For 12 years, the GP2 Series name was synonymous with Formula 1 in every term imaginable.
Drivers and teams alike turned to the junior series as the highway to F1 as the young pretenders got their final professional test before being declared ready for the pinnacle of motorsport. Egos crashed with reality as others found they weren’t the stars they had thought themselves to be, or simply haven’t been backed by, if any, the right group of people to fast-track their careers.
Now that name becomes even more synonymous when the series reincarnates for 2017 as the FIA Formula 2 Championship, promising no other changes in excitement and enthusiasm over the course of the next eight months.
Formula 2 will accompany the Formula 1 World Championship for ten rounds, while there’s also a standalone round at the popular Jerez de la Frontera circuit for the penultimate round, making up 22 races on the road to crown its inaugural championship in the new colors.
After its notable absence for 2016, the series returns to the Sakhir circuit to accompany the Bahrain GP as the opening round for this year’s championship.
In exchange, with the German GP missing from the 2017 F1 calendar, Formula 2 will not be visiting Germany this year. Also absent will be the Malaysia round the Sepang International Circuit. This news comes in parallel to reports that the Malaysian GP and the F1 circus have decided to part ways after 18 years of visiting the Asian round.
Other than that, the calendar features the same rounds as 2016 with visits to Barcelona, Monaco, Azerbaijan, Austria, the UK, Hungary, Italy and the UAE for the final round in late November.
|2017 FIA Formula 2 Championship Season Calendar|
|15-16 APR||Bahrain||Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir||Bahrain Grand Prix|
|13-14 MAY||Spain||Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Barcelona||Spanish Grand Prix|
|26-27 MAY||Monaco||Circuit de Monaco, Monte Carlo||Monaco Grand Prix|
|24-25 JUN||Azerbaijan||Baku City Circuit, Baku||Azerbaijan Grand Prix|
|08-09 JUL||Austria||Red Bull Ring, Spielberg||Austrian Grand Prix|
|15-16 JUL||Great Britain||Silverstone Circuit, Silverstone||British Grand Prix|
|29-30 JUL||Hungary||Hungaroring, Budapest||Hungarian Grand Prix|
|26-27 AUG||Belgium||Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Stavelot||Belgian Grand Prix|
|02-03 SEP||Italy||Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Milan||Italian Grand Prix|
|07-08 OCT||Spain||Circuito de Jerez, Jerez de la Frontera||Standalone event|
|25-26 NOV||Abu Dhabi||Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi||Abu Dhabi Grand Prix|
The upcoming season looks set for a mix of new talent and experience. Five rookie drivers are set to make their debut in Bahrain, and out of the fifteen other drivers on the pre-season entry list, only Stefano Coletti had missed the 2016 season.
Reigning champions PREMA Racing had a dream year as they secured both titles in 2016 on their debut season in the series. This year, they will be fielding two rookies this year, both from the Ferrari Driver Academy in Antonio Fuoco and GP3 Series champion Charles Leclerc.
The Monegasque joins the Italian squad from ART Grand Prix’s GP3 effort which saw him win the title with pace and consistency. He has since built on his reputation by leading the first day of the second winter test in Bahrain and will certainly be a force to be reckoned with.
Fuoco also impressed in GP3 with two victories and third place in the standings. He looks set for a great year and if Antonio Giovinazzi’s year proved anything, it’s that this generation of Italian racers are the best to come in a good while. Ferrari’s embrace of Giovinazzi, which led to him making two appearances so far in F1 with Sauber, will certainly fuel the fire in young Fuoco.
Last year’s runner-up team Racing Engineering hope to get it one higher this year having won the most races behind PREMA in 2016. This year they bring Gustav Malja from Rapax, having finished the last season with 53 points and a podium finish in Monza with the under-performing Italian outfit. He will be aiming to follow in the footsteps of Norman Nato and Jordan King who both won races for Racing Engineering.
