Six GP2 drivers looking for an F1 seat

I can’t leave the British Grand Prix weekend alone without enthusing about the awesome weekend of GP2 action that came with it. Beforehand I wasn’t too sure about the skills of the current crop of GP2 drivers. But after the races there were a few drivers that I knew I had to keep an eye on for the future.

The feature race was quite slow to come alive. But then Pantano surged his way through the field in the hunt for the lead. Then towards the closing laps there was some thrilling battles at the sharp end of the field. The race was a demonstration of six of the hottest talents in GP2. The stakes are high enough — these guys are racing for a career in F1. The six protagonists of the British feature race may all have done themselves a favour.

In the British feature race the widely-tipped Romain Grosjean was leading early on. But struggling on badly-worn tyres the canny Giorgio Pantano used his experience to outwit his younger counterpart at the Abbey chicane.

Later on Pantano pulled off a really intelligent move while battling for the lead with the fancied Lucas Di Grassi. Pantano lined himself up for a pass on the outside at Stowe. Di Grassi was preparing to defend on that basis, when all of a sudden Pantano lurched to the inside to catch Di Grassi completely unaware. Pantano had the speed to pull it off. An amazing overtaking manoeuvre.

Meanwhile, Andreas Zuber back in 4th place was finding himself under a lot of pressure from a growing train of cars that eventually included Karun Chandhok, Bruno Senna and Sébastien Buemi. Zuber desperately defended his position, even banging wheels with Chandhok after leaving it far too late to close the door.

There was an inevitability about Zuber eventually losing his place, and in the end the Austrian couldn’t cope with the pressure and went off the circuit after going way too deep at Vale. Having held up the three drivers behind him, he lost the three places immediately.

Once Zuber was out of the way, Karun Chandhok had two things to contend with. First of all Romain Grosjean was still struggling with his tyres and the whole train was beginning to reel him in. But Chandhok himself was coming under pressure from Bruno Senna. Senna in turn had to deal with Buemi.

With five laps to go another train for third place had formed, but this time with Grosjean instead of Zuber under pressure at the front. For the final five laps we were treated to a jaw-dropping display of hammer-and-tongs racing between the four drivers.

Sébastien Buemi was the first to strike, taking Senna at bridge after the Brazilian was compromised by being too close to Chandhok. But it was only a matter of time before Chandhok could take Grosjean. The Indian was released. Once that had happened, Grosjean, Buemi and Senna were three abreast through Maggotts and Becketts. Holding each other up, Chandhok was now assured third place.

Now the battle was a three-way tussle for fourth place. It doesn’t sound like especially high-stakes stuff — the difference between 5 points and 3 points — but they were all driving their backsides off in the final two laps of the race, probably looking to impress the F1 bosses.

Coming down the Hangar Straight, Buemi was losing out as a result of the side-by-side driving through Becketts. Senna bounced over the grass in his desperation to re-take Buemi, but he lost little time and was right back on the tail of the train.

In the final lap, for the second lap in a row the drivers went three abreast through Maggotts and Becketts. This time Buemi got the advantage over Grosjean. Soon enough Senna too was harrying Grosjean along the Hangar Straight and got him through Stowe. But ultimately Grosjean was able to re-gain the advantage as Senna ran wide at Priory, one of the very last corners of the race.

It wasn’t all bad news for Bruno Senna though. He took the sprint race in difficult damp conditions. Then this week have come rumours that he is in line for an F1 drive.

So what about the six protagonists of the race, who all finished in the top six of the British feature race, and are all looking for an F1 seat?

Giorgio Pantano

Pantano may have been dismissed as an old has-been. He is the only former F1 driver in a GP2 field filled with young hopefuls. But Pantano has the drive as well. And his weekend at Silverstone demonstrated an astonishing intelligence to his driving that I haven’t appreciated in him before. Not only did he plough his way to a race in in the feature race, but he also impressed in the damp conditions during the sprint race where he finished 3rd despite starting 8th on the grid as a result of his feature race win.

Giorgio Pantano may not have impressed in his first stint in F1, but I am starting to wonder if he deserves a second try. He is, after all, pulling out an impressive lead at the top of the GP2 standings. And he has the experience and racecraft to make a decent race out of a bad situation, as he showed by coming through the field twice in Silverstone.

