It’s been 10 years since the inaugural GP2 Series season back in 2005. Nico Rosberg was the first champion and since then GP2 has helped propel more than 25 drivers to the heights of Formula One, including of course double World Champion Lewis Hamilton.
So, who will be the next driver to make the step up? Well you can take your pick really. Many of the drivers who will line up on the grid this weekend in Bahrain already have links to F1 teams, while those who don’t will be going out there to prove a point.
There’s no doubt that this season is shaping up to be one of the best yet. With eight rookies joining the field alongside returning stars from last year, fireworks are almost guaranteed, but who is looking strong? Who is set to surprise us all? And who will fight their way to the 2015 title? Lets find out.
2014 team champions DAMS return for the new season with one of the youngest but strongest driver pairings on the grid. 2014 GP3 Series champion and Williams development driver Alex Lynn makes the immediate step up to GP2 and is joined at the French team by 2014 Formula Renault 3.5 runner-up and Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly.
Lynn was calculated in his GP3 success, mathematically laying out how many points per weekend he would need to take the title, and it worked. He may have had less wins than Dean Stoneman (Stoneman took five wins to Lynn’s three) but does that matter to the Brit? Not at all, he will be hoping he can use the same tactic this year to try and emulate Hamilton by winning the title in his rookie year.
Gasly on the other hand finished runner-up to Toro Rosso Formula One driver Carlos Sainz Jr in Formula Renault 3.5 and won the 2013 Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 championship. On top of the that he is part of the Red Bull junior programme so has a lot of eyes on him which will either make him or break him.
Lynn and Gasly also topped three of the six days of testing in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain to make it clear they’re a force to be reckoned with.
Heading into the new season equally strong is Stoffel Vandoorne. Vandoorne returns to the Series as the highest placed returning driver from 2014, after finishing behind champion, Jolyon Palmer.
Mclaren junior Vandoorne was hugely impressive in his debut year in the Series finishing ahead of Felipe Nasr with four wins, four poles and ten podiums and heads into the new season as title favourite.
History suggests that Vandoorne certainly has the maturity to fight for the title. The Belgian won the 2012 Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 championship, finishing ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver, Daniil Kvyat – which speaks volumes about Vandoorne’s talent.
Racing Engineering may have lost Raffaele Marciello to Trident and Stefano Coletti to the IndyCar Series but they have more than replaced both drivers for the new season.
Current Manor Formula One Team development driver and British Formula Three champion Jordan King makes the step up to GP2 alongside former Caterham and Marussia Formula One test driver, Alexander Rossi.
King set the pace on the opening day of the second pre-season test in Bahrain while Rossi has had a bit of a career lull since 2012 due to his Formula One testing duties. Both drivers have looked strong in pre-season testing and should be fighting near the front, whether they will fight for both the drivers and the teams’ title though remains to be seen.
Another title favourite is Mitch Evans who returns to the Series as the second highest placed returning driver from 2014 behind Vandoorne. The New Zealander, who finished fourth last year with two wins and six podiums, is a bit of a title dark horse. He won the Toyota Racing Series in 2010 and 2011 and won the GP3 championship in only his second year in 2012.
Evans talent is unmistakable and therefore he should be able to challenge favourite Vandoorne if Russian Time provide him with a competitive and reliable car.
In an interview with The Checkered Flag earlier this year Evans said that this season will probably be his last in GP2, so he wants to make the most of it.
“It’s my third year and feel like it is probably my last year in GP2,” said Evans.
“The competition is going to be extremely tough so I am expecting it to be really difficult but I will give it my best, work hard and hopefully with a some good fortune I can compete for the championship this year.”
Ferrari Driver Academy protege and Sauber F1 Team development driver Raffaele Marciello should also find himself at the business end of the grid.
Marciello made the bold move of switching from Racing Engineering, a team who have won the Drivers Championship twice, to Trident who have only had a driver finish a season in the top ten twice.
However, Marciello is no normal driver. The 2013 European Formula Three champion had an up and down debut year in GP2, his inconsistency was apparent but so was his blistering pace.
A win in the feature race at Spa, a double podium at the Red Bull Ring, and one in the sprint race at Sochi showed that if Marciello can stay consistent and reliable this year he could be a permanent feature at the front of the grid.
Alternatively, he could live to rue his decision to leave Racing Engineering.
Alongside the main title favourites there is a whole host of drivers aiming to join them at the front of the field.
Honda backed driver, Nobuharu Matsushita enters the Series at the deep end by partnering title favourite Vandoorne.
Matsushita won the All-Japan Formula Three championship and topped the time-sheets on day two of pre-season testing in Bahrain. The 21 year-old is a bit of an unknown heading into the new season and may struggle to keep up with team-mate Vandoorne but don’t be surprised if he picks up a race win.
Carlin will no doubt be weaker without Sauber F1 driver Felipe Nasr this year. The British squad however have secured the services of promising young Dane, Marco Sorensen.
Sorensen, who impressed in German Formula Three in 2011 finishing runner-up with two wins and 15 podiums, is already a race winner in GP2 with MP Motorsport, finishing 11th even after missing the opening eight races. Carlin also retained the services of Julian Leal who is now heading into his fifth season.
Rapax and new team Status Grand Prix both start the year with two rookie drivers. Former Sauber F1 Team development driver Sergey Sirotkin and 2014 GP3 driver Robert Visoiu complete Rapax’s line up.
While Lotus F1 Team junior Marlon Stockinger will be partnered by 2011 German Formula Three champion, Richie Stanaway for the opening rounds in Bahrain, with Status working towards securing Stanaway for the entire season.
Artem Markelov and Rene Binder both have their work cut out in beating their respective team-mates Evans and Marciello. But while Markelov has had a degree of success in other formulas, Binder has yet to prove himself and will be hoping his fourth year in GP2 can be a successful one.
Arthur Pic returns to Campos Racing after a strong 2014 campaign that seen the Frenchman finish 7th, picking up a win in the feature race at Hungary as well as three podiums. He will be joined by Rio Haryanto who is returning for his fourth season.
Andre Negrao and Nathanael Berthon also return to their respective teams, Arden International and Lazarus, for the new season.
Both Negrao and Berthon will be partnered by Formula Renault 3.5 graduates in the shape of, Norman Nato, who finished 7th and Zoel Amberg who finished 11th.
MP Motorsport currently only have the returning Daniel de Jong confirmed ahead of the opening weekend in Bahrain while German squad Hilmer Motorsport are yet to confirm any drivers for the upcoming season. Although Nick Yelloly, Nigel Melker, Sergio Canamasas and Axcil Jefferies tested for the team in pre-season.
[table id=124 /]