Time to cut some cake and put up some balloons. GP2, F1’s premier feeder championship, turns ten years old today.
GP2 was first established back in 2005 as a revamped version of the International F3000 championship, intended to be the final stepping stone to F1.
Over the past ten seasons, it has been exactly that for an array of the sport’s biggest talents. In all, 26 drivers have graduated from GP2 to F1 over the past ten years, making it the greatest contributor to the sport in the modern era. Eight of the current field raced in the championship, four of whom were champions.
But it all began at Imola on April 23, 2005 in support of the San Marino Grand Prix. The opening feature race of the new championship was won by Heikki Kovalainen after he capitalized on a problem for Giorgio Pantano, taking the lead with three laps remaining.
Looking back on the grid, there are a few names that have disappeared from mainstream motorsport. However, the majority are still racing, boasting a huge number of championships and race wins between them.
Let’s take a look at what all of the “class of ’05” are up to some ten years after racing in the first ever GP2 event.
GP2 Series’ “Class of ’05” – Where Are They Now?
Nico Rosberg – ART Grand Prix (2005 GP2 champion, 120 points)
Rosberg is the best-known member of the GP2 debutants in 2005. After winning the inaugural title, he joined Williams for the 2006 F1 season. After five years, he secured a switch to Mercedes, with whom he finished as the runner-up in last year’s world championship behind teammate Lewis Hamilton.
Heikki Kovalainen – Arden International (series runner-up, 105 points)
Despite winning the very first race, Kovalainen fell just short for the title, but joined Renault F1 Team in a reserve role for 2006. He replaced Fernando Alonso twice in two years (at Renault in 2007 and McLaren in 2008), only to be dropped in favor of Jenson Button for 2010 after winning just one grand prix. Three difficult years with Caterham followed before two races for Lotus in 2013 that proved to be his last in F1. Heikki is now racing in the Japanese Super GT series.
Scott Speed – iSport International (3rd, 67.5 points)
American driver Scott Speed moved into F1 with Scuderia Toro Rosso for 2006, but was dropped midway through the 2007 season for Sebastian Vettel. He moved back to the United States and focused on NASCAR, but is now back in single seaters with the Andretti Formula E team, with whom he finished second on debut in Miami last month. He races full-time in Red Bull Global Rallycross with Andretti’s Volkswagen team.
Alexandre Premat – ART Grand Prix (4th, 67 points)
Premat balanced his GP2 commitments with a successful campaign in the A1 Grand Prix series, helping France to win the inaugural championship in 2005-2006. He remained in GP2 for 2006, finishing third in the standings before joining Audi in its DTM and LMP1 programmes. Premat recorded a best finish of fourth at Le Mans in 2008, but has spent the last few years racing in the Australian V8 Supercars series.
Adam Carroll – Super Nova Racing (5th, 53 points)
Carroll won the first ever GP2 sprint race the day after Kovalainen’s victory at Imola, but he never managed to better his 2005 championship position of fifth place. The Irishman made his last GP2 appearance in 2011, having won the final A1 GP title in 2009 and raced in two IndyCar races in the meantime. He is now racing in the British GT Championship for in the Ferrari-powered FF Corse team and in the European Le Mans Series with Gulf Racing UK.
Giorgio Pantano – Super Nova Racing (6th, 49 points)
Pantano’s case is a strange one. He entered GP2 in 2005 after 14 races in F1 with Jordan, and would have won the first race had it not been for a gearbox issue. The Italian driver went on to win the title in 2008, but could not find a seat in F1. He raced occasionally in IndyCar and planned to remain in America, but it never quite worked out. Pantano raced in the Blancpain GT series last year, and undoubtedly goes down as one of the biggest GP2 talents that never made it back to F1.
Neel Jani – Racing Engineering (7th, 48 points)
Jani only raced four more times in GP2 after 2005, but went on to win the A1 GP title for Switzerland in 2008. He moved over to the United States to race in Champ Car in 2007, scoring three podiums, and spent four years with Rebellion Racing’s LMP1 programme at Le Mans before joining Porsche’s revived LMP1 factory team in the FIA World Endurance Championship. He won his first race last November, and is in the hunt for an outright Le Mans win this year.
Nelson Piquet Jr – Hitech/Piquet Racing (8th, 46 points)
Piquet ran Lewis Hamilton close for the GP2 title in 2006, finishing as runner-up to the Briton. He moved into F1 in 2008 with Renault, scoring a podium finish, but his career in the sport will always be remembered for the infamous ‘Crashgate’ scandal, where he deliberately crashed his car at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to help fix the race. He moved into NASCAR after being sacked by Renault in 2009 ahead of the scandal becoming public knowledge, and after years on the move, now appears settled in Formula E where he is fighting for the championship in its inaugural season. He is also racing in the Red Bull GRC, with SH Rallycross.
Jose Maria Lopez – DAMS (9th, 36 points)
American fans may remember Lopez best for getting one of the drives with US F1 ahead of its planned entry to F1. After this fell apart in 2010, he moved into touring cars and met great success. The Argentinian won last year’s World Touring Car Championship, and leads the way for Citroen in this year’s series after two rounds.
Gianmaria Bruni – Coloni Motorsport (10th, 35 points)
Like Pantano, Bruni already had a season of F1 under his belt before entering GP2 after spending 2004 with Minardi. The Italian won three races in two years in GP2 before turning his attention to endurance racing where he has established himself as one of the best GT racers in the world. Bruni is a three-time class winner at Le Mans and three-time GT FIA WEC champion with AF Corse, and will be chasing another victory in 2015.
