local driver Hülkenberg claimed a perfect weekend, only the second ever in series history, to give the German the whip hand as the Addax pair stole points from each other. When Hülkenberg claimed his hat trick in Hungary while his rivals finished out of the points, the job was almost done.
Giedo van der Garde suddenly clicked with his iSport team, taking the second Hungary victory ahead of wins in the sprint in Spa and the main race in Monza to put the team back on its winning ways, while Petrov did everything he could to bring home the championship for his team after Grosjean was called up to F1 with Renault by taking his third Valencia win. But Hülkenberg was unstoppable: a win in the Valencia sprint race and a couple more podiums made the German the first man to ever claim the title before the final round, where he celebrated with a win on debut at the first stand alone event in Portimao.
2010 was always supposed to be Pastor Maldonado’s year: the likeable Venezuelan joined forces with newcomers Rapax and set the pace immediately in pre-season testing, but the season opener in Barcelona didn’t go to plan as Charles Pic took advantage of a first corner melee to take his maiden win in the feature race, with Fabio Leimer maximising the reverse pole for a sprint victory. A big crash in Monaco qualifying a week later meant the Colombian started in P3, and had to follow Sergio Perez all the way to the flag: with Jerome d’Ambrosio picking up the sprint win it was the first time in years Maldonado had to leave the principality without a victory.
He rectified the situation in Istanbul though, squeezing into the lead as the lights went out to be the fifth winner from as many races, and stretched his early lead in the championship when title rival Sergio Perez’s car was found to be underweight. Dani Clos was subsequently promoted to P8 and made the most of it by easing away for the sprint victory, throwing his hat into the title race as he did so.
Perez had to step up a level, and his Addax team’s home turf in Valencia gave him the opportunity: quickest in free practice and pole position followed, and the Mexican led his rivals away from the chaos behind them at the start, but a knock from Davide Valsecchi saw Perez spin around and Maldonado was through. Perez was further delayed when he left the pits with Alberto Valerio (briefly) towing his jack in front of him, handing the Venezuelan another easy win, along with points for fourth behind Marcus Ericsson on Sunday.
It was to be an indication of the remainder of the season: Perez was quick but always seemed to be chasing Maldonado, who saw the pressure fall off him like water off a duck. Six straight feature wins – Istanbul, Valencia, Silverstone, Hockenheim, Budapest and Spa – is tough to compete with and, while the Mexican claimed sprint wins in the UK, Germany and Belgium (with Giacomo Ricci the very popular victor in the Hungarian sprint), the Venezuelan’s numbers were ticking over fast.
The inevitable happened in Monza: Sam Bird and Christian Vietoris claimed their maiden victories but Maldonado won the war with a round remaining. Perez firmed up the runner-up spot with a fine feature win in Abu Dhabi, with Valsecchi taking the final win of the season in the sprint race, but all eyes were on the celebrations in the Rapax team, claiming both championships in their first season and helping Maldonado to attain his dream of the GP2 title and a seat in Formula One.
Romain Grosjean started the 2011 season the way he meant to go on with it, leading from lights to flag to claim the season opener in Istanbul, despite race long pressure from Sam Bird, to take an early lead in the championship: when Stefano Coletti won the sprint race the Frenchman and Briton were equal on points, and the grid knew their target for the rest of the season.
Countryman Charles Pic took advantage of a fast pitstop to open his win account in Barcelona, holding off a strong challenge from teammate Giedo van der Garde and Bird, while Grosjean lost fourth place for a technical infringement on his car. Fabio Leimer took the honours on Sunday, and Bird went home a happy man, sitting alone on the top of the points table.
Monaco never fails to provide entertainment along with the surrounding glamour, and 2011 was no different: qualifying saw Grosjean, Marcus Ericsson and van der Garde handed grid penalties for causing collisions (the first two with their teammates!), handing pole to Bird for what should have been a championship crushing victory. Fate had other plans, however, and the Briton bogged down when the lights went out, handing victory in the fabled principality to Davide Valsecchi ahead of Alvaro Parente and Luca Filippi, with Pic picking up the reverse win ahead of Josef Kral and a charging Grosjean.
Grosjean and Bird shared the title lead as the grid lined up in Valencia, just ahead of the Addax teammates who were hoping to add to the team’s success at their home circuit. The omens were not good, however, when poleman Pic stopped on the way to the grid and had to be helped back to the pits, handing an early lead to van der Garde when the lights went out. There was more bad news to come, though, when the Dutchman was given a drive through penalty for ignoring yellow flags, dropping him back to second when the chequered flag came out. The beneficiary? That man Grosjean, with Esteban Gutierrez picking up the sprint win.
Jules Bianchi picked up his first GP2 win in mixed conditions after an epic scrap with Christian Vietoris and Marcus Ericsson in the feature event at Silverstone, but it was his countryman everyone was watching: Grosjean solidified his lead in the title race after fighting his way from fifth to victory in the sprint race in Silverstone as van der Garde was unable to contain his title rival on track, or in the points table.
