It’s impossible to overstate how impressive ART’s first year in GP2 has been. “I wanted to just perform well, and maybe take a win during the season,” team principal Frederic Vasseur stated at the end of the Spa weekend. “I could never have imagined winning the title like this at the start of the year.”
ART was formed out of the successful Formula 3 Euroseries team ASM, but despite their record in that series few people gave them much chance of succeeding in their first year of GP2 - stepping up a level requires a remarkable increase in budget, facilities and personnel just to run, let alone take podiums and wins.
But win they did – seven times, two more than their nearest rivals – against formidable competition, without previous experience at this level, and with the further disadvantage of operating from France rather than in the so-called Motorsport Valley in England, further restricting their ability to call on facilities and experienced personnel.
Vasseur is certain as to what gave his team an advantage over every other outfit: “We had a big advantage that we had two drivers who were very competitive - this was a big help for us to win the Championship, I am one hundred percent sure, to have a sportive fight in the team. And we could improve a lot, because we had two good drivers in the cars.”
Improve they did, particularly after the mid season test at Paul Ricard, which transformed the team from sometime podium finishers to race winners at the very next race weekend. The difference was like night and day, and after getting a taste of winning they keep on doing it, winning at all bar two of the remaining race weekends.
Having the drivers’ champion in the team certainly helped ART claim the teams’ championship, but both drivers played their part – Nico took five wins and five poles, Alex scored two wins from one pole – and the combination of the two helped the team push up the field. In a sport where beating your teammate is usually your first priority, the genuine friendship between the pair and the help they gave each other allowed ART to concentrate on helping them both, rather than keeping them apart.
Will ART go on to dominate GP2 like they’ve done in the Euroseries? It’s impossible to say, although it’s obvious that their competitors in GP2 will be redoubling their efforts to get back on terms with the French team. But a few facts show just how well ART have performed this year: one of their drivers has been signed to race with Williams, the other is a proven race winner in A1 and one of the favourites to win GP2 next year, and ART have become the destination of choice for every top line driver looking to come up into the series in 2006.
Which is not bad for a team that was hoping to win one race this year, if everything went well.
Arden International have a heritage of winning – in 2002 they won four races, in 2003 it was three, and last year they took a remarkable eight victories – so it’s unsurprising that they would win five races as they did in GP2 this year. What is surprising is that they didn’t win either title, and it says much about the team that these five wins and second place in both titles is seen by the team as a disappointment.
At GP2’s launch in April this year Arden were the clear favourite to win both titles, and their recent history suggested that they would cruise through the year while doing so. That a team with the facilities, skill levels and history of Arden didn’t win the title shows just how competitive GP2 was straight out of the box in its first year in existence.
Arden introduced a strong line up to an awaiting media at the launch: Heikki Kovalainen was a proven winner, coming off a championship year in the Nissan World Series and already signed up as a test driver for Renault’s Formula One team, while Nicolas Lapierre was the youngest ever winner at Macau and a three time winner in the Formula 3 Euroseries.
Much was expected of the team, and they lived up to expectations by taking the first GP2 pole position and the first win at Imola. Heikki took the lead in the championship and stayed there, and it seemed only a question of when, not if, he would win the title.
But the year didn’t go according to the script: the team struggled with qualifying, with Heikki unable to consistently challenge Nico Rosberg for poles, and Nicolas in particular suffering from car problems over the season – while Heikki and Nico scored twelve podium finishes each, Nicolas could only manage to score one, an indication that all was not well in his side of the pits.
“Qualifying has always been difficult for us this year,” Heikki noted as far back as Hockenheim. “I don’t think it’s a big thing or that we’re a million miles away, but when you have a little problem in the critical times like in qualifying then it makes it a lot more difficult.”
Ironically this problem showed the depth of racing knowledge in Arden, as it meant that their strategies had to be better so much better than anyone else’s to overcome the problem. There was no better example of this than at the Nurburgring – Heikki was able to win from seventeenth on the grid by a smart pit call to come in early and run in clean air rather than get stuck in traffic.