The other Racing Engineering car will be driven by Renault junior driver Louis Delétraz, the son of former F1 backmarker Jean-Denis. The Swiss driver is the closest thing to a rookie, having made his GP2 Series debut in the final round of 2016 with Carlin. He finished runner-up in the Formula V8 3.5 series standings last year and looks set for a good first full year in Formula 2.
Russian Time will retain the increasingly evolving Artem Marklov for this year. The Russian won the Monaco GP feature race in style from a very low grid position and a run of points finishes was capped with another podium finish in Abu Dhabi on his way to tenth in the championship with 97 points.
Luca Ghiotto joins the team from Trident making it another line-up full of potential. Ghiotto was another consistent point-scorer last year with 111 points, including a victory in Malaysia, two second place finishes, a third place and some of the seasons more exciting drives.
ART Grand Prix will hope to be nearer the top this year following a disappointing campaign last year. The series’ most successful team bet on the wrong horse with Sergey Sirotkin at the wheel. The Russian’s blistering pace was overshadowed by inconsistency and despite finishing the year in third place in the standings it was an understandable move to drop him in favor of rookie Alexander Albon.
The young Thai was runner-up in the GP3 Series season last year with more victories than eventual champion Leclerc, a performance that earned him a promotion to ART’s Formula 2 effort, having competed with the team in the lower series.
ART retained the Honda-backed Nobuharu Matsushita who was one of last season’s biggest question marks. The Japanese driver failed to build on his first season’s performance and spent the 2016 season scrapping at the low end of the points. Matsushita’s best performance was a victory in the reverse grid Sprint Race in the twisty streets of Monaco; conversely his lowest point came in the very next event in Baku where erratic driving earned him a suspension from the following event in Austria. The Japanese came eleventh place in the standings and will have another year to prove his worth in a team with a historically competitive package and close ties to McLaren-Honda.
DAMS will retain the services of Nicholas Latifi for another year, but the Canadian will need to up his game for 2017 if he wants to keep his drive with another one of the series’ best teams after his only points in 2016 came from a second place in the first race in Barcelona and two other points finishes with a tenth and a ninth. His task will be made more challenging with Oliver Rowland coming in from MP Motorsport. The Brit was a constant feature in the points and thrice on the podium, an achievement made more impressive considering the underperforming outfit that helped him to ninth in the standings.
Campos Racing will be another team pairing exciting raw talent with experience as they employ the services of Stefano Coletti and Ralph Boschung. Coletti is a known veteran of the series after a year away in the European LeMans series where he finished 2016 third overall. He rejoins the Spanish outfit and brings guidance to rookie Ralph Boschung. The Swiss teenager’s promotion to Formula 2 comes after a year-and-a-half in the GP3 Series where he finished eleventh in both years. Impressively, his second season was only a part-effort and he scored almost double the points tally of his full first year.
MP Motorsport’s line-up is headlined by Jordan King, who joins from Racing Engineering with 2 wins and 3 other podiums under his belt. Having finished the season seventh, King was one of the series’ promising talents and will also provide crucial experience to his rookie teammate, Sérgio Sette Câmara. The Brazilian was dropped from Red Bull’s junior driver program ahead of 2017 on account of his unconvincing Formula 3 results, but MP believe he has the potential to make it in Formula 2.
Trident has signed the services of two familiar names in the series in the form of Nabil Jeffri and Formula 2’s other most senior driver Sergio Canamasas. The Spaniard comes from Carlin after the British outfit withdrew from the series while Malaysia’s Jeffri joins from Rapax with just two points from his debut campaign in 2016.
Rapax will be another team placing their hopes on a fresh talent with McLaren junior Nyck de Vries. The young Dutchman had a good rookie season in GP3 with ART on his way to sixth in the standings and the French team will continue to watch over their young gun in his rookie Formula 2 campaign. He will be accompanied by the mercurial Johnny Cecotto Jr. The Venezuelan’s revival in late-last season earned him a full time seat as another series veteran and 2017 will mark a mammoth tenth season in GP2/Formula 2 machinery for Cecotto Jr.