The Nurburgring saw a few changes in the grid, mostly notably Filippi’s move to Coloni. The Italian clearly enjoyed the switch to work with his countrymen, putting aside the bad luck that beset his early season races with a strong win in the feature race ahead of Pic and Grosjean. The Italian doubled down with another podium the next day in third, where once again Grosjean was showing his rivals the way home after picking off Bianchi in changing conditions.
The Frenchman made it five victories for the season in Budapest, albeit aided by a drive through for race leader Ericsson after being judged to have had an unsafe release during his pitstop, and added another podium in a chaotic wet / dry / wet sprint race brilliantly controlled by Stefano Coletti, ahead of Gutierrez and the title leader
Grosjean’s consistency meant that it was only a case of when, not if, he won the title, and the day duly arrived on Saturday at Spa: Vietoris drove flawlessly in tricky conditions to take his first win of the season, but all eyes were on the man in third as Grosjean was crowned the 2011 GP2 series champion, while Filippi followed up his German triumph with a sprint race win ahead of Bianchi and Kral.
The Italian showed his rivals that he meant business with an emotional lights to flag victory at his home circuit of Monza, ahead of Pic and Grosjean, securing second in the title race ahead of Bianchi with a fastest lap and fifth place in the final race of the season, which was claimed by Vietoris after a race long scrap with Leimer, while Addax picked up the spoils in the team’s championship, beating DAMS and Racing Engineering to the title.
Davide Valsecchi hit the start of the 2012 GP2 season as though his life depended on it: adding experience to his already acknowledged speed, the Italian snatched pole at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia to claim the first points of the season. A slow start handed the win to fellow front row starter Luiz Razia, the opening round in a season long fight between the pair: James Calado led teammate Esteban Gutierrez across the finish line in the sprint race, and the battle relocated to Bahrain.
Two race weekends later, and the championship was blown apart: the record books show 3 race wins for Valsecchi, one for Tom Dillmann, with the Italian missing out on a perfect weekend first time round only by Giedo van der Garde stealing fastest lap in the sprint. When the field returned to Europe the talk was of how early the season would be wrapped up, but no one thought to ask his rivals: van der Garde took a strong feature win in Barcelona while Razia, playing the long game and keeping his points ticking over, sprinted to a Sunday victory.
By the time Monaco came around the title fight had already turned into a two horse race with Valsecchi and Razia stretching away from their rivals, but the pair struggled to get on top of a split qualifying session, handing their rivals a great chance to close the gap: Johnny Cecotto turn pole into an emotional feature victory, with Jolyon Palmer on top in the sprint. And when Gutierrez pinched the Valencia feature from teammate Calado, who was caught out by the safety car, ahead of a stunning drive by Razia for a last lap sprint win, Valsecchi’s title lead was down to a single point.
Silverstone. Rain. Fabio Leimer on pole by a second, Razia P9, Valsecchi excluded for overtaking under red flags and failing to have enough fuel to test. Gutierrez took another feature win when Leimer was caught out by a safety car period, Razia held off a late charge from the Italian for the sprint victory and the title lead. Slick tyres on a drying track gave Cecotto an astounding win from P17 in Hockenheim, with Calado crushing his rivals in the sprint: Razia was edging away from his rival in the title race, leaving the Italian struggling to respond.
Budapest saw Max Chilton claim his, and Carlin’s, first ever pole and feature race victory ahead of the title challengers: the Italian set the fastest lap but was unable to do anything about the mature drive from the Englishman, but at least held off the Brazilian for a morale raising 2nd place. Gutierrez pulled out another strong drive for the sprint race, but another podium for Razia saw the title lean yet further towards the Arden team leader.
Marcus Ericsson was untouchable at the fabled Spa-Francorchamps circuit: the Swede stole the feature race lead from the rain-lashed pole man Rio Haryanto on lap two and stayed there despite the chaos behind, with Valsecchi sneaking up to third behind Calado when the flag dropped. A popular first win for Josef Kral in the sprint, and a crash for Razia, meant that the Italian had put himself on level points in the title fight ahead of his home race in Monza.
A late yellow flag in qualifying kept the Italian, and his countryman Luca Filippi, off pole, but the latter more than made up for it with an emotional victory on his return to the series. His compatriot struggled under pressure from Leimer to finish P6, but another retirement saw momentum swing back his way in the title fight, a movement that improved further when Valsecchi stormed to a second local win for the weekend in the sprint race.
With a 25 point lead going to Singapore, Valsecchi simply needed to stay off the walls to claim the championship: Chilton took the feature win but all eyes were on 4th and 5th place where the Italian led home Razia for a second successive title for a DAMS driver, following on from Romain Grosjean’s 2011 title victory. Van der Garde closed out the 2012 season with a solid victory in the sprint race, but it had no effect on the top three of Valsecchi, Razia and Gutierrez, with the French team also taking another team’s title ahead of their countrymen at Lotus GP and Arden International.