Saying farewell to an old friend
This weekend saw the motorsport world bid a fond farewell to a car which has formed the bedrock of the careers of half the current F1 grid, as the original GP2 Series car completed its final race.
The GP2/05, designed by Dallara, powered by a 4l V8 Renault engine assembled and maintained by Mecachrome and run on Bridgestone Potenza tyres (grooved for its first season in 2005) made its track debut in July 2004 at Circuit Paul Ricard when Frank Montagny gave it its initial shakedown. Over the next few months, he and Allan McNish conducted the development work on the car which would race in the very first season of the GP2 Series when it was launched in 2005.
Despite some very public problems in its debut weekend at the San Marino Grand Prix (namely the electronics going haywire in practice and the brakes wearing out in the first race), the racing was exciting and the competition fierce. Brembo had heard rumours of the inadequacies of the initial brake supplier and had brought enough brake pads and discs for the entire field to Imola, storing them in a truck in a nearby carpark. When the problems arose in the first race, a Brembo representative asked the series organisers if they fancied switching supplier. They did. With reliability issues pretty much resolved with Mecachrome a few races into the season, GP2 established itself as unmissable racing.
Nico Rosberg was crowned the first champion in 2005, beating Heikki Kovalainen and Scott Speed to the crown and all three were promoted to Formula 1, starting a trend which has seen 17 drivers promoted to an active F1 seat since the championship began.
For the record, they are: Nico Rosberg, Heikki Kovalainen, Scott Speed, Alexandre Premat (F1 Practice Session), Nelson Piquet, Ernesto Viso (F1 Practice Session), Lewis Hamilton, Timo Glock, Lucas di Grassi, Vitaly Petrov, Kazuki Nakajima, Bruno Senna, Karun Chandhok, Sebastien Buemi, Romain Grosjean, Kamui Kobayashi and Nico Hulkenberg.
Of those 17, 11 remain in Formula 1 in 2010.
It would also be remiss to forget the tens of drivers who have received positions as test drivers at F1 teams, be it on a season-long contract or simply a one-off test, as a result of their results in GP2.
And all of them, without exception, have raced the GP2/05. For while the original car raced in the main series for three years, creating champions out of Rosberg, Hamilton and Glock, the car was then shipped off to Asia to compete in the GP2 Asia Series between 2008 and 2010. There simply isn’t a driver to have been promoted from GP2 to Formula 1 who has not competed in a field of GP2/05s.
The car, which was designed around a concept of ground effect rather than over reliance on body aerodynamics, was created not only with the specific intention of training the future drivers of F1, but to provide overtaking and an exciting show. Even today it remains fast and relevant. Despite racing with a detuned engine in the Asia series, its laptimes on its final weekend weren’t far off those being set by the new teams in F1… not bad for a six year old racer.
With its Main Series replacement, the GP2/08, due to be used in Asia for the 2010/2011 championship when its own replacement (GP2/11) is unveiled for the 2011 Main Series, Sunday was thus the last time we’ll see the 05 race. It has given us six seasons of racing which I and many colleagues will never forget. It has also stood the test of time, providing a safe racing environment throughout its life.
But, alas, after 94 races, six champions and some of the best racing I’ve ever seen, the GP2/05 will race no more. Whether they are to become museum pieces or sit in the teams’ factories is, as yet, unclear. But if anyone’s thinking of holding a track day with one, please let me know… I’d move heaven and earth to get into one, even if it was for just the one lap.
I hope that wherever they end up, they take pride of place. Because without them, today’s F1 grid wouldn’t contain half the talent it does.