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GP3 Preview – Can anyone break the ART dominance?

Joe Portlock / GP3 Series Media Service.

After three two-day tests over the winter in Jerez, Barcelona and Le Castellet, six teams and 20 drivers will return to Barcelona this weekend for the start of the 2018 season.

A merger with the FIA Formula 3 European Championship in 2019 will see the 2018 champion go down in history as the last ever GP3 champion. Here are the contenders for this year’s crown:

ART GRAND PRIX

Reigning ART Grand Prix are back as always with another strong four car team and will be looking to replicate their domination of the championship from 2017, where they claimed the title with Mercedes Junior driver George Russell and finished 1-2-3-4 in the points table. Only Niko Kari for Arden International in Abu Dhabi stopped the team winning every qualifying-formed race of last season.

Callum Ilott testing for ART Grand Prix at Circuit Jerez, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain
Photo: Joe Portlock/GP3 Series Media Service.

Rookie Callum Ilott, 19, joins the team fresh from signing a deal with the Ferrari Driver Academy. Ilott finished fourth in the FIA Formula Three European Championship with seven wins including a commanding victory at the Macau GP Qualification Race comes in on top form. The Brit will be looking to challenge at the front straight away and claim a long-awaited first car title, as well as using GP3 as a springboard into the Formula Two series after taking part in the British F2 round at Silverstone last season.

Fellow Brit Jake Hughes returns to the series after competing for DAMS in 2016, finishing in eighth. Hughes finished one place behind Ilott in last year’s F3 European Championship and will have to get the better of his team mate if he wants to claim a first title since his BRDC British Formula 4 win in 2013. Both drivers will have to be fast in understanding the GP3/16 chassis as they will be teamed with second year driver Anthoine Hubert. Hubert, who finished fourth in last year’s championship, will be looking to use his experience to lead the team towards an eighth teams title in nine years as well as claim his first GP3 race victory. Hubert will also be confident from being fastest in the final test at Barcelona, the host for this weekend’s opening round. The final driver on the ART rota for 2018 is Nikita Mazepin. The 19-year-old Russian has been testing for the Force India Formula One team for the past two seasons but will have a point to prove after only one race win since his move from karting in 2014.

TEAM TRIDENT

Team Trident were best of the rest in 2017 and are looking to take the challenge to ART with its own four driver line-up that is flooded with experience. Ferrari Academy Driver Giuliano Alesi will lead the team in his third season in the series, continuing his relationship with Trident that lead to three reverse grid wins in 2017. Alesi was quick in the official Barcelona test sessions and that will only boost his confidence for the opening round. Ryan Tveter also returns with the squad. The American showed some strong form throughout 2017 but non-scores in Barcelona, Silverstone and Jerez left the the rookie eighth in the championship. Italy’s Alessio Lorandi, 20, joins the squad from Jenzer Motorsport. Lorandi had a strong start to 2017 but suffered from a mid-season dip including no points in Belgium and Italy which left him seventh in the championship, just ahead of new team mate Tveter. With a year’s experience like Hubert, both Tveter and Lorandi will be want to add consistency to their points scoring to mount a true challenge in the championship. The fourth seat at Trident was a late deal for Pedro Piquet, after testing for the squad throughout the series’ official winter tests. As the only rookie in the team, Piquet will have plenty of experience around him to get up to speed with the car and the series.

JENZER MOTORSPORT

Tatiana Calderon (COL, Jenzer Motorsport)
Photo: Joe Portlock / GP3 Series Media Service.

Third in the team championship in 2017, Jenzer Motorsport will be looking to make the improvements to be championship contenders for the final GP3 season. An ever present team in GP3, Jenzer started the 2017 season as a two-car squad and won two races with Arjun Maini, who has moved to Formula Two and Alessio Lorandi, who has joined Trident. American Juan Manuel Correa joined in a third car but failed to score during his seven outings for the team. Correa stays with the squad for a full season and is joined by rookie David Beckmann. The 18-year-old German will need to get up to speed quickly after two seasons in Formula Three yielded a season best of 15th. With a relatively inexperienced line-up, Jenzer went for third-year driver Tatiana Calderón. The Alfa Romeo Sauber Development Driver for the past two seasons, Calderón is joining her third team after debuting with Arden International and racing for DAMS last year. Each season has shown an improvement but Calderón will need to show consistent point scoring this year to lead the team as expected.

