x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Race to be champion

FROM THE F1 MAGAZINE - Formula One is not the only show on the track this weekend. The duel to decide who will win the GP2 series is the highlight of the support schedule, writes Graham Caygill

Fabio Leimer leads Sam Bird. GP2 Media Service
Fabio Leimer leads Sam Bird. GP2 Media Service

The Formula One drivers’ and constructors’ world championships may have already been wrapped up by Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing, but that does not mean there will not be any titles to be won at Yas Marina Circuit this weekend.

The GP2 series, the main support race on the weekend programme, returns to the UAE after a two-year absence.

The series is a stepping stone for drivers to reach F1, with 11 members of the current grid having competed in GP2 on their way up to the top echelon of motorsport.

Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Nico Hulkenberg, Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean are among the past champions in GP2, and three drivers are in contention to join those names in this weekend’s action, which is made up of a feature race on Saturday and a shorter, sprint race on Sunday.

The champion is likely to be the series leader Fabio Leimer or his nearest pursuer, Sam Bird.

Leimer, the Swiss driver, who competes for Racing Engineering, leads the way on 179 points, seven points ahead of Britain’s Bird.

Bird, speaking at the penultimate round of the season, in Singapore in September, said that simply being in contention for the title was beyond his ambitions at the start of the season, given he got a race seat with the Russian Time team shortly before the campaign began.

“It would be a phenomenal year if we could top it off and become GP2 champions,” he said on GP2’s official site.

A bullish Leimer said: “We’re still leading the series ahead of the final round of the season. That’s what really matters. We’re now looking forward to Abu Dhabi.”

Yas Marina is a familiar venue to GP2 drivers. A number of rounds of the GP2 Asia series were staged there before it merged with the main series, and Bird, 26, said he has fond memories of the track.

“I’ve got tons of experience there … I think I’ve been very quick there before,” he added.

“My first-ever GP2 race was in Abu Dhabi. I qualified on the front row with [Davide] Valsecchi and actually led the race.”

With a maximum 40 points to be won this weekend, the Brazilian Felipe Nasr, who is third, has an outside chance of the title; he trails Leimer by 31 points.

But he will need a strong weekend and problems for his two rivals for that to become a reality.

Making their first appearance at Yas this weekend is GP3, which will also have its title fight decided over the weekend. In contention are the Argentine racer Facu Regalia and the Russian Daniil Kvyat. Regalia leads the series by seven points.

There will be a sombre mood to the Porsche Supercup series, which is also in action over the weekend with two races.

Sean Edwards, the series leader, was killed in a car accident in Australia earlier this month. The Briton was a passenger in a Porsche during a coaching day in Queensland when it went off the road and crashed.

Edwards had held a lead of 18 points over Denmark’s Nicki Thiim with the two races at Yas Marina still to go, and both the series and the track will look to remember Edwards during the weekend’s action.