Testing for this year’s GP2 main series began yesterday at a rainy Silverstone, as the next generation of F1 hopefuls struggled to come to grips with the twin challenges of the new Pirelli wet-weather tyres and pre-season favourite Romain Grosjean.
Unlike previous years, GP2 is using the same car for both the main series and the warm-up GP2 Asia series, meaning drivers do not have to spend this part of the season learning to handle a step up in power and complexity.
But there was still plenty of work to do as teams looked to apply knowledge gained in the unloved and truncated Asia series (two races in Abu Dhabi and two at Imola, after Bahrain was understandably cancelled) and also to learn more about new tyre supplier Pirelli.
For drivers hoping the season will bring them to the attention of Formula One teams, the biggest challenge might turn out to be how to handle Grosjean, a GP2 veteran who had an unsuccessful half-season with Renault in F1 after Nelson Piquet Jr departed.
Since then he has won both the Auto GP and GP2 Asia championships, and was fastest in day one of testing yesterday. For F1 teams assessing the new crop of talent, he represents a known quantity – and any driver who can’t beat him will have to explain why they still think they’re good enough to make the step up.
In the wet and blustery morning session Grosjean was a low-key 12th in the timesheets as ART’s Jules Bianchi set a 1:55.769 fastest lap, but when the afternoon dried out enough to allow slicks the Frenchman’s 1:40.725 was more than 0.6sec ahead of the rest of the field.
In the morning, British drivers Jolyon Palmer and Max Chilton were second and sixth quickest, while iSport’s Sam Bird recovered from a difficult first session to set the day’s fourth-fastest time in the afternoon.
Oliver Turvey, who raced for Ocean during GP Asia but was not retained, moved across to Carlin in place of Formula Renault 3.5 champion Mikhail Aleshin. The Russian was forced to surrender his seat for the test – and possibly the whole season – because of budget problems and it is not yet known who will compete for the team alongside Chilton.