The ability to think on your feet is what separates the great teams from the less able, and it’s that sort of ability under pressure that makes it likely we’ll see Arden fighting for both titles once again next year.
Super Nova have won the Formula 3000 drivers’ championship four times in their illustrious history, and run the vice champion five times. Given their celebrated past it was not going to surprise anyone if the team was among the top teams in the opening season of the GP2 series, and so it proved.
Despite being the last team to announce their driver line up – the issue was still not clear at the GP2 launch in Paul Ricard in April – nonetheless they pulled a masterstroke by signing the infinitely experienced Giorgio Pantano, fresh from a bruising year in Formula One and looking to re-establish his reputation, and the young charger Adam Carroll, second in last year’s British Formula 3 and wanting to make his name in a bigger arena.
The season got off to a strong start in Imola, where both drivers had the possibility of winning the first round before Adam went one step further and did win the second race on Sunday. A further win in Monaco, followed by his teammate claiming second in the next race, meant there was a feeling that things were coming together at Super Nova.
Unfortunately for Giorgio, things were coming together on the other side of the garage. Apart from his pole and second place Giorgio did not score a single point until Germany, with reliability woes hampering his run for the championship – after entering the competition as one of the drivers tipped to do well it was a disappointment for the likeable Italian.
“It was quite a difficult year for us because we started with a series where everything is new, and we had a lot of problems for the first four races – that dropped us to the back of the grid for the championship. After we fixed all of the problems we started to be very close to a win. Sometimes I was a little bit unlucky, I have to say, because I couldn’t compete for the championship – I think we had a very good chance to be there when everything was fine.”
And when the team finally managed to make his car reliable his teammate started to suffer a run of car gremlins – second in the title fight in France, Adam failed to score again until Turkey, and his title shot had evaporated too.
“Unfortunately the mid part of the season cost us third in the championship, and I think where we finished is a little untrue as to how we’ve done this year. We did have a few races where I really did struggle, with the car and a few bits and pieces, but we were very quick in lots of races where we started at the back and came through.”
Ultimately this unreliability cost Super Nova any serious shot at the title, but almost every other team on the grid would have been delighted to have a season with three wins and eight further podiums – third in the championship was a strong result, and it’s only the team’s history that could make David Sears anything other than delighted with it.
“My year’s been pretty tough, but it’s been pretty good,” Adam noted at the end of the season. “We’ve had lots of highs along with a few lows, but I’ve won a few races this year, got a few podiums, and I think we’ve been quick at a lot of places. It’s all been pretty good really, eventful, and the guys have been working really hard – I think it’s a tough, tough championship for everybody involved.
“We’ve had lots of good races starting from the back and finishing second, like Turkey and the Nurburgring – I can’t even remember, there’s been so much that’s happened! It’s been quite a busy year, really.”
No one at Super Nova would disagree with this assessment, and the general feeling within the team is that having this year’s experience under their belts is only going to improve them for the fight ahead in 2006. Strength often comes through adversity, and allied to their experience it’s hard to see Super Nova doing anything other than advance.
Created late in 2004 specifically to race in GP2, iSport were the dark horse of the field right from day one – comprised of some of the best talent in racing their skills and experience were never in doubt, but the question remained as to whether Paul Jackson and his men could gel as a unit to compete at such a high level against some of the most famous teams outside of Formula One.
After claiming third in the drivers’ championship and placing fourth among the teams, the answer to that question at the end of the year has to be a resounding yes.
When Scott Speed joined the team it was clear that they had a strong driver with an even stronger backing – good results in America led to Scott winning the Red Bull American driver search, and in 2004 he won both the German and Eurocup Formula Renault championships as well as testing in the IRL. Scott was seen as the next potential American Formula One driver, and iSport was charged with the responsibility of giving him the car to get to that level.
