It’s taken me long enough… I know. But I had to have a good think about my top five in GP2 this year. The introduction of two tyre compounds and even a shift in usage at mid-season coupled with a field mixed with hugely experienced drivers and rookies made it more difficult than ever to truly gauge relative performance. I’ve fought with myself over the ultimate order over the weeks since the end of the season, but think I’m finally there and happy with the running order.
I hope you are too.
5. Max Chilton
Entering his third year in GP2, there was high expectation placed on Max Chilton to step up to the plate and make an impact. Racing for Carlin, with whom he has shared so much of his career and which is so used to success at junior level, there can be no denying that the pressure Max and Carlin will each have applied on themselves will have been tremendous. But externally, nobody really expected them to challenge. Nobody expected Max to be able to compete at the front.
But when one looks at 2012, Max Chilton was, without question, the qualifier of the year. He seemed to have an incredible ability to put together a lap when it mattered. While even the championship contenders’ qualifying form wavered between the sublime and the ridiculous, Chilton was the constant. He only qualified outside the top ten on one occasion all season. His rivals knew it too. He had the pace, and consistently showed it.
His race pace however was a slightly different story. Put him on pole, give him a clear track, and he could streak away and win with ease. His Monaco performance on Sunday, when he was chasing down Jolyon Palmer also sticks in the mind as a gutsy performance. With no room for error, he gave it everything to try and cut the gap down. And he did so, lap after lap after lap. He had the gap down to a second on iSport driver at the flag, but even with a few more laps he wouldn’t have passed him, and not just because it was Monaco.
The one area in which Max Chilton’s armoury still falls short is in his overtaking. Too often in 2012, he looked tentative. Every passing opportunity he had, you held your breath. Not out of the expectation of something spectacular, but because you felt that Max, too, was holding his. That instinct, that confidence to make the all important move, just never showed itself. He second guessed himself all too often.
If only he could have coupled confidence with his clear pace, he might have even fought for the title. Many expect Max to make the step up to F1 next season. On pace alone, he could do well. But he simply must wipe out the self-doubt and just believe in himself a bit more.
4. Esteban Gutierrez
The Mexican arrived in GP2 two seasons ago on a wave of plaudits and expectation. Having dominated the inaugural GP3 championship, there was a feeling that he would do the same in GP2. But Pirelli rubber was a tough mistress, and coupled with a huge increase in horsepower it started to look as though the years of a rookie champion had passed into history. After all, if the magical Mexican couldn’t fight for the crown in his rookie year, what hope did anyone else have?
2012, therefore, was his time to shine. He knew the tracks. He knew the car. He knew the tyres. But he didn’t fight for the title. And to be honest, he never looked like challenging for top honours.
But to dismiss 2012 as a failure for Gutierrez is to miss the bigger picture. The Mexican himself insists that he learnt more in 2012 and achieved far greater personal goals over the season than in any year of competition in his career to date. Titles have come his way with consummate ease in the past, but this season was different. He had to fight his way through. He had to learn. He had to taste humility and come out stronger.
If anything, 2012 may well have been the lesson that Esteban Gutierrez needed to turn him from a good driver into a great one. He had to fight for every point, and truly struggle for each win. That it didn’t come easily will be the greatest training for which he could have hoped.
He may well be F1 bound in 2013, and on the basis of 2012, we have seen that Esteban can take the rough with the smooth and come out the other side successful, and a more complete racer.
3. Davide Valsecchi
Is it harsh to put the champion third? Possibly. But Davide Valsecchi didn’t exactly wipe the floor with the opposition in 2012.
Does he deserve his title? Undoubtedly. But Davide Valsecchi didn’t exactly wipe the floor with the opposition in 2012.
And therein lies the issue.
Let’s lay things out. A fifth year driver, in the team that took Romain Grosjean to the title in 2011, Valsecchi entered the 2012 season as one of the favourites and rightfully so. And his performances over the first few races of the season gave the impression that he was going to waltz his way to the title.
Bahrain was immense. Three wins in a row. And so nearly a clean sweep of all four. He was incredible. Truly incredible.
But this is a driver who won the GP2 Asia crown two years ago. The Asian circuits were the tracks on which he should have prevailed… no? It took him until the final furlongs of the season to win again, in a championship that was littered with inconsistency and a touch of misfortune.
But when one counts up the points, Davide Valsecchi did more than enough to be crowned champion. And he deserves it, too. A wonderful racer, a fabulous man and a great ambassador for the sport.
