The GP2 and GP2 Asia series will unite in November, with the first race being a special event during the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix race weekend
GP2 unification is the way forward for F1's class of tomorrow
NURBURG // There is no doubting that the GP2 series, since its inception in 2005, has been a widespread success.
And yet GP2 Asia, the continental spin-off launched three years after the original series, struggled to leave a mark before it was announced it would next season be unified with the main series.
"Merging the two makes sense," Bruno Michel, the chief executive of GP2, told The National from the sidelines of the Nurburgring, where he watched Romain Grosjean extend his GP2 championship lead during the weekend's two races at the German track.
"I don't think it's better for the Asian series or better for the main series, it's just better for the whole thing in general.
"The season will be longer, there will be more races on Formula One weekends and drivers will learn more circuits that they'll have to drive if they reach F1, so it makes sense for everyone."
When the launch of GP2 Asia was announced at the Monaco Grand Prix in 2007, much was made of developing talent and growing a motorsport culture in the region.
Michel, a Frenchman, said the "essential key" to the embryonic series' success was maintaining close links to Formula One, as well as ensuring the GP2 Asia races featured as support events at Asia-based grands prix.
The 2008 F1 season ran from March to November and featured six grands prix on the continent, but GP2 Asia, in running from January to April, was able to be included on the undercard of races only in Malaysia and Bahrain.
The remainder of the Asian rounds were stand-alone events held in Indonesia and Dubai.
The inaugural title was won by Grosjean, a Frenchman, who would go on to race for Renault in F1 in 2009 before coming back to the series after failing to impress in the seven races he had in the top echelon of motorsport.
Michel encouraged the teams to blood Asian drivers, and in the inaugural season they were urged to hire at least one driver not from Europe or the Americas. But only seven of the 31 featured drivers were from the Middle East or Asia.
By 2009 that figure had dropped to nine Asians from 43 drivers and this season's roster features only one Asian driver, Fairuz Fauzy of Malaysia.
"Some guys used the Asian series as practice for the main, but it's difficult to find a budget to race GP2 Asia alongside the main series," said Fauzy, who served last season as a reserve driver for Team Lotus and this season with Renault.
"When you try to do them at the same time it's not possible, so merging the two is much fairer."
Pastor Maldonado, the 2010 GP2 champion who now drives for Williams in F1, agrees.
"It's better that they have merged because the main series was always the main series," said the Venezuelan, who raced only once in GP2 Asia, in Malaysia.
"For sure, the level in the Asian series was not the same, but it gave drivers more experience and as many drivers had money to do both championships, they were arriving at the main championships having already done many kilometres. Now it will be more equal."
The most recent GP Asia series featured only four races, two of which took place in Italy after events planned for Bahrain were cancelled due to civil unrest in the country.
Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina Circuit opened the season in February and, despite struggling for spectators, organisers announced last week that Yas Marina will host a one-off race later this year.
Billed as the GP2 Final, the single-race event will support the UAE capital's grand prix on November 13 and aims to provide teams with a chance to experiment with young drivers as they prepare for next season's campaign.
"We wanted to go back to Abu Dhabi this year," Michel said. "So when we decided to merge the two series, we had two options: to make Abu Dhabi the last race of this season or to do a stand-alone single event."
Making Abu Dhabi the season-ending race would have resulted in a lengthy break between the current season-ender in Monza, Italy and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix two months later. "That obviously was not ideal," Michel said.
Instead, an entirely separate, stand-alone race featuring all 13 teams will take place, providing racing marques an opportunity to give experience to young drivers hoping to compete in the series next year.
Pirelli, the official tyre supplier to both GP2 and F1, have recently offered prize money to the highest finishing driver from the GP3 series to take part in the final.
Malek Al Rashedi, the senior director of corporate governance at Yas Marina Circuit, said he is delighted for Abu Dhabi to host an event that could provide an early glimpse of a future F1 world champion.
"GP2 has proved itself to be the platform for new drivers to enter F1," he said.
"As such, Yas Marina Circuit has always been happy to host the championship, whether that be as a stand-alone event or as part of the F1 weekend.
"This year's Final, with the added incentive of the prize money, is sure to supply our ticket buyers with entertainment and the drivers with that all important chance to impress the F1 fraternity."
Sergio Perez, who finished second in GP2 last year behind Maldonado and now races in Formula One for Sauber, said the GP2 Final will provide a perfect opportunity to young drivers looking to make the eventual step up and join him in the F1 paddock.
"Obviously, it does not guarantee anything, but it's a good signal if you can stand out and do better than all the others," he said. "If you can do that, then you have a good chance to get into Formula One."