This time last year no one really knew what to expect - GP2 was a new concept, sure, but it was replacing the increasingly creaking Formula 3000, a series whose best years had been and gone, leaving little more than a shell of what it once was. And while the GP2 line up was impressive on paper, more than a few people wondered if a feeder series for Formula One was even viable anymore.
And then the races began, and the doubts evaporated in the minds of everyone who watched them.
The racing was fast and furious, with frequent overtaking and lengthy battles for the lead. The two title contenders claimed five wins each, two of the ten men to win during the season. Sixteen drivers claimed at least one podium, and 23 drivers scored during the year, pointing to the depth of talent throughout the field.
The recipe for success for the series was a simple one - take almost all of the best young drivers in Europe outside of Formula One, put them in equal cars in front of the main paddock with solid engineering support, point them in the right direction and let them race.
In a spec series, the best driver with the best engineer should make a championship winning package, and looking at the incredible Formula One debut enjoyed by reigning GP2 champion Nico Rosberg, it's not hard to argue that this was exactly what happened (although runner up Heikki Kovalainen's gritty season means that it's by no means clear cut), which is exactly what most race fans want to see.
And, given the set-up of the series, the 2006 season is almost guaranteed to be more of the same.
Picking the overall winner from the 26 drivers is next to impossible at the moment, given how close most of the field has been in pre-season testing. Lewis Hamilton, Alex Premat, Nelson Piquet, Adam Carroll and Jose Maria Lopez all have justifiable arguments to be included in the favourites list, but on current form, up to ten drivers could also have a serious run at the title in what may be the closest racing series on earth.
One other point that should be noted is that this time last year Rosberg wasn't even being considered as a title contender - his biggest claim to fame at the time was as one of the Three Princes, the sons of former F1 world champions on the grid, and he wasn't even the most favoured of the three. In a competition this tight, just about anything can happen.
After fine-tuning the programme throughout 2005, there was little to change for this year, with the exception of the tyres. Gone are the Formula One style grooved tyres in favour of slicks, which has had obvious ramifications - at testing in Paul Ricard, lap times have tumbled, and a top speed of 325km/h has been whispered about in the pitlane.
Brembo have had to come up with a new braking system to deal with the new tyres, and while a few teams have struggled a little in testing, most have now come to terms with them. Mecachrome has taken over the engine programme from Mader, and with the engine programme now based at the same location (Aubigny, France) that handles Renault's Formula One engines, reliability should not be an issue this year.
The only other changes for 2006 are that the fastest lap in both races will now only gain the driver one point instead of two, and while the races remain the same length (180km and 120km), they will be limited to a maximum of 75 minutes and 45 minutes respectively.
Teams and Drivers
ART Grand Prix
Alex Premat and Lewis Hamilton
ART started 2005 hoping for a race win and ended the year with both driver and team titles, a slightly overwhelming level of success for the team in their first year out of the F3 Euroseries, which they had dominated. Consequently all eyes will be on the team, and in particular Euroseries star Hamilton, who will be in what the paddock half-jokingly refers to as 'the magic car' (the 2005 car 9 of champion Rosberg).
Hamilton tried to downplay expectations at a recent test, stating that he was just hoping to do well but that he was not targeting the title, but expectations will be high for the pairing. He will, however, be competing against drivers with far more experience with the cars, including teammate Premat, fresh from claiming the title in the off-season for the French A1 Grand Prix team and wanting more of the same.
The pair are likely to work well together over the season - Premat in particular has a history of becoming best friends with his teammate over the season, sometimes to his disadvantage - but expect fireworks between the pair on track, where it counts.
Michael Ammermueller and Nicolas Lapierre
Arden, as the form team of Formula 3000, were expected to dominate the series with pre-season title favourite Kovalainen, but with team boss Christian Horner moving up to run the Red Bull Racing Formula One team, things did not go to plan, and second in both championships was the result, one which stung a team long used to winning everything in sight.