Five podiums in GP2 speaks volumes about how the team performed – it was a big step up in power for the American but he took to it like a duck to water, and time spent in iSport’s pit showed just how strong the link between team and driver was, and how well they performed in giving Scott the opportunity to challenge for race wins.
“It’s been quite an up and down season for me, but I feel pretty good,” Scott noted at the end of the season. “It obviously started off pretty good, and I think it’s been good to me – it’s been a really good experience.”
A sign of how well iSport performed in 2005 was the level of disappointment in not achieving a win, despite it being their debut year. Scott was not immune to such regret: “In Barcelona I didn't get a win because the clutch slipped off the line - we should easily have won that race. Turkey was a tough weekend for the team and I too, and we probably had two wins on the cards but didn’t get them.
“Obviously I had a great chance in a few of the races, and they've slipped away for a few reasons. It is frustrating, but I'm not so concerned – the team was great, and I’ve gained a lot of good experience in racing circumstances, with pitstops, strategies and things like this.”
The relationship between Scott and Can Artam was handled well, with the pair becoming close in a situation where it might have been otherwise, and the team had a real sense of camaraderie as they set about proving themselves against the toughest competition. One thing that helped in this respect was a shared sense of humour – no mean feat with an American and a Turk driving in a particularly English team.
And it is this sense of humour, mixed with their proven heritage – while it may have been iSport’s first year in existence, the people behind the team were the brains behind Formula 3000 outfits Den Bla Avis and Petrobras, among others – that differentiates them from the rest of the field, and which may be the momentum behind their growth in the future.
Racing Engineering was the biggest surprise in GP2 in 2005 – the team stepped up from Spanish Formula 3 with the ambition of not embarrassing themselves and the hope that they could be the top Spanish team, and finished the year with two wins along with two further podium finishes, to the clear delight of team principal Alfonso de Orleans Borbon: “What a year! We started off with more work than we could handle, and we finished with an incredible championship.”
The team were at a disadvantage from the start of the season, having only ever raced at two of the circuits previously and therefore having little data to work with, and as such leaned heavily for information on lead driver Neel Jani, who at least had been to some of the tracks during his time in Formula Renault V6.
Ironically Racing Engineering’s first race win came in Hungary, a country where none of the team had ever set foot previously. “I am ecstatic,” de Orleans beamed after the race, “because Neel has the talent to have won more races - what we just needed was for the team to go through all the points that allowed us to get to where we are.
“I think we now have what the drivers need to allow them to win, although obviously the final step is up to the driver - if he's got the talent he'll get the win, and Neel has shown he’s got the talent.”
The team suffered low moments during the season – Borja Garcia’s brain fade at the Nurburgring and Neel’s shocking accident in Spa being the most memorable – but overall they did far better than avoiding embarrassment, and have marked themselves out as a team of the future.
Hitech Piquet Sports
Hitech Piquet came to GP2 with high expectations in 2005 – if they didn’t admit they were targeting the title it was clear that the mood within the team was that they were ready to move up a category and take on the big teams at their own game. That this didn’t happen is self evident, but nonetheless there were clear signs in the second half of the year that the team was on a rise.
In retrospect it’s clear that the team struggled with the level of expectation surrounding the team, most of it down to Nelson Piquet Jr’s 2004 British Formula 3 title. “It hasn’t gone as I expected,” he stated, matter of fact, at the end of the season. “I thought the testing results we had would mean we’d be close to the front, but that isn’t what happened because the team wasn’t prepared, and there were a lot of mistakes. It hasn’t been even close to an ideal year for us.”
With a largely inexperienced teammate Nelson had to provide the lion’s share of the driving feedback, and a lack of resources led to a lack of results, which fed the frustration the driver felt as the season slipped away from him. The nadir for the team was Nelson’s retirement as he made his way to the grid in Silverstone, where he was due to start from the front row, a race the Brazilian saw as his best opportunity for a race win.
In Turkey the team announced a split between Hitech and Piquet Sports, with the former moving back to concentrate on their Formula 3 outfit and the latter staying to concentrate on GP2. The atmosphere was notably clearer afterwards, and Nelson took a podium at the next race in Monza before finally claimed a fine win in the wet at Spa.