Arden have two of the series’ more mature racers in Norman Nato and Sean Gelael. Gelael’s 2016 campaign was not as convincing with 15th in the standings and only 24 points while Nato’s 2016 season was a mix of misfortune and frustration despite two wins, three podiums and fifth in the standings. The year will prove to be a challenge with a team that is consistently in the bottom half of the table.
Following the demise of Hilmer, Status and Lazarus after the 2015 season, Carlin were the latest team to drop out of the series. The series-founding team stating they prefer focusing on other series’ efforts.
|2017 FIA Formula 2 Championship – Teams & Drivers|
|Team / Entry||Drivers|
|PREMA Racing||Charles Leclerc||Antonio Fuoco|
|Racing Engineering||Louis Delétraz||Gustav Malja|
|Russian Time||Luca Ghiotto||Artem Markelov|
|ART Grand Prix||Nobuharu Matsushita||Alexander Albon|
|DAMS||Oliver Rowland||Nicholas Latifi|
|Campos Racing||Ralph Boschung||Stefano Coletti|
|MP Motorsport||Sérgio Sette Câmara||Jordan King|
|Trident||Nabil Jeffri||Sergio Canamasas|
|Rapax||Nyck de Vries||Johnny Cecotto Jr.|
|Pertamina Arden||Norman Nato||Sean Galeal|
Continued Technical Stability
Last year was set to be the final season for both the Dallara GP2/11 chassis package—which débuted in the 2011 GP2 Series— and the Mecachrome 4.0 Liter V8 normally-aspirated engine package that débuted in the 2005 GP2 Series.
It was decided, however, to extend the packages’ tenure for another year in 2017 on cost grounds, which will also give the current teams a chance to fill out their contracts before signing new deals with the series which traditionally coincided with the introduction of a new chassis. The new engine formula is promised to be a twin-turbo V6 engine.
The Form Guide
PREMA proved last year that they have a complete package to go along with their exciting driver line-up as between them they took the championship to the wire and both finished at the top of the championship standings. Both PREMA drivers for this year have established their names as fast and consistent having finished first and third in the 2016 GP3 Series championship and with both of them signed to the Ferrari Driver Academy, it is obvious PREMA are once again favorites for this year’s title.
ART are never a team to be taken lightly and with the GP3 runner-up from last year on their side, Alexander Albon is another exciting prospect for the title battle.
Both Racing Engineering and Russian Time have a competitive package and some of the best racers in Formula 2 at the moment. With plenty of experience, Malja, Ghiotto and Markelov cannot be ruled out, and neither can Delétraz who on his rookie season can still surprise us.
Something to Ponder
Matsushita’s presence last year was questionable and the Japanese will have a lot of convincing to do in order to justify the space he’s taking in one of Formula 2’s most prominent teams.
Jordan King and Norman Nato parted ways with Racing Engineering and with one another as each driver took a seat with one of the bottom outfits. They will be keen to show they still have the pace and the hunger to move up to title-winning territory.
The seniors in Coletti, Canamasas and Cecotto Jr. are facing a battle of the ages against much younger and less-experienced drivers. The motor racing world is a harsh one and will be watching closely to see if they have the pace and the patience to match the youngsters.
Nyck de Vries’ year will be one of learning as his ties with McLaren all but ensure him more than one year in the category. Making his debut with Rapax will alleviate the pressure of him to learn and deliver his unquestionable pace when he can. His eyes will be on his former employers ART to give him a shot at the title in the future should he prove worthy of one.
It’s all to play for in Formula 2! Make sure you’re watching.
Round 1: Bahrain
|Bahrain International Circuit – Sakhir, Bahrain|
|Event Dates||14-16 April 2017||Circuit Length||5.412 km / 3.363 mi|
|Free Practice||Fri 11:30-12:15||Qualifying||Fri 20:00-20:30|
|Feature Race (32 laps)||Sat 13:10-14:10||Sprint Race (23 laps)||Sat 14:15-14:45|
|2016 Feature Race Winner||Not held||2016 Sprint Race Winner||Not held|
Images via FIA Formula 2 Championship