Lucas Di Grassi

Lucas Di Grassi is currently the Renault F1 team’s third drivers. Having finished 2nd in GP2 last year behind Timo Glock, he has his foot in the door of F1. But he has only one GP2 win to his name — the 2007 Turkey feature race. And despite finishing second three times in his four GP2 races so far this year, I don’t see him as a potential F1 star after he was outwitted by Pantano.

Karun Chandhok

Chandhok impressed by seizing the initiative. He wasted relatively little time in passing Grosjean compared to Buemi and Senna, and in the end managed to pull out a 5 second gap to the three remaining scrappers.

It is difficult to say if Chandhok is F1 material. But his Indian nationality may prove useful to a certain back-of-the-grid team that gets a lot of publicity in India. If Force India want an Indian driver, they should seriously consider Karun Chandhok. After all, he can’t be that much worse than the increasingly embarrassing Giancarlo Fisichella, can he?

Sébastien Buemi

I don’t understand why more people don’t tip Buemi for a race seat. He seems to have it all. He’s certainly got the talent as his performance in Britain demonstrated. He also impressed in the damp conditions of the French sprint race by storming through the field from 21st on the grid to take the race win. Along the way he made a smart move on his team mate Senna on the run up to the Adelaide hairpin.

Sébastien Buemi also has the advantage of having backing in the form of the Red Bull Junior Team driver development programme. Although the scheme has had limited success in the past, impressing as part of the programme does help drivers get a drive at Red Bull or, more likely, Toro Rosso. He is already a test driver at Red Bull Racing, although Sebastian Vettel is more likely to get the race seat for next year.

That neatly leaves a gap at Toro Rosso though. Even though there is uncertainty as to the future direction of the Toro Rosso team, it still seems feasible that a Red Bull junior driver would get the spare seat, as pointed out by Toro Rosso chief Gerhard Berger. Plus, with a name like Sébastien, I don’t know how Toro Rosso can resist!

Romain Grosjean

Romain Grosjean was widely tipped to win the GP2 series prior to the start of the season. He won last year’s F3 Euroseries and dominated the winter GP2 Asia series. He also looks set for an F1 drive some time in the future as he is currently Renault’s test driver.

But this year he has struggled a bit in the GP2 series. His relatively poor performance in Britain, struggling on badly-worn tyres, underlined that he is not yet the complete package. I think another year in GP2 is required before Grosjean can start thinking about getting into F1.

But you never know with Renault. If they get fed up with Nelsinho Piquet, he could be in with a good shout of taking that race seat.

Bruno Senna

Senna has turned heads during his GP2 career. He won in Monaco, inevitably launching a thousand cheesy comparisons to his uncle Ayrton Senna. There is more to the comparison than just the name though. Bruno seems to have some genuine talent. The disappointment of the British feature race was forgotten when he took victory in the difficult conditions of the sprint race.

Now rumour has it that Toro Rosso are interested in his services. I would say that Bruno Senna is inevitably going to get a race seat in F1. Whether he has the talent to shine enough in F1 is almost by the way. The PR opportunities for a team having a driver by the name of Senna are massive. It is helpful that he also also handy behind the wheel. Senna may have to wait a year before getting an F1 drive. At least he doesn’t seem to be fazed by the rumours surrounding him at the moment.

3 comments

  1. I rate Grosjean, Buemi and Senna. They’re all a bit ‘quick but need polish’ but that’s inevitable. Grosjean needs to calm down a bit sometimes, he goes over the top with his defensive moves sometimes. Senna is masturing nicely, is a shame he spent so long out of the cockpit. Buemi is very hit and miss (wins in Magny-Cours, off on formation lap at Silverstone).

    I don’t rate Pantano (after 102 races in F3000 and GP2 he should be thrashing everyone by miles), di Grassi (should have won the title last year, not quick enough, no good at the wheel-to-wheel stuff) or Chandhok (spun off on the first lap at Silverstone and Magny-Cours, went off under a safety car while leading at Sepang…)

  2. From what I have seen so far I think Bruno Senna will grace us a lot more in the future. Not sure whether this is because he is related to the great Ayerton, but he surely knows how to handle a racing car.