New lead driver Lapierre looked out of his depth at times in 2005, having to learn the circuits as well as how to work within a big team while trying to find a way out of the shadow of his experienced teammate. The amiable Frenchman was unable to claim a win in GP2 last year, but a winter spent in the A1 series resulted in six wins and the title; he now needs to prove that he can rise to the challenge of leading Arden's attack on the GP2 championship.
Ammermueller arrived at Arden on the back of his Red Bull connections and a second place in last year's Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup. While the German has shown speed in testing, it's unlikely that he'll be able to fight for the championship this year and will instead fall into the traditional Arden role of strong rookie next to the more seasoned team leader.
Super Nova International
Jose Maria Lopez and Fairuz Fauzy
Super Nova are a difficult team to predict anything about - every year they run fast in testing and then seem to fall off the pace during the season, and for no discernable reason. Stuffed full of strong engineering staff, nonetheless last year saw Giorgio Pantano's early challenge snuffed out by a string of DNFs, only to have the car gremlins seemingly switch to Adam Carroll's car and extinguish his chance at the title as well.
Nonetheless, the talent is there, as can be seen by Carroll's three strong race wins, and Pantano must have been the unluckiest driver of the year to not claim a win. This year, Lopez leads the driver line-up after an up-and-down season with DAMS, and with so much on the line career-wise, he almost has to win to ensure his progression in the sport despite his young age - his paymasters at the Renault Drivers Development Programme will demand nothing less.
Fauzy, on the other hand, has no such grand expectations on his shoulders. As the only regular driver in GP2 not to score a point last year, any result at all will be a vast improvement in form and will probably be celebrated on his side of the garage like a win will on the other.
Ernesto Viso and Tristan Gommendy
iSport's team principal Paul Jackson is a zero bullshit kind of boss, running his team very much in the mould of sister team Williams. For an outfit that came together for the first time last year to join the GP2 series, their results were remarkably strong, and it would be one of the bigger surprises of the year to see them drop off the pace this year.
Viso will have no excuses this year - a lot of the problems he suffered last year were quietly blamed (and not entirely unfairly) on BCN's sometimes lackadaisical work ethic, but the move to iSport means the Venezuelan will have nowhere to hide on that score. Flashes of brilliance, particularly in the latter parts of the season, will need to take over from the moments of brain fade that also marred his season - if Viso can manage that, he will fight for the title in 2006.
Gommendy, on the other hand, will be well placed to learn as much as possible about how the series works, and will be hoping to build towards a title run in 2007. Fourth in the World Series by Renault last year, and a former Macau GP winner, the Frenchman's year will be an education for him.
Adam Carroll and Javier Villa
Racing Engineering are a team going places - all the way to Formula One, if the governing body accepts their application for a 2008 entry. While team boss Alfonso de Orleans confirms that he is looking into the move, right now his principal focus is on adding a GP2 title or two to the multiple Spanish F3 titles his team have won.
GP2's off-season equivalent of the Alonso-to-McLaren shock was the announcement that Carroll was set to leave Super Nova for the Jerez-based team, and the pairing of the Ulsterman with former Formula One engineering guru Gary Anderson provides one of the strongest combinations in the series. If the Irish pair and their Spanish team can come to grips with the brake problems they've suffered in testing, they will be the men to beat for the driver's title.
Villa, on the other hand, has already admitted that 2006 will be all about learning what is needed to compete at this level. The team believe that the Spaniard, who narrowly missed out on last year's F3 title in his homeland, has the potential to be the next Alonso - time will tell if their faith is well placed.
Nelson Piquet Jr and Xandi Negrao
Nelson Piquet Jr has probably had more bad press over his racing career than the rest of the grid put together - for years he's been accused of being a dilettante, lazy, unable to compete, and of having every bad characteristic a racing driver can have.
Piquet is a chip of the old block - smart, funny and, most importantly, blindingly