Pre-season favourite Jules Bianchi put himself on pole for the opening GP2 race of 2010 in Barcelona, ahead of Sergio Perez of Barwa Addax and his ART team-mate Sam Bird.
Racing Engineering’s Christian Vietoris and iSport’s Oliver Turvey are due to start fourth and fifth following a qualifying session during which no-one got within a quarter of a second of Bianchi – even though the Frenchman was forced to pack up early after a spin and a stall.
A total of 24 drivers will line up for the start of the main feeder series to Formula One, all acutely aware that the top three finishers in last year’s championship will be in action at the weekend as members of the F1 grid.
Nico Hulkenberg, Vitaly Petrov and Lucas di Grassi are just three of the 15 drivers who have made the step up during the five years of GP2’s history, with graduates ranging from world champion Lewis Hamilton to the less successful Scott Speed and Romain Grosjean – as well as the controversial Nelson Piquet Jr.
This year Bianchi is hotly tipped to repeat the achievements of both Hamilton and Hulkenberg by following up a title in F3 Euro Series with a GP2 championship for ART Grand Prix.
He has already been snapped up as a development driver by Ferrari, while British rival Turvey was recently added to McLaren’s books.
Turvey is funded by the Racing Steps Foundation, which supports talented but underfunded British drivers, and helped iSport to the GP Asia crown this winter by backing up runaway winner Davide Valsecchi.
He will be hoping the roles are reversed, while Surrey’s Sam Bird has no intention of conceding top spot at ART to Bianchi without a fight. The Englishman finished the GP2 Asia more strongly than his team-mate and rival, and was fastest in pre-qualifying practice.
Also likely to be there or thereabouts are perennial GP2 contender Pastor Maldonado for Rapax and former World Series by Renault champion Giedo van der Garde, driving alongside Perez at Barwa Addax.
Ocean’s Max Chilton is unlikely to feature at the front too often, but will see this year as a fine opportunity to learn and develop.