The 2014 GP2 Series season saw ten different drivers stand on the top step of the podium, but it was Jolyon Palmer who took the championship in his fourth year in the series.
Palmer, driving for DAMS, took four wins during the season, the same number as both Stoffel Vandoorne and Felipe Nasr who finished second and third, but a greater consistency meant that the Briton was able to clinch the title with three races of the season still to run.
Palmer took the first pole position of the year in Bahrain, but it was McLaren Junior driver Vandoorne of ART Grand Prix who took the first victory after the Briton made a poor start at the front. Julian Leal, himself a fourth year driver in the series, took his best result of his GP2 career with second place on his first race for Carlin, with Palmer able to take third.
Palmer, starting from sixth for race two, got a much better start and was able to take his first win of the year, ahead of Rapax driver Simon Trummer, who took his maiden series podium, with Leal third for his second podium of the weekend ahead of team-mate Nasr.
The Spanish weekend at the Circuit de Catalunya saw how the different possible tyre strategies could work out for the first time, with Johnny Cecotto Jr of Trident Racing using a Medium-Soft strategy to move from sixteenth on the grid to take the win ahead of a despondent Palmer, who used the opposite strategy and was unable to prevent Cecotto getting the win.
Nasr was third for his first podium finish of the season in the Feature race, but for the Brazilian, the Sprint race on Sunday brought him his first series victory, with Palmer again on the podium in second ahead of Tom Dillmann, who was standing in for a back pain-troubled Andre Negrao at Arden International. It would be the team’s only podium of the finish, and it would be Dillmann’s only weekend with the team.
Palmer was on pole position again in Monaco but lost the lead at the start to the fast starting Mitch Evans of Russian Time, but got the place back with an outstanding manoeuvre into Ste Devote. Evans held on for second ahead of Nasr, who had started eighteenth.
The race had to be red flagged midway through when Rene Binder spun his Arden International team-mate Negrao at Loews, and with Artem Markelov of Russian Time getting caught on the apex, the track was blocked. A number of cars lapsed into safety mode, including DAMS’ Stephane Richelmi and Alexander Rossi of Caterham Racing, but all were eventually able to get back into position for the restart.
Palmer’s run of consecutive podiums ended in the Sprint race in Monaco, but for DAMS their other driver, Richelmi, took his maiden series win, holding off the challenge of Trident Racing’s Sergio Canamasas to win in front of his home fans. Rio Haryanto took his and Caterham Racing’s only podium finish of 2014 with a lonely race to third, while Cecotto Jr was fourth, holding off pretty much the rest of the field on tyres well past their best, with places four to twenty-one covered by just 10.758s; Palmer was down in seventh.
Cecotto continued his improved turn of form by taking pole position at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, but it was Nasr who took his second win of the season in the Feature race ahead of Vandoorne, who took his first points since his win in the opener in Bahrain. Taking his first points in GP2 in third was Ferrari Driver Academy driver Raffaele Marciello, who beat his Racing Engineering team-mate Stefano Coletti.
Cecotto, who finished sixth in the Feature race, was able to claim his second victory of the season in the Sprint race in Spielberg, holding off the challenge of first Marciello and then Coletti for the win, with the Racing Engineering drivers showing a good turn of speed to complete the podium, the Monegasque driver ahead of his Italian team-mate.
Marciello continued his good form by taking his maiden pole position at Silverstone, but his luck deserted him during the race, his car coming to a halt with a mechanical issue. It was Evans who took his first win of his GP2 Series career in the Feature race, getting the better of Palmer during the pit stop cycle, with those two battling hard well clear of the chasing pack that was led by Vandoorne, albeit twenty-five seconds adrift.
Nasr took his third win of the year in the Sprint race, finishing over four seconds clear of Coletti in second after the Racing Engineering driver suffered a late-race loss of power, with Cecotto holding off Palmer for third, who had overtaken both Richelmi and Leal on track.
Despite only qualifying fifteenth, Evans took his second consecutive Feature race win at Hockenheim, holding off Vandoorne in the closing laps, while Palmer claimed yet another podium finish in third. It was also the 200th GP2 Series race in history.
