Another thing I haven’t got round to writing about yet is the climax of the GP2 season which happened in Monza.
As it was, Giorgio “Pants” Pantano took the championship with a sprint race to spare. He had a commanding lead in the championship for a long time running up to Monza, so that was no real surprise. However, in the feature race he managed to underline why he finds it so difficult to find an F1 drive.
What should have been a relaxed cruise to a vaguely good result from pole position (he only needed to come 3rd) was made a lot more touch-and-go when he made a silly mistake coming out of the pitlane. He crossed the white line — and not by a little bit. Astonishingly, almost half of his car was over the white line. For a driver with that amount of experience, that is simply unforgivable. Pantano has had 78 GP2 starts plus 34 Formula 3000 starts in addition to his 14 F1 starts.
Getting such a silly drive-through penalty in such a high-profile situation was unlikely to endear himself to many F1 teams. Ian Phillips, who worked with Pantano at Jordan, was speaking on Radio 5 Live over the course of the Italian Grand Prix weekend. He was pretty disparaging about Pantano, saying he never saw what was so great about him and that none of the teams are particularly interested in him.
Earlier in the season Pantano seemed quite optimistic about his chances of getting an F1 drive for next season. But his demeanour after the GP2 feature race in Italy spelled it out — he’s going nowhere. After four wasted years in GP2, Pantano looks set to head to the States to try and carve out a career for himself over there.
The demeanour of Bruno Senna could hardly be more different. Despite losing out to the GP2 championship, he looked happy, relaxed and confident. He says he has spoken to most of the F1 teams except for Ferrari and he is almost a certainty to be in F1 in the near future.
Whether he is ready to get a drive for next year is uncertain. Despite a few strong performances early on in the season, he tailed off a bit towards the end and does not quite look like the complete package yet. Although he was strongly linked to a race seat at Toro Rosso for next season, Red Bull’s people appear to prefer Sébastien Buemi and it looks increasingly likely that Senna will be unable to find a seat for next year. In fairness, another year in GP2 would probably do Senna a lot of good.
Coming third in the championship was Lucas Di Grassi. This is a rather impressive driver who managed to come close to the top of the table despite having missed the first three events (worth a potential 60 points)!
I am not so sure that Di Grassi is quite ready for F1 yet. He doesn’t really stand out on the race track, but he certainly gets the results. He already has very strong ties with the Renault F1 team as a result of his participation in the Renault Driver Development programme. He is already a Renault test driver, so could be a very good shout as a replacement for Nelsinho Piquet.
Another Renault Development Driver is Romain Grosjean. He was pre-season favourite to take the title, having dominated the GP2 Asia series last winter. But he waned in the main GP2 series and could only finish fourth. Grosjean looks like a potentially exciting talent for the future, but he needs to clean up his act a bit before he can be seriously considered for F1. He is in danger of becoming known for his overly-aggressive moves and he has picked up one or two penalties as a result of his ham-fisted defending.
In fact, the person who looks most likely to get a seat in F1 next season is the aforementioned Red Bull protégé, Sébastien Buemi. He only finished sixth in the GP2 championship, behind Pastor Maldonado. Buemi has shone once or twice this season, most notably in the French sprint race. However, for much of the season he has been rather anonymous, collecting plenty of points but with relatively little fanfare.
Whatever, the people at Red Bull clearly feel that they have got a good return on their investment so far and look set to put him into a Toro Rosso seat for next season. Is it wise for Toro Rosso to select Buemi over Senna? I’m not so sure. I feel that both could do with an extra year in GP2. And both have undoubtedly shown flashes of talent. But Bruno Senna feels like the more complete driver so far.
Given the marketing value of the Senna name, it would be a bit of a surprise if Buemi gets an F1 seat and Senna doesn’t. At least I suppose it would show that F1 isn’t all about money. Not quite yet.