“Now we’ve got to try to make the team a competitive, race winning team, and try to win the championship next year,” Piquet observed in Bahrain. “It’s going to be very tough, but it’s not impossible I think. I have one more thing than the other drivers I need to worry about - making the team strong - but it’s also something more that I’m learning that the others are not.”
The vastly experienced DAMS team stepped up to GP2 in 2005 after spending two years in Formula Renault V6, reuniting with their 2003 champion Jose Maria Lopez. The pairing of team and driver brought back some of the old spark, with a win and two second place finishes giving them a decent return on their efforts over the season.
The biggest problem for DAMS was that they lost their way mid-season with the car, and spent too long chasing a number of blind alleys on set up, losing valuable time before finding their way back.
Lopez saw his season this way: “It’s been good, and sometimes bad, but there have been too many ups and downs. At the beginning it was pretty good – we had good results in Imola, we had good results in Barcelona – but later trying to find a good car we would have problems. We lost the car in the middle of the championship, and we didn’t get any points or even sometimes we didn’t finish, so it was pretty difficult.
“But after the break in Turkey we analysed everything and decided to come back to the old set ups, and in Turkey we were quite strong and could fight for pole position, and without the pitstop problems we had we would have been able to score two podiums easily. Okay, we had the problems, but we were able to score some points at least.”
The other problem the team had was that most of the workload was thrust upon Lopez, who scored all of the team’s points, owing to the relative inexperience of his teammate Fairuz Fauzy. Given his experience it’s hard to remember Lopez is only 22, and it was a heavy load for the amiable Argentinean to wear.
Nonetheless he was relatively pleased with his year, and his trust in the team is absolute: “I want to come back here, because GP2 is very competitive and I’m still very young, to go into next year with my head high and then to win the championship.”
Despite high hopes, a big investment in the team and a solid driver line up headed by a former Formula One driver Coloni’s season flattered to deceive in 2005, with an initially strong start to the season falling away as problems struck and the year failed to go to plan.
The team’s charismatic leader Paolo Coloni was confident in Gimmi Bruni’s ability to win the title at the start of the season, saying of the driver: “I think he can win, yes, because he's the best driver, and we have done a really good job, so the only problem is reliability.”
It was a prescient call - Gimmi rewarded his boss with a win in Barcelona and was in the hunt for the title during the early stages of the season, but reliability woes hit the team hard and Bruni lost a further two wins due to problems with his car. The frustrations of these problems created a rift between driver and team, and he left Coloni at Monza in a war of words.
A simple look at the championship table shows that Coloni did not score a point after Silverstone, although this discounts a number of problems that debilitated the team – as recently as Bahrain new driver Ferdinando Monfardini retired from a potential podium finish with a mechanical gremlin.
Nonetheless Coloni believes they team will push forward hunt next year: “We are making a big investment for next year, and we will be back – this is a strong series, and we know what we need to do.”
Sometimes over the course of 2005 it seemed as though BCN were cursed; the team and their popular drivers Hiroki Yoshimoto and Ernesto Viso seemed to have a never-ending stream of bad luck, from which they were unable to find a way out.
“It’s been very up and down,” Ernesto noted at the end of the season. “I think we started in a very good position during testing, but as soon as the season started we got many, many things that mostly I think were bad luck, some of them the team’s fault and some of them my fault. If you see the table I’m not in a very good position, but I proved that I can be quick because I set the fastest lap a couple of times, I’ve been in the front every time the car allowed me, and for me that was the important thing.”
After the Venezuelan’s two points for fastest lap in the first race, which he didn’t finish, it took BCN eight races to trouble the scorers again, a string of results that is never going to going to help. However, towards the end of the season there were clear signs of improvement, with the team taking 19 of their 35 points in the final two weekends despite Yoshi’s horrific accident in Spa.