The 201st GP2 Series race in history was one of the best of the year, with the weather playing a major role in proceedings. A number of drivers took the gamble to start the race on dry weather tyres, despite the track being wet. In the end, the track came to those who started on the dry tyres, and it was Coletti who took his first win of the season in thrilling style, as he passed Vandoorne with a few laps to go while the Belgian driver got his dry tyres up to temperature after a pit stop. Nasr also got passed Vandoorne for second, while Marco Sorensen of MP Motorsport was unlucky to finish only fourth, ahead of Jon Lancaster of Hilmer Motorsport who took his best result of the year in fifth.
Arthur Pic of Campos Racing took the victory in the Feature race at the Hungaroring ahead of Adrian Quaife-Hobbs of Rapax and Takuya Izawa of ART Grand Prix, but the race will be remembered for the battle between Nasr and Palmer, with the Briton getting the better of the Brazilian into turn one with relative ease, although Nasr was adamant that he was not left enough room on the exit of the corner. There was also controversy when Marciello was penalised post-race for apparently overtaking Vandoorne under the safety car when entering the pit lane. It was a small margin, but it cost the Italian eighth place and reverse grid pole.
Vandoorne was able to take his second win of the season in the Sprint race on Sunday, with Palmer once again passing Nasr into turn one in a near identical manoeuvre, and the body language of the two on the podium made it clear that all gloves were now off in their battle for the championship.
Marciello and Vandoorne had one of the best battles of the year during the Feature race at Spa-Francorchamps. The Ferrari and McLaren juniors were in a league of their own at the front, with Marciello taking his maiden win by passing Vandoorne at Rivage with just a few laps to run. Cecotto was third but was over thirty-five seconds back, with Nasr fourth ahead of Evans and Palmer.
Nasr took his fourth win of the year in the Sprint race, finishing five seconds clear of Cecotto, with Palmer and Evans locked in the battle for the final podium position, a battle that the Briton ultimately won, with Daniel Abt fifth for Hilmer Motorsport after starting from pole position.
Vandoorne took his third win of the year in Monza ahead of Pic, after the two had battled for pole position in qualifying. Evans completed the podium, but the story was Palmer, who was disqualified from qualifying for not having enough fuel on board for an FIA sample to be taken, and starting from the back claimed eighth position and reverse grid pole position. Palmer converted that pole position into his third win of the season, finishing ahead of Coletti and Richelmi, who took his first podium since his win in Monaco.
Palmer took his fourth win the season in the Sochi Feature race, and in doing so claimed the title, with Nasr unable to score after a drive-through penalty for exceeding track limits and gaining an advantage. Evans was second with Marciello third. Vandoorne had been in control of the race before being caught out by the untimely interruption of the safety car that compromised him heavily.
Sorensen took his and MP Motorsport’s maiden series win the Sprint race, beating Vandoorne and Nasr, who claimed third despite starting seventeenth in a great race for the Brazilian. Palmer, fresh off winning the title, failed to score points for the first time after a first corner spin, while Canamasas was on course for second before his car failed on him.
With the championship won, all eyes in the finale in Abu Dhabi were on the battle for the runners-up spot, with both Nasr and Vandoorne in contention. It was Vandoorne who took pole position, his fourth in a row, and he converted that into his fourth win of the year ahead of Palmer, with Evans third.
Coletti took his second win of the year, and possibly the final one of his GP2 Series career with the Monegasque driver looking to move on in 2015, in the Sprint race, but Nasr’s second place was not enough to prevent Vandoorne from taking the runners-up spot, with the Belgian finishing fifth. Pic took the final podium finish of the season in third, while Palmer suffered his first and only retirement after an early spin.
No one can say that Palmer didn’t deserve the title in 2014; the Briton was by far the most consistent driver of the year, with four wins, eight other podium finishes and only two races where he failed to score points. He proved again and again that he possessed not only raw speed but also the ability to overtake, which he did with aplomb all year long. It’s a travesty that the Briton isn’t a fully-fledged Formula 1 driver in 2015, whereas Nasr is for the Sauber F1 Team. But GP2 in 2014 was certainly all Palmer’s.