Some drivers seem to have greatness thrust upon them, have all the riches of the racing world fall into their laps as though ordained from the very beginning of their careers, while others have to fight for it tooth and nail, forever grafting to claim their moment in the spotlight. And if you could argue that our first two champions may fall into the first camp, there is no question that GP2's newest champion is very much in the latter.
Timo Glock had the odds stacked against him from the outset of his time in the series: after a year in America where he quietly impressed the team bosses all along the Champ Car paddock, the German turned his back on what could have been a very lucrative career with the sole objective of remaking his name in Europe and putting himself back into the Formula One paddock. Looking at his options there was only one move to make: GP2.
When the possibility of an iSport deal dissolved Glock signed with BCN: his lack of testing didn't help matters much, and neither did a strong incumbent teammate in Hiroki Yoshimoto, but the German showed his now renowned tenacity, kept his head (and his foot) down, and pushed for all he was worth. His abilities shone through even if his results didn't, and when a seat came free at iSport he didn't hesitate. It was the moment that was to make him a champion.
The results speak for themselves: Glock scored more points than either Lewis Hamilton or Nelson Piquet Jr between his debut with the team in France and his nasty accident at Monza, leading many to speculate that he would have been the champion had he started the season with iSport (no mean feat when you consider the heights Hamilton has gone on to scale), he has won more races than anyone in the history of the series and, of course, claimed the 2007 title after a season-long stoush with Lucas di Grassi.
And as strong as di Grassi was all year, Glock's biggest competition was probably the bad luck which seemed to follow him all year, waiting for an opportunity to pounce: no better example of this was his weekend in Spa this year, where the German qualified well only to stall on the grid in race one before being nerfed out before the second race as he made his way around to the dummy grid. It was a blow that would have crushed many other drivers, but all Glock had to say about his hellish weekend was: "I told the guys it was going to be tough here: we never seem to have two good weekends in a row..."
It was this never say die attitude that had helped him to build a seemingly unassailable lead in the title the week before in Monza: despite spinning down to the back of the field in the melee at the first corner ("I thought about looking for the exit and driving back to Germany for a beer!") Glock kept his head and just kept pushing, just in case. The result was a podium in the first race and win in the second: the perfect example of turning defeat into victory, of the power of sheer bloody mindedness, of just what is possible if you really, really want it.
And it's probably this attitude that won him so many friends in the paddock: at the final weekend in Valencia there can't have been many people outside of the ART pit that weren't cheering for the German in the title showdown, and there was no one at all who didn't heartily congratulate him for a job well done afterwards. With the GP2 dream now a reality, it's time for Glock to move back up to the Formula One paddock: no one who has seen him race over the last two years could have any doubt that he deserves to match all of the success of his predecessors to the crown.
Lucas di Grassi
When Lucas di Grassi signed to drive for ART at the start of the year it was the undoubted highlight of the Brazilian's career to date: a character building year with Durango in 2006 was highlighted by just two fastest laps to point towards his obvious speed but little else to cheer about, and a seat with the double championship winning team meant that he finally had the machinery to show his ability.
If outside the paddock the move meant that di Grassi was now the favourite to win the title, inside it the story was very different: iSport had clearly taken over the mantle of team to beat, and they were combined with the proven ability of Timo Glock. The fight promised to be the toughest one in the young Brazilian's life, and it was a fight that he approached head on.
Right from the outset of the season di Grassi made his thoughts known to anyone who would listen: in the Formula One paddock the most popular catchphrase is reliability, and it was a mantra that he was to repeat all season long. If it works in the senior category, he claimed, then it was even more applicable in GP2: keep scoring points, as many as your car will let you, and when your rival doesn't score you move up. A pretty simple philosophy you'd think, but it's one that eludes a lot of drivers in a lot of categories, including the most senior.