EJ Viso – BCN Competicion (11th, 21 points)
Viso will again be well-known to the American audience. He finished sixth in GP2 in 2006 before turning his attention to the American racing circuit, securing an IndyCar seat in 2008. He remained in the championship until 2013, and is now racing in the Stadium Super Trucks series – even winning the race at Long Beach just four days ago.
Nicolas Lapierre – Arden International (12th, 21 points)
Lapierre raced in GP2 until 2007 before turning his attention to endurance racing, where he has found great success. The Frenchman finished third at Le Mans last year with Toyota’s LMP1 team, but withdrew for the 6 Hours of Fuji due to personal reasons. Lapierre will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for the 6 Hours of Spa in two weeks’ time with KCMG in LMP2, and continues to compete at a very high level.
Olivier Pla – David Price Racing (13th, 20 points)
Another Frenchman who found success in endurance racing is Olivier Pla. After winning twice in 2005, Pla failed to score another point in GP2 before moving into Le Mans racers for the 2008 season in LMP2. He finished second in class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2013 with Oak Racing, and fell agonizingly short of the FIA WEC LMP2 drivers’ title in 2014 when his car was forced to retire at the final race in Sao Paulo. Pla is now a part of Nissan’s LMP1 programme for 2015, and is set to make his debut at Le Mans. Another man to land on his feet out of GP2.
Borja Garcia – Racing Engineering (14th, 17.5 points)
Garcia raced in a variety of single seater championships after his debut GP2 season. The Spaniard moved to Formula Renault 3.5 for 2006 (finishing second), returned to GP2 for 2007, and then went back to FR3.5 for 2008. Short stints Superleague Formula and Formula Atlantic followed, and is now racing in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series, bringing a taste of American racing to European shores.
Clivio Piccione – Durango (15th, 14 points)
Piccione won at the Nurburgring in 2005, but it would prove to be the height of his GP2 career. The Monegasque racer raced for Team Monaco in A1 GP, and spent two years in the FIA GT1 Championship, and now organizes karting events in Monaco.
Hiroki Yoshimoto – BCN Competicion (16th, 14 points)
Yoshimoto’s life and career is another stand-out one from the class of 2005. He eventually succeeded on the racing front in Japan, racing in the Super GT series and finishing as the runner-up in 2012. Away from racing though, he is a vocalist in the Japanese band “doa” and runs a car mod shop.
Ferdinando Monfardini – Durango/Coloni (17th, 5 points)
Monfardini spent two years in GP2 before moving into GT racing, taking part in the International GT Open in 2008 and the FIA GT championship the year after.
Juan Cruz Alvarez – Campos Racing (18th, 4.5 points)
Alvarez only spent one season in GP2 before returning to his native Argentina to take part in the national touring car series, Top Race V6, where he still races and is an occasional race winner.
Alexandre Negrao – Hitech/Piquet Racing (19th, 4 points)
Negrao remained in GP2 until 2007 before racing at Le Mans in 2008, where he failed to finish. He then returned to Brazil to race in the national stock car series, and won the national GT championship in 2012. Negrao occasionally races in other GT events, finishing tenth at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2014.
Sergio Hernandez – Campos Racing (20th, 3 points)
Hernandez scored just four points across three years in GP2, and, like many, then moved into touring cars. Four years in the WTCC yielded a single victory, and was last racing in the Superstars series in Italy back in 2011.
Mathias Lauda – Coloni Motorsport (21st, 3 points)
Son of F1 legend Niki Lauda, Mathias spent just one year in GP2. He then raced for Austria in A1 GP before moving into tin-tops, taking part in the DTM series, the Porsche Supercup and the GT1 World Championship. For 2015, he has now joined Aston Martin Racing in the WEC, and claimed class victory on debut at Silverstone two weeks ago.
Can Artam – iSport International (22nd, 2 points)
Artam spent just one year in GP2 before taking a step back from racing after being called into military service. He returned to the track in 2013 in the Turkish Touring Car Championship, and now runs his own racing academy in Turkey.
Ryan Sharp – David Price Racing (23rd, 2 points)
Sharp completed just half a season in GP2 in 2005 before moving into the WTCC for 2006 – winning the European Touring Car Cup the same year – and then into the FIA GT championship the year after that alongside Karl Wendlinger.
Fairuz Fauzy – DAMS (24th, 0 points)
Fauzy dotted around single seater championship following two years in GP2 in 2005 and 2006, scoring zero points from 44 races. He worked as a test driver for Spyker, Lotus Racing (which would become Caterham) and Lotus Renault (now Lotus F1 Team) in F1, and is now racing GTs from time to time.
Toni Vilander – Coloni Motorsport (25th, 0 points)
An odd inclusion given he only raced four times in GP2, but Vilander soon found great success in GT racing. Alongside Gianmaria Bruni, he has two class wins at Le Mans for AF Corse, and shared last year’s WEC GT title with the man he replaced at Coloni Motorsport in 2005. Another big success story that GP2 can claim, only just, some credit for.
Giorgio Mondini – David Price Racing (26th, 0 points)
Mondini raced just ten times in GP2, but worked as a test driver for both Midland and Renault in Formula 1. He finished ninth at Le Mans in 2009 for Colin Kolles’ team and tested for HRT F1 Team in 2011 before the team went out of business one year later.
Of course, many more drivers followed. Lewis Hamilton won the title in 2006, whilst Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean were champions in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Jules Bianchi and Sergio Perez cut their teeth in GP2 as well, and with the likes of Stoffel Vandoorne, Pierre Gasly and Raffaele Marciello all impressing in the series at the moment, the future is very bright for F1’s leading feeder series.
So happy birthday GP2. Thank you for the memories, and here’s to another ten years of continued success and great racing.