The eighth season of the GP2 Series kicks off this weekend in Sepang. It is the first time that the Series will race in Malaysia, although the GP2 Asia Series had previously organised a round at this track in 2008 and 2009. But this time all twenty-six drivers will race around the 5.543km track with the third generation car, the GP2/11, and on Pirelli tyres.
The opening round of the 2012 season sees three rookies join: Felipe Nasr (DAMS), Giancarlo Serenelli (Venezuela GP Lazarus), and Jon Lancaster (Ocean Racing Technology). Also joining the field this year are five GP3 Series graduates: James Calado (Lotus GP), Dillmann, Simon Trummer (Arden International), Nigel Melker (Ocean Racing Technology) and Rio Haryanto (Carlin). Calado and Dillmann finished up as best GP3 graduates last November in the 2011 GP2 Final in Abu Dhabi, the Brit winning the Sprint Race ahead of the Frenchman. Calado finished second in the 2011 GP3 Series ahead of Melker.
The 2012 GP2 grid is also made of eight previous GP2 race winners including Davide Valsecchi (DAMS), Fabio Leimer (Racing Engineering), Marcus Ericsson (iSport International), Calado, Esteban Gutiérrez (Lotus GP), Giedo van der Garde (Caterham Racing), Stefano Coletti (Scuderia Coloni) and Luiz Razia (Arden International).
On top of a new points system in place this year similar to the one used in Formula One, GP2 Series has introduced this season two new regulations: The first one consists of allowing free downforce setup during qualifying. Along with this new regulation, and in order to always keep in line with F1, Pirelli will provide the thirteen GP2 teams with two different compounds to be used during the race weekend. For this first round, the Hard Compound will be used as Prime tyres whilst the Medium Compound will be used as Option tyres.
Pirelli’s racing manager Mario Isola commented: “The emphasis for us in GP2, the final stepping stone to Formula One, is on teaching our young drivers everything they need to know about the top level of racing. Tyre management is a vital part of those skills, so we try to ensure that the tyre rules are as similar as possible to Formula One, including a compulsory pit stop during race one. In Malaysia, we expect the young drivers to be challenged physically as much as the tyres, with ambient temperatures of 40 degrees centigrade or more expected. The new range of GP2 tyres for 2012 is designed to close up the performance gap between the compounds, just as is the case in Formula One, so that the drivers are as well-prepared for our Formula One tyres as possible. If you look at the performance of Romain Grosjean in Australia, who was our first GP2 champion last year, the theory seems to be working.”
With twelve rounds in 2012, twenty-six drivers with a thirst for wins and glory, two new exciting venues including Sepang and Singapore, this new GP2 Series season promises to live up to the high standards expected from a Series that has bred twelve current Formula One drivers.