But it's one thing to state your ambition, and quite another to do it: in a series with so many strong drivers (12 different winners over the year points to the fact that there were more than a few handy drivers around him on the grid) di Grassi was metronomic in his ability to score points, failing only to do so on one weekend. Unfortunately for his title ambitions, it was the final one.
In a season where Timo Glock was expected to walk to the title, di Grassi stayed with him all the way to the final: "he's like a machine, isn't he?" the German noted wistfully late in the season, "he's just always there, scoring points." If Glock had earlier dismissed his rivals ambitions, by the end there was a clear respect between the title contenders as they slugged it out on track.
One thing that can't be forgotten is how much ART owed to their lead driver's tenacity: of the 87 points scored by the team on their way to second in the team's championship, all bar 10 of them were scored by di Grassi, who pulled his team almost singlehandedly to the sharp end of the field against the seemingly impregnable iSport behemoth, who not only had an incredible array of engineering experience but could also call on the feedback of two strong drivers, rather than one and a variety of drivers new to the series, who were happy to learn all they could from the Brazilian but were mostly unable to assist with the fight.
Although the result didn't go his way, you get the feeling that Brazilian was happy to have done it the hard way: "It was a tough season," he stated when it was finally over, "but it was great too: I fought Timo, who is a fantastic driver, all the way to the end, and it was clear all year that iSport had the best car. Timo did a great job, and I congratulate him for that, but I think we did a pretty good job too..."
And then the very next day he was back at the track and testing next season's car, helping the series organisers to have a car worthy of carrying the next group of young hopefuls. They could do much worse than to emulate the season of the man who will bequeath them their ride.
When Giorgio Pantano won the Gonzalo Rodriguez Special Award at the end of season festivities, receiving a standing ovation as he made his way up to the stage, it was clear that the Italian was one of the most popular personalities in the paddock, the very embodiment of all that is good at this level of racing. But what his cheerful persona hides from display is what comes out as soon as he puts on his helmet: quite simply, Pantano is one of the strongest competitors to ever race in GP2.
For some time Pantano has been seen as the unofficial yardstick by which all the other drivers are measured: to be one of the best the others have to match up to the Italian's astonishing abilities, and to beat him means you've more than made the grade. Of those drivers who have managed to come out on top four have now raced in Formula One, with two more hoping to move up to a race seat next year: the teams in the big paddock could do worse than to at least hand the Italian a test drive, at least in thanks for making their jobs a lot easier.
What made Pantano's season even more extraordinary is the remarkable turnaround he has brought to the fortunes of Campos Grand Prix this year: before bringing Pantano onboard at the end of last year the Spanish team had languished in 12th place for two years running, averaging less than 10 points a season, while this year they finished 3rd in the team's championship with 80 points, 59 of them brought home by the Italian.
Which made it fitting that Pantano was the first driver to win a race for the plucky Spanish team, bringing home an easy victory in Magny Cours. Typically, the Italian was understated about him achievements afterwards: "We just worked to the maximum, with the mechanics, with the engineers, with everyone. We work very hard, and now we can see that Campos can win races with no problems." He added to their tally by taking another strong win in Monza, spraying the champagne over his adoring mechanics below, adding another string to his bow: if he had already been the benchmark for driver ability, it now seemed that he also filled that role for teams as well, that he could show a team just how strong they can be.
It was typical of Pantano to take third place in the championship in the very last round of the season: his never give in attitude letting him fight back when others might have thought it a lost cause. In that last race he held on for fifth place ahead of Luca Filippi, claiming the one point required to equal his countryman point score and take third place in the final standings by dint of a superior win rate.
He received Filippi's congratulations magnanimously, his usual smile fixed firmly on his place as he replied in kind to his disappointed rival. Pantano certainly knew how his countryman felt, having suffered similar disappointments previously, but he also had the satisfaction of showing everyone watching just what he can do, even in a team that had never previously fought consistently at the sharp end of the field. There can be no doubt that everyone in the GP2 paddock is aware of just what Pantano is capable of: it just remains to be seen if the team bosses in the big paddock have noticed too.