With four races of the new Formula 1 season already down ahead of last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, it was the turn of its two main feeder series to get underway for 2016.
GP2 and GP3 have produced a big chunk of the F1 grid, with Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Romain Grosjean, Esteban Gutierrez and Valtteri Bottas being just five of the drivers to pass through the ranks.
2015 GP2 champion Stoffel Vandoorne made an immediate impression on his F1 debut in Bahrain earlier this year, while GP3 winner Esteban Ocon is another highly-rated youngster on the books of both Mercedes and Renault.
Here’s our round-up the opening weekend of the GP2 and GP3 seasons in Spain.
GP2 – Gasly leads; Nato, Lynn the winners
The opening round of the GP2 Series season proved to be a successful one for Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly and championship newcomers Prema Powerteam – even if a win eluded both parties.
Gasly’s curious record of not winning a race since his title-winning Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 campaign back in 2013 looked set to end after he claimed pole position on Friday evening.
While he remained in the fight for the race win for much of Saturday’s feature race, it was fellow Frenchman Norman Nato who picked up his maiden GP2 victory instead.
Nato managed to stick with Gasly through the opening stint of the race with Russian youngster Sergey Sirotkin piling pressure on the lead duo in P3, only to spin out and spark a safety car period.
Once the drivers had pitted for fresh tires, Nato grew stronger while Gasly struggled on the soft compound rubber, leaving him powerless to stop the Racing Engineering driver from sweeping into the lead.
Nato was able to ease home to pick up his first GP2 victory, while Canadian racer Nicholas Latifi scored his first podium by passing Gasly late on to finish second, leaving the Prema racer to complete the all-Francophone podium.
Ex-Ferrari youngster Raffaele Marciello started Sunday’s sprint race from pole position after finishing eighth on Saturday, but was powerless to stay in the lead for long at the start. Williams development driver Alex Lynn made a good start from P3 to power past Jordan King for second on the first lap before picking off Marciello for the lead two laps later.
Gasly followed suit, passing both King and the ailing Marciello quickly before setting off in pursuit of Lynn to set up a battle that would rage on to the checkered flag. Lynn’s defence proved mighty though, allowing him to claim his first win of the season – albeit by just three-tenths of a second.
In second, Gasly ensured that he left Spain as the championship leader ahead of Nato and Lynn, while King was able to complete the podium on Sunday and give Racing Engineering the joint-lead of the teams’ championship with DAMS.
GP3 – ART class from Leclerc and Albon
Following his strong showing in F3 last year, newly-appointed Ferrari junior Charles Leclerc lived up to his pre-season billing as GP3 title favorite by winning on debut with ART Grand Prix.
Leclerc started third on Saturday behind DAMS drivers Jake Hughes and Kevin Joerg on the grid, but a lightning start saw him sweep into the lead at the first corner.
From there, the Monegasque youngster never looked back, storming to a debut victory by six seconds from Hughes. Leclerc’s teammate Nirei Fukuzumi also reached the podium, finishing third ahead of Ferrari academy member Antonio Fuoco.
ART’s strong start to the season continued on Sunday when Thailand’s Alexander Albon scored his first GP3 victory, charging from fourth on the grid to sweep around the outside of pole-sitter Oscar Tunjo at Turn 1 on the first lap.
Albon followed the example set by Leclerc on Saturday to lead the remainder of the race in a somewhat processional affair, leading home Tunjo and Fuoco at the checkered flag.