All winners of the F1 feeder series GP2 have gone on to become Formula One drivers the following year, with one exception. 2008 champion Giorgio Pantano, who spent his year as GP2 title holder driving for A.C. Milan in the Superleague Formula.
There are many reasons Pantano did not drive Formula One in 2009. He took the title in his 4th year of GP2, plus the 3 years he had in the predecessor series, F3000. He didn’t have a particularly big amount of sponsoring money available. Mainly, he had already had a chance in 2004 with Jordan, when he was replaced by Timo Glock with 3 races to go, after having failed to impress and being sorely beaten by team mate Nick Heidfeld.
Romain Grosjean has yet to win GP2, but he has a good mid-season lead and has won the Asian spin-off (twice, in fact). So it’s time to look at his options for next season, provided he keeps his lead and becomes GP2 champion.
One thing is certain, he won’t be driving GP2, as champions are not allowed to go on in the series. And even if they where, he could only lose, so he wouldn’t do it. What about a step (back) up to F1? Well, he’d have to find a team with an open drive.
The obvious first choice would be Renault, as he is (one of five) reserve driver for the French team. But they already have more than enough candidates, above all Robert Kubica who is expected to make his comeback for the winter tests at the latest. And as long as Petrov doesn’t make any enormous mistake, his rubles guarantee his seat. With the other 4 top teams set to keep their current line-up, he has to look to the middle and bottom of the grid, in particular to the Renault-powered teams who might want a French man at the wheel. Since he is managed by Gravity, owned by the same people as Renault F1, he isn’t likely to be allowed to drive for Team Lotus. And Williams’ Adam Parr has stated he would probably keep his drivers for 2012.
The other mid-pack teams, namely Sauber, Force India and Toro Rosso, already have enough or too many potential drivers (unless Ferrari decides to give Massa the boot and hire Perez instead, but even then Gutierrez would probably take the open seat). So that leaves HRT and Virgin. Not the first choices for a would-be F1 driver. And even those drives are overbooked, with Liuzzi, Ricciardo and Karthikeyan, plus a few Spanish drivers including Javier Villa competing for two HRT seats, and Glock and D’Ambrosio firmly in their Virgin cars, with Robert Wickens only waiting for a chance to step in.
Would Grosjean take a job as reserve/test driver (which he in fact already has), perhaps with guaranteed Friday runs, as a filler until a seat opens up in 2013? That would be a risky move, as a new crop of talents will come up from WSR and GP2 at the end of 2012, making cars even more sparse.
Unfortunately, there are not many other alternatives. Grosjean has already won the AutoGP series and won races in GT1, no point going back there. So if he wants to stay in open-wheel racing, he might have to follow Pantano’s path and drive in the Superleague Formula. Or he could go across the pond and try to find fresh momentum in IndyCars.
However it goes, we wish Romain good luck and success in his future career. Hang in there.