And there could have been even more points but for a wrong call on tyres in race two in Istanbul. BCN held first and second in a rain affected rain but failed to bring their drivers in to change tyres, costing the team an almost certain one-two finish. “Turkey was a highlight,” Yoshi later noted, “because I was on pole and it started to rain on the grid for ten minutes and stopped – by looking at the race it was probably the best race, although for me it turned into the worst ever!”
Despite the problems the team claimed four podiums, three of them in the final two weekends, pointing the way towards further improvement in the future.
DPR was the little team that could of the GP2 field in 2005 – despite having a less than extensive recent history in open wheel racing the plucky team in sky blue claimed two wins on their way to tenth in the championship, more than most of their more illustrious competitors.
The start of the season was disappointing for DPR, with a number of results slipping through their fingers due to a combination of bad luck, lack of experience and driver error. “I missed some really good results at the start of the season,” Olivier Pla noted, “Barcelona and Monaco especially, and we missed them because of the set up of the car.
“It was the same in Magny Cours, Nurburgring, and even Silverstone in the beginning, although we found a good car and I won there and in Hockenheim. And in Hungary it was the first time there for me and for the team, so it wasn’t too bad considering. But I should have won the race there, too.”
Despite the problems DPR outperformed their modest ambitions at the start of the season, and their home win at Silverstone was an obvious highlight for the team. With a big investment on the way for 2006 the little team is looking for even bigger things in the new year.
Being last at the launch shoot out meant that Durango could only improve, and despite a number of problems throughout the year they did just that – Clivio Piccione won possibly the most exciting race of the year at the Nurburgring against strong competition, and Gimmi Bruni claimed pole position in Spa, two of the highlights in an up and down season for the likeable Italian team.
It was said that Durango had one of the best set up cars on the grid but were let down by a relatively inexperienced line up, but it is certain that car problems and driver errors combined to create a season that did not live up to expectation. But moments of promise still shone through – Ferdinando Monfardini had some strong performances in qualifying and did well in Monza, while Clivio was in line for a podium in Monaco and Silverstone before accidents put paid to his chances.
Uncertainty over the driver line up later in the season didn’t really help the team, although Gimmi undoubtedly brought a wealth of experience to a team that needed it. In general this season has been a learning year for the team and their drivers, as Clivio acknowledged at the end of the season: “You learn more from mistakes than having good laps all the time, so I think I’ve improved a lot this year.
“It’s been tough – we’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but we got a win and a fastest lap. I think we had a good car at every race we went to, but we didn’t maximise it in qualifying, which is a bit of a shame. It’s generally been tough, but I learnt a lot this year, and my aim is to bring all of this to next year, start on a high and then finish on a high.”
Cast as the plucky underdogs at the start of the season, Campos lived up the reputation – while they may not have had the success of the other outfits they were certainly one of the most close knit teams, building a bond between drivers and team at least the equal of their more fancied rivals, and what they may have lacked in experience they more than made up for in spirit and exuberance.
Campos struggled to achieve much in the way of results – a combination of budgetary constraints and incredibly strong competition was never going to do them any favours in that respect – but nonetheless the team never dropped their heads and gave up, and their enthusiasm and commitment was and example to everyone.
The team’s financial restrictions meant that the relatively inexperienced driver line up of Sergio Hernandez and Juan Cruz Alvarez had a tough fight on their hands, but it was a battle they were always willing to enter. Both drivers spent a number of races in potential points scoring positions, but both suffered more than their fair share of bad luck.
Juan Cruz in particular should be singled out in this respect. The gregarious Argentine lost six or seven podiums through no fault of his own, and anyone who watched him race could see that he is a potential star of the future. His strong results in Spa were scarce recompense for a string of extraordinary drives all year.
As ever, he still managed to put a shine on a season that would have crushed lesser drivers: “I have been fighting for podiums, I was fighting with the best drivers and the best teams, and maybe not with a perfect car. For me, for the experience, it was a good year, because I’ve learnt how to fight with a car that was not always the best.”