ARDEN INTERNATIONAL

Arden International will looking to reach the heights of their 2012 and 2013 season, when they claimed the title with New Zealander Mitch Evans and Russian Daniil Kvyat. The squad have entered the 2018 season with Julien Falchero, who joins from Campos Racing to lead the team. Falchero will be joined by two rookies in fellow Frenchman Gabriel Aubry and Australian Joey Mawson. All three drivers showed pace during the official winter tests and all have the speed to be scoring points and podiums from the start of the season; whether they have the consistency to build a championship challenge remains to be seen.

CAMPOS RACING

Campos Racing have only won two races in their three seasons in GP3 but have years of pedigree in other junior categories. One of those wins came last year in Austria – Raoul Hyman and the squad will need to build on this in 2018. Campos have also gone for one driver with GP3 experience in Leonardo Pulcini. Italian Pulcini was a double champion in 2016 when he claimed both the EuroFormula Open and Spanish Formula Three Championships. This form continued into 2017, where Pulcini finished second in the opening sprint race. Sadly for the Roman, he only scored once more after that, scoring two points for the fastest lap in Hungary. If he can find the pace and consistency from the start of his GP3 career, Pulcini could be a strong championship contender. Matching Arden, Campos have added two rookies to their squad. Mexican Diego Menchaca moves over from Fortec Motorsport and the World Series Formula V8 3.5 series, where he claimed one podium finish and could keep Pulcini on his toes. 19-year-old Simo Laaksonen is the youngest driver in the team and, like many drivers, steps across from the EuroFormula Open, where he finished sixth in 2017.

MP MOTORSPORT

Dutch squad MP Motorsport has joined the GP3 grid for the first time, expanding on its Formula Two team, and has signalled their intent to compete for the championship with their signings. Dorian Boccolacci won the final race of the 2017 season and moves across from the Trident squad. Boccolacci put together a strong debut season and will be the fifth French driver on the grid meaning the country will make up one quarter of the opening round’s grid.

Dorian Boccolacci (FRA, MP Motorsport) is expected to be a championship contender.
Photo: Joe Portlock/GP3 Series Media Service.

Niko Kari also joins the team with a years experience and will be out on track with a point to prove. Kari has finished tenth in his previous two seasons, in the Formula Three European Series and GP3 respectively and was dropped by the Red Bull Junior squad in August 2017. With the pressure off, the Finn claimed his first series win in the final round’s sprint race. The move to MP Motorsport will give him a fresh start to show the form from 2015, where he claimed seven wins on his way to a dominant title in Formula Four. Both Kari and Boccolacci have shown well in winter testing and are expected to be in contention to break the ART domination in the series.

They will be joined by the third British driver on the grid, Will Palmer. The Brit signed for the squad after a successful test at Barcelona. Palmer, whose father Jonathan and brother Jolyon both made it to Formula One, has admitted he will have a steep learning curve after missing most of the winter testing programme but he could spring a surprise or two with his form which saw him finish second in 2017 Formula Renault Eurocup 2.0.

What we do know from previous GP3 seasons is that anything can happen but this could possibly be the most competitive yet, with nine rookies out of the 20 drivers looking to claim the GP3 title. The race to become the final GP3 champion is on!

 

TIMETABLE FOR ROUND 1 – BARCELONA 

Practice 1 – Friday 11th May – 08:30GMT

Qualifying – Friday 11th May – 16:50GMT

Race 1 – Saturday 12th May – 09:15GMT

Race 2 – Sunday 13th May – 09:25GMT

 

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