GP2's tag as Formula 1's feeder series has been well earned. In the four years since it arrived on the motorsport landscape, the FOM-backed championship has delivered no less than seven drivers to F1. The series can already boast to be Lewis Hamilton's last stop before becoming world champion, and as the 2009 line-ups take shape, over one third of the confirmed grid is made up of ex-GP2 drivers. Nico Rosberg (Williams), Kazuki Nakajima (Williams), Timo Glock (Toyota), Sebastien Buemi (Toro Rosso), Nelson Piquet Jr (Renault), Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren) and Hamilton (McLaren) have all graduated straight from GP2 to F1. But who's next? Here are five current GP2 drivers who have the potential to be F1's next bright young thing.
The French pretty much invented motorsport, but times have been lean since Alain Prost's retirement from F1 in 1993. Renault's success has provided just enough sustenance to keep the French motorsport fans going, but they are desperate for a top quality driver to get their teeth into. Enter Romain. The 22-year-old won the Swiss and French Formula Renault titles on his way to GP2 where he had the perfect debut season in the inaugural GP2 Asia Series. A double win at the first weekend of the championship set the tone and Grosjean eased to overall victory with a round to spare. A composed young driver with impressive race craft, his form held in the GP2 Series last year where he raced to fourth overall picking up six podiums and two race wins on the way. He's also a member of the Renault driver development programme and spent time in 2008 test driving for the F1 team. Grosjean is rumoured to have signed for the Campos team in GP2 this year, but if Piquet Jr doesn't perform well in the first quarter of the season we could see Grosjean racing a Renault F1 car as early as this summer.
At 21, 11 years after making his karting debut, Nico has already (deep breath): secured a Williams F1 test seat, won the A1GP title for his native Germany, beaten Grosjean in the F3 Masters race, won the Formula 3 Euroseries and forced his way into contention for this year's GP2 Asia title despite missing the first two rounds of the championship. I reckon by that age my finest sporting achievement was learning how to carry for pints from the bar to the pool table. He's the second Nico, after Rosberg, to make a bid for all the German motorsport fans left roaming for a new Messiah to fill Schumi's shoes and if he can keep the momentum going in this year's GP2 main Series then I'd expect to see him racing an F1 car in perhaps two season's time. He's in good hands this year by the way, having signed for ART, the French team who powered Rosberg, Hamilton and Grosjean to GP2 titles.
Lucas di Grassi
Just really damn quick and very mature behind the wheel, Lucas is another member of the Renault driver development scheme. He'll almost certainly be at Racing Engineering for the 2009 GP2 Series – they're the team that took Giorgio Pantano to the title last year – and if by some conspiracy of fates he doesn't make it into F1 he's got the ability to excel somewhere like IndyCar or DTM within the next two years.
He's already spent time testing for the Renault F1 team and outscored everyone in GP2 in the second half of last season, when he was vying for the title despite missing the first six races of the season.
India's first realistic hope for an F1 star, KC - or Brackley's fastest Indian as his Silverstone based iSport team dubbed him last year – is part of the Red Bull young driver scheme and could have a ready-made platform to launch an F1career thanks to Force India. Karun has showed moments of brilliance in his two seasons in GP2 but has lacked the consistency of a di Grassi or a Grosjean, but he's well aware that with an Indian Grand Prix on the horizon and Vijay Mallya's Force India team in the paddock the planets could be aligning for a crack at F1. Speaking in August last year Chandhok said "It's not rocket science. There's an Indian team and an Indian driver running at the front of F1's feeder series. I have a very good relationship with Vijay, we've been family friends for 20 years, so have conversations about motorsport all the time."
Yet another member of an F1 development programme, this time Toyota's. Kobayashi has certainly put in the hours when it comes to GP2 – he's competed in three GP2 Series championships in 12 months. That's GP2 Asia 2007/08, GP2 Series 08 and GP2 Asia 08/09. He's currently leading the GP2 Asia championship and it would go a long way to convincing Toyota he deserves a spot in F1 should he win it (the GP2 Asia organisers would also be delighted to have a Japanese driver take the title). Should he fail to impress this year though that could be it for the 22-year-old as far as F1 goes, just two months ago he told GP2's official magazine "I have to have a good result in GP2, and I have to be in F1 in 2010 or I think I will have missed my chance."