One only hopes that his destiny does not fall in line with his Italian predecessors in GP2, and that he can turn the tide that held back Pantano and Filippi, and rise to where he belongs… in Formula 1.
2. James Calado
Of all the plaudits heaped on James Calado in 2012, perhaps the finest one was this: That he made his team-mate Esteban Gutierrez, a man toasted throughout the motorsports world as a once in a lifetime talent, look ordinary.
But Calado’s season was much more than one which simply made people re-appraise his team-mate. It was one that made people re-appraise James himself. He’s not brash, bold, bolshy. He just gets his head down and gets on with the job.
I like James. I have liked him from the moment I met him. There’s no bravado, no Hollywood. He tells it like it is, for good or for bad. Put him in a racing car and he just flies.
The writing was on the wall last year, in Abu Dhabi, when he won on only his second outing in a GP2 car. For him to have stepped out of GP3 and in the Sunday race with no pitstops, to be able to look after his Pirellis the way that he did spoke volumes about the way his 2012 season had the potential to go. Here was a smart, thoughtful and intelligent racer.
This much was shown when he won again on the opening weekend of the year in Malaysia. He imparted after the race that he’d allowed his team-mate to get so close to him in the opening laps because he knew his dirty air would hand Gutierrez a large dose of understeer, and he’d increase the wear on his fronts. Sure enough, Gutierrez lost his fronts and dropped back, allowing Calado to streak off for the win. Such confidence and such an accurate assessment of both the car, the tyres, and the rival, showed immense maturity.
Calado’s season was tainted by misfortune, without which I feel he could have fought for the crown. But he carried on fighting, even at the final weekend in Singapore. Even with the title out of reach, he never gave up, trying to hold on to third in the championship in spite of savage food poisoning. His affliction was so drastic he visited hospital before, and then after a race in which he managed to survive for 55 of the allotted 60 minutes. I haven’t seen a braver race drive since Ferdinando Monfardini’s belts pulled too tight around his nether regions in GP2’s Bahrain races in 2005, and one of his testicles tried to make a new home for itself inside the Italian’s pelvis.
James Calado was one of the drivers of 2012. In any championship. His achievements should not be overlooked, and one hopes he continues to command the sponsorship and support his immense talents demand, long into the future.
1. Luiz Razia
Like Valsecchi, Razia entered 2012 knowing that only fighting for the title would do. With all his years of experience, this was his time. But it wasn’t going to be easy. He would be attempting to fight for the title with a team who had not won a championship since Tonio Liuzzi took the F3000 title back in 2004. But Arden in 2012 had something special about it. The team felt, for the first time in a long time, like a cohesive and complete unit. And with Razia heading their charge, they made a potent force.
I’ve known Luiz a long time, and never had I seen him more focussed than he was in 2012. There had been certain issues over the winter period in Brazil which had, perhaps, sharpened his mind, but the Luiz Razia we got this season was unlike any version of the man I had seen before.
He was leaner and fitter, and the youthful exuberance of the past had been replaced with a worldly and calm maturity.
Luiz Razia has always been fast. But his seasons had always been ruled with one moment of misfortune, from which point the year had unravelled into disappointment. One tipping point had affected his whole year. Misfortune became a jinx. And one from which he couldn’t recover.
That is where 2012 was so different. That positive attitude, that maturity, was reflected in a consistency I had never seen from him before. He had the bigger picture in mind constantly. And never more was this in evidence than in Valencia, when he sat in sixth, watching those ahead chew through their tyres. In the final laps, he made his move, edging forward, pushing lap after lap. With two laps to go he was fourth. With one lap to go he made the move for third. And then, at the final overtaking spot on the track, he passed both Calado and Leimer for the win.
That race was Razia’s new demeanour in clear visual form. No longer the hothead. Here was a man willing to tough it out, to put in the legwork and to make it all come good with a beautiful display of skill and intensity.
Sadly for the Brazilian, his new approach was not to work out. In the penultimate weekends before Singapore, his consistency failed him. Weak qualifying saw him have to fight through. And fight he did. But ultimately he lost the championship lead, lost the momentum and arrived at the finale as the man needing to catch up, rather than defend. And on the street circuit, there was little he could do.
But his season overall was fabulous and in finishing second in the championship, he achieved the most successful GP2 result for Arden since Heikki Kovalainen finished as runner up to Nico Rosberg in 2005.
On balance 2012, for me, belonged to Luiz Razia. To be fair, any of the top five, and also a driver such as Geido van der Garde who just missed the cut on my top five, could do a great job in F1 and would be a fabulous addition to the paddock both on and off track.
But for me, this season, Razia edged them all.