The GP2 Series marks its seventh year as Formula 1's main feeder category with the introduction of its third generation of car for 2011. As always, the styling of the car has moved with the times and its silhouette mimics the current look of those at the pinnacle of the sport.
Technical bosses have admitted in the past that there were plenty of big changes needed when the popular first generation car was replaced at the end of the 2007 season. Lots had been learned during the first three years of the category, and the opportunity to introduce a new car allowed Dallara and GP2's technical team to come up with a well-honed package for 2008.
But the latest changes are not as widespread as those that took place three years ago. The actual chassis is the same as that of the '08 car, to prevent costs spiralling any further out of control. Many of the tweaks therefore are cosmetic this time round. The teams and drivers have already had plenty of track time with the new package thanks to pre-season testing and the two-round GP2 Asia campaign, so everybody should be in good shape for this weekend's season opener in Turkey.
Despite the smaller changes compared to three years ago, there's still more to it than simply bolting F1-shaped wings on the previous car. So AUTOSPORT has enlisted the help of GP2 race-winner Sam Bird to explain what's different about the cars taking to the track in 2011.
The 2011 GP2 Car resembles F1 styling © LAT
Bird: "The chassis is fundamentally the same, but the car looks very different from the outside because there is a massive update to the aero package. It's all the way through the car - the front wing and nose, the floor, the sidepods, the engine cover, the diffuser, the rear wing.
"The changes are to make the car look more like a Formula 1 car, but also to push the aero performance more towards that of F1.
"Because of the change of tyre we have this year [see below], it's a bit unfair to comment on how the changes have affected the balance of the car. But the aero is more efficient this year, and overall I think it's a fantastic package."
Bird: "The really crucial change this year is the tyre. Formula 1 has switched to Pirelli and so has GP2. The Pirelli performs completely differently to the Bridgestone, and it has a different lifespan. Last year in Barcelona I pitted on the first lap for a new front wing, and I drove 36 laps flat out, going as fast as I can and treating every lap like it was qualifying. I still had some life left in the tyres at the end of the race, but if I drove like that this year they would have been shot after just a handful of laps.
GP2 will use Pirelli tyres this year © LAT
"The Pirelli heats up differently to the Bridgestone, and its optimum temperature range is different as well. So the approach to the warm-up lap will have to change. We'll have to be careful with things like burnouts as well, because they will take life out of the rubber.
"It's not too difficult to make a car feel fantastic over one lap. But the key this year will be controlling the amount of sliding and oversteer from mid-corner to exit over a long run. That is the main thing with this package, because the rear tyres go off very quickly.
"So, much like in F1, tyre management is going to be crucial. In my opinion the person that is able to manage that situation better than anyone else this year is going to win the championship. Or in other words, the person that goes the slowest, the best!"
Under the skin - exhaust and gearbox
Bird: "A couple of major changes aside from the cosmetic ones are the exhaust exit and the gearbox. The exhaust comes out between the planes of the rear wing now, so it's much higher up than in the past. I think we'll be burning the eye lashes of our mechanics when they start the car!
The 2011 GP2 engine has been supplied by Mecachrome © LAT
"Along with the short first gear, the amount of clutch slip is different for this year. Before, you could just dump the clutch and away you went. But you have to think about it a little bit more this year.
"I think the reason for the change was to reduce the risk of people stalling on the grid. They've made it easier to get the car off the line, but it has made it more challenging to make a perfect start on a regular basis."
Effect on the racing
A wider front wing may cause some contact © LAT
Bird: "The guys at GP2 and Dallara were working hard to get us to race even more closely than in the past. But I think that at the speeds we are doing and the way the aero of the car behaves in high-speed corners means it will still be very difficult. But that doesn't mean we won't all be giving it a go.
"The front wing is a lot wider this year, so when you are racing at close quarters, particularly on the first lap, it may be easier to trip over each other's front wings. We haven't had too many problems so far [in the Asia Series], but now I've said that I've probably jinxed it!"
Bird: "If you were to ask the man in the street what the car was, he would probably say it was a Formula 1 car. That's great for us. The lap time difference between F1 and GP2 is not going to close with this car. But in terms of the driving style that you need to be quick in GP2, and the way that you need to think about tyre management, this does bring us closer. It's a step in the right direction, and I think we have a fantastic package for this year."
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