The 12-round GP2 season, which is being supplied by Pirelli for the second consecutive year, gets underway this weekend at Sepang, supporting the Malaysian Grand Prix.
The drivers will have two types of Pirelli’s slick tyres at their disposal, as is the case in Formula One. The hard and the medium tyres have been nominated for Malaysia, with similar prominent colour markings to their Formula One counterparts. With six GP2 champions – including reigning champion Romain Grosjean – on the Formula One grid this year, the role of Formula One’s official feeder series has never been more prominent, underlining Pirelli’s commitment to bringing on young talent.
Four sets of P Zero slick tyres and three sets of wet weather tyres will be made available to each driver for the Sepang race weekend. The slick allocation consists of three sets of P Zero Silver hard tyres and one set of P Zero White medium tyres, which should last for around five laps less than the hard compound but are around 0.3 seconds per lap quicker.
Pirelli’s wet GP2 tyres – which are likely to feature prominently in the tropical conditions of Malaysia – are available in just one pattern, able to tackle a wide range of wet conditions from a damp track to torrential rain.
Although the GP2 tyres are the same 13-inch size as their Formula One equivalents, the compound and construction is quite different to reflect the different forces and parameters that the identical GP2 cars operate within. Nonetheless, the overall lap times are reasonably close, with a GP2 car expected to be around 10 seconds slower than a Formula One car over the 5.543-kilometre track.
Malaysia is one of the biggest tests that the Pirelli tyres will face all year, due to the high temperatures and demanding track conditions, as well as the risk of monsoon-like rain. In particular the track surface is extremely abrasive, with the rear tyres having to work hard to provide traction out of the many hairpins. There are a wide variety of speeds and corners at the Sepang circuit, making it similar to Barcelona in terms of circuit layout. The final pre-season GP2 test took place at the Circuit de Catalunya earlier this month, with former GP3 champion Esteban Gutierrez emerging quickest for Carlin.
As always, the GP2 race weekend in Malaysia will consist of one half-hour practice session and one half-hour qualifying, followed by two races. The qualifying session determines the order of the grid for Race One on Saturday, which takes place over one hour. Each driver must complete one compulsory pit stop during which a minimum of two tyres must be changed – but the drivers do not have to use both compounds during the race.
The grid for Race Two on Sunday is determined by the finishing order of the first race, with the top eight positions reversed. Race Two is run over 45 minutes, with no compulsory pit stops.
Pirelli’s racing manager Mario Isola commented: “The emphasis for us in GP2, the final stepping stone to Formula One, is on teaching our young drivers everything they need to know about the top level of racing. Tyre management is a vital part of those skills, and so we try to ensure that the tyre rules are as similar as possible to Formula One, including a compulsory pit stop during race one. In Malaysia, we expect the young drivers to be challenged physically as much as the tyres, with ambient temperatures of 40 degrees centigrade or more expected. The new range of GP2 tyres for 2012 is designed to close up the performance gap between the compounds, just as is the case in Formula One, so that the drivers are as well-prepared for our Formula One tyres as possible. If you look at the performance of Romain Grosjean in Australia, who was our first GP2 champion last year, the theory seems to be working.”