It has been nearly six months since we last saw the GP3 Series drivers battle it out on track but the wait is finally over as the Formula 1 support series returns to track action in Barcelona for its seventh season.
Much has happened since the last season ended in dramatic fashion in Abu Dhabi with post-season tests and pre-season tests taking place as the drivers get to grips with the new GP3/16 chassis.
The GP3/16 was launched at the Italian Grand Prix last year with help of former champions Mitch Evans, Daniil Kvyat and Alex Lynn. The car which will be raced for the 2016-18 cycle has a V6 3.4-litre naturally aspirated engine with 400HP.
Furthermore, aerodynamic developments to facilitate overtaking as well as a newly designed monocoque to accommodate taller drivers. Finally, a revised nose if one of the main visual changes, as to match the latest F1 safety standards.
But what good is this new car if there is no drivers to race them? Many changes have been made over the winter with drivers leaving the series, entering it or changing teams.
Sixteen drivers will make their GP3 debuts in Barcelona. Alexander Albon, Nirei Fukzumi, Charles Leclerc and Nyck de Vries all join champions ART Grand Prix, with Leclerc and de Vries being part of the Ferrari and McLaren young driver programmes respectively.
Giuliano Alesi – son of Jean Alesi and another Ferrari Driver Academy member – joins Trident Motorsport, while Jake Hughes, Kevin Jörg and Santino Ferrucci line up for the series newcomers DAMS. Jorg is another driver with a link to a F1 team, with the Swiss driver part of the Renault Sport Academy, while Ferrucci is a development driver for the Haas F1 Team.
Arden International is another team of rookies with the signing of Jake Dennis, Jack Aitken and Tatiana Calderon, the only female driver in the field. Aitken is a double 2015 Formula Renault 2.0 Series champion and is another of the Renault Sport Academy drivers, while Dennis is backed by Racing Steps Foundation and will also compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with JOTA Sport in 2016.
Indian teenager Mahaveer Raghunathan also joins the series with Koiranen GP, Steijn Schothorst has joined Campos Racing, and finally, Akash Nandy and Richard Gonda will be part of Jenzer Motorsport.
Antonio Fuoco is the third Ferrari Driver Academy driver on the grid in 2016, and he and Sandy Stuvik have both made the switch to Trident having raced for Carlin and Status Grand Prix respectively in 2015 .
Ralph Boschung has also moved teams, switching from Jenzer to Koiranen, while Oscar Tunjo has moved from Trident to Jenzer hoping to race the whole season this time around after being forced to cut short his 2015 campaign after the Austrian round where he took a race victory.
Matt Parry remains with Koiranen GP for a second full-season, while Matevos Isaakyan also stays with the outfit having raced for them in the final two rounds of 2015, and will dovetail GP3 with a campaign in the Formula V8 3.5 Series this year. Artur Janosz is another driver sticking with his 2015 team, remaining once more with Trident.
Alex Palou, who secured victory in the final race of 2015 in Abu Dhabi, remains with Campos Racing, and will be looking to be one of the favourites for the championship this time around, where he will be joined again by Konstantin Tereschenko, who raced in the final three rounds with the team last year.
With drivers entering the series obviously that means some have left. 2015 champion Esteban Ocon has to leave the series as champions are not permitted to continue racing and will actually move to DTM with Mercedes-Benz.
2015 championship runner-up Luca Ghiotto has made the step up to the GP2 Series and will remain with Trident there, while Marvin Kirchhöfer and Jimmy Eriksson will also make the step up into GP2 to race for Carlin and Arden Motorsport respectively.
Jann Mardenborough will compete in both Super GT and the All-Japan F3 championship, while Former Status GP driver Seb Morris will compete in British GT with Team Parker Racing. Alex Fontana has also moved on, joining the McLaren GT programme, and is racing in the Blancpain Endurance Series in 2016.
There has also been a number of team changes: Carlin and Status who have competed since the inaugural season have left the championship to prioritise other series’, Virtuosi Racing was originally meant to enter but were removed from the entry list and as previous stated DAMS have joined the series after leaving the now defunct Formula Renault 3.5 Series (rebranded Formula V8 3.5) with many having high expectations of them after being successful in every series they have competed in.
Following Virtuosi dropping out of the entry list it was agreed that teams could run with four drivers as to not lower the amount partaking in the series; however, as this was optional not all teams have decided to sign four drivers and therefore teams who have will only score points for the highest three finishers as not to give them an unfair advantage.
The season kicks off in Barcelona and will see the drivers visit Spielberg, Silverstone, Budapest, Hockenheim, Spa, Monza, Sepang and Abu Dhabi. The series will return to Hockenheim after last paying a visit there in 2014, and will be making GP3’s debut at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia.
Track action in Barcelona kicks off with Practice at 17:50 local time on Friday May 13, drivers will take to track for their first qualifying session of the year at 09:45 Saturday morning with the Feature Race at 17:20 that evening and the Sprint Race taking place at 09:15 Sunday morning.