GP2 SeriesGP3 Series

Hockenheim 2012 Preview: Two-Horse Races In GP2 And GP3?

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Davide Valsecchi, Luiz Razia, Aaro Vainio and Mitch Evans - Photo Credit: GP2/GP3 Media Service

The Formula 1 title battle remains fairly open amongst several drivers as the 2012 season reaches its halfway point at this weekend's German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. But in both GP2 and GP3, two head-to-head battles have started to appear.

In GP2, series veterans Luiz Razia and Davide Valsecchi have led the way since the season opener in Malaysia back in March.

Between them the pair have won seven of the 14 races so far, with Razia being the first to take a fourth win of the campaign at Silverstone last time out. There the Brazilian took the lead of the standings from Valsecchi, whose only wins came in his run of three victories at the Bahrain double header in April.

Meanwhile, all but one of Razia's wins have come in sprint races. But he benefits from just one non-score to Valsecchi's four. But for a man leading the championship, Razia's qualifying record is unusually poor. Only once has he started on the front row of the grid, at the season opener in Malaysia which he went on to win.

In fact, of all those currently in the top ten in the standings, Razia only has the sixth best qualifying record (taking the drivers' top six results into account). Valsecchi only has the third – it's Fabio Leimer and Max Chilton with the best records, but they are only seventh and fifth respectively in the drivers' standings and both without a victory.

So Valsecchi and Razia have not been the quickest, but they have used their experience to their advantage to pick up more points than anyone else. Razia has 165 of them, with Valsecchi close behind on 159.

Esteban Gutierrez lies third, after becoming the only driver other than Razia and Valsecchi to win  more than twice. His two wins have come in the last two feature races, and both have come after misfortune for the leading driver at the hands of the safety car.

Esteban Gutierrez - Photo Credit: Jakob Ebrey/GP2 Media Service

Gutierrez has his work cut out with a grid penalty in Germany – Photo Credit: Jakob Ebrey/GP2 Media Service

The Mexican driver may be outscoring the two ahead of him at present, but not by anything like enough. He's 43 points adrift of Razia, and with a maximum of 48 points on offer at each of the remaining five weekends he's going to need the two veterans to have some poor weekends while scoring highly himself every weekend. But Gutierrez hasn't even had great pace this year – some poor qualifying performances mean that he has an even worse average starting position than Razia and Valsecchi.

To make matters worse, Gutierrez will have a ten-place grid penalty this weekend at Hockenheim for his Silverstone collision with Johnny Cecotto, making that hefty points haul that he needs extremely unlikely. His Lotus GP teammate James Calado carries a similar penalty, and that comes after a non-scoring weekend on home soil at Silverstone that sees him a whopping 70 away from Razia, albeit it still fourth overall.

Elsewhere, Chilton took a step closer to a Formula 1 drive with his test for Marussia after Silverstone, but he's still chasing his first win in GP2. As in British F3 previously, the Reigate racer has proven his pace with top qualifying results, but failed to translate that into race pace.

There are two driver changes for Hockenheim – race winner Tom Dillmann returns at Rapax as his replacement Daniel De Jong has a prior commitment in Auto GP in Brazil. Also, Sergio Canamasas makes his GP2 debut at Lazarus in place of Fabrizio Crestani.

Hockenheim is also the fifth of eight rounds in the GP3 season, where there have also been two drivers on top all season. However, unlike their GP2 counterparts, this duo have been the quickest drivers so far.

As had been expected pre-season, Mark Webber's protege Mitch Evans leads the points and has taken two feature race wins and two pole positions from the four weekends so far. But he has been pushed all the way by Aaro Vainio, who claimed pole and victory in Monaco – an off weekend for Evans.

Evans beat Vainio to win in the Valencia feature race, and the pair were on the front row last time out at Silverstone. However, beating both of them with a commanding victory in the race was Antonio Felix da Costa.

Antonio Felix Da Costa - Photo Credit: Daniel KaliszGP3 Media Service

Felix da Costa needs to keep beating Evans, Vainio and the rest – Photo Credit: Daniel KaliszGP3 Media Service

A second-year driver just like Evans and Vainio, the equally-highly-rated Portuguese driver had been expected to be amongst the title contenders. His campaign started perfectly with pole at Barcelona, but he jumped the start. A run of off-par results over the first three weekends left him 51 points adrift of Evans heading to Silverstone, and although Evans claimed four bonus points for pole he had reduced that gap to 42 by the end of the weekend.

That still might seem like a long way behind, but Felix da Costa has proved that he has the pace that we'd expect of him. But last year we learnt that anything can change in the highly-competitive world of GP3.

At this point last year, Valtteri Bottas was tenth in the points. Using the points system adopted for 2012, the Finn would have had 34 points to leader Alexander Sims' 71. Bottas quickly and easily overturned the defecit, proving that Felix da Costa could do the same if he can consistently score highly just as Bottas did last year.

But this weekend could be big in the fight between Evans and Vainio, as just like his Lotus teammates in GP2, Vainio has a ten-place grid penalty – something that severely reduces his chances of continuing his run of straight podium finishes in feature races. As a result the slim 11 point gap between the two could easily grow.

Elsewhere, Daniel Abt is the best of the rest in P4 and will hope for a maiden victory on home soil to bring himself closer to the leaders.

Lewis Williamson makes his return to GP3 following his axing by Red Bull, replacing Kotaro Sakurai at Status Grand Prix, though has to deal with the one circuit on this year's calendar that he hasn't competed at before.

After a full quota of 27 drivers turned up at Silverstone, there will be three vacant cars this weekend. After making his GP3 debut last time out for Jenzer Motorsport, Facu Regalia has chosen the European F3 Open at Paul Ricard over both GP3 and Auto GP in Brazil. Trident Racing regular Antonio Spavone will not be present, and nor will Fabio Gamberini, despite taking a point on his debut with Atech CRS GP in Silverstone.

  • GP2 Free Practice takes place at 11:00 BST on Friday, with Qualifying at 14:50. The Feature Race is at 14:40 on Saturday, with the Sprint Race at 09:35 on Sunday.
  • GP3 Free Practice is later than usual on Friday, at 16:50 BST, ahead of Qualifying at 08:45 on Saturday. The two races take place at 16:20 on Saturday and 08:25 on Sunday.
  • All GP2 sessions, and GP3 qualifying and races, will be shown live on Sky Sports F1 HD in the UK.
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About author
Peter joined the TCF team in September 2010 and covers GP2 and GP3 along with WTCC and Formula Two. You can find him on twitter at @PeteAllen_
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