Red Bull Junior Team prospects Pierre Gasly and Alex Lynn will compete in the 2015 GP2 Series for DAMS, in a move that signals a major shift for Red Bull, DAMS, and GP2 as a whole.
For the first time since 2008, DAMS will field a lineup consisting of two drivers in their first full season of GP2 Series competition. And both drivers arrive with strong championship credentials and the backing of one of the most powerful driver development programmes in motorsport - who now lend their support to Formula One's premiere junior series after several years of exile.
Pierre Gasly, the native of Rouen, does not turn 19 years old until February. He joined Caterham Racing in the GP2 Series at the Monza round, failing to score points in six luckless races with the outgoing team. But even a small, frustrating sample size last year did not even managed to dent his impressive CV - one that includes a championship in the prestigious Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 series in 2013, a championship that can also claim Williams Martini Racing drivers Valtteri Bottas (2008) and Felipe Massa (2000) as former champions.
Gasly spent the 2014 season primarily in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, driving for Arden International. Despite not winning a race, Gasly finished the year as vice-champion of the series. He secured his place as the highest-ranked rookie with seven podium finishes, a total of fifteen points-paying finishes, and no retirements in seventeen races - a steady, consistent approach that allowed him to ultimately finish ahead of fellow rookies Roberto Merhi, and Oliver Rowland, his main challenger in Eurocup. Gasly drove for DAMS in the GP2 winter tests at Yas Marina Circuit, setting the fastest times in four of the six sessions held over three days in November.
"The first tests we did together in Abu Dhabi really boosted my confidence," Gasly said. "I felt at home in the team and I hit it off with all the guys straight away so I was on the pace from day one. GP2 is a very competitive championship and I know I’m going to have to do a lot of hard work. Obviously my aim is the drivers’ title. I’m in the best team and I’ll have the resources to achieve this objective."
His teammate, Alex Lynn, comes to DAMS as the reigning champion of the GP3 Series. Born in Essex, Lynn moved into GP3 this year as the most recent winner of the prestigious Macau Grand Prix Formula 3 race. That victory, along with an impressive third place in his first full season in the FIA European Formula 3 Championship, helped secure a place at the Red Bull Junior Team for 2014. Lynn did not disappoint in his first year racing for Carlin in GP3 - his three wins were only bested by runner-up Dean Stoneman's five victories, but Lynn steadily put the title out of reach over the course of the season by finishing the last fourteen consecutive races in the points, and clinching the title in Abu Dhabi in a dominant championship campaign. Lynn is also the final champion of the Formula Renault 2.0 UK series, before it was disbanded after the 2011 season.
Lynn tested for both Carlin and ART Grand Prix at the winter tests, but now he's aligned with Gasly at the team that has fielded three of the last four GP2 Series champions. "I am delighted to be racing with DAMS in 2015. Their record in the last few years speaks for itself and there’s nowhere else I wanted to be in GP2 - it’s a fantastic opportunity for me and I’d like to thank them for giving me this break. My aim is to fight for the Championship. It’s a long time since anybody won GP2 in their first year, but if we can get off to a solid start there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to fight for wins and podiums straight away."
Team principal Jean-Paul Driot had this to say about his new team: "After the brilliant season we had in 2014 it’ll be difficult to do better! Obviously our aim is to keep our titles and I’m delighted to welcome Pierre Gasly and Alex Lynn to the team. It’s the youngest driver line-up we’ve ever had in GP2, but we’ve got two exceptionally talented guys who have a great future ahead of them. Although the overall level in the championship will again be very high, I’m confident that with these drivers DAMS will prove worthy of its rank."
In recent years, veteran drivers including Davide Valsecchi, Marcus Ericsson, and Jolyon Palmer (pictured above) have led the charge for DAMS in GP2 with at least four years of experience in the series. Ericsson is now set to enter his second Formula 1 season with Sauber, while Valsecchi and Palmer are former GP2 champions. In fact, this will be the first season DAMS fields a true rookie in GP2 since Ericsson's new teammate, Felipe Nasr, made his debut in the series in 2012.
When Gasly joined the GP2 grid on a part-time basis last season, it marked the first time that a Red Bull Junior Team driver had competed in the series since Sebastien Buemi in 2008. Since then, the demanding programme that has produced four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel, and new Red Bull lead driver Daniel Ricciardo, have opted to place their top drivers in FR3.5 instead of GP2 - including Vettel, Ricciardo, as well as Jaime Alguersuari, Jean-Eric Vergne, and incoming rookie Carlos Sainz, Jr. However, with the announcement of a revamped FIA Super License points system that awards fifty points to the champion of the GP2 Series and only thirty out of the necessary forty to the champion of Formula Renault 3.5 Series, this strategy employed by Red Bull Junior Team mastermind Dr. Helmut Marko will now be less beneficial to Red Bull junior drivers going forward.
And by adding Alex Lynn to the mix, and now having Pierre Gasly competing on a full-time basis, the GP2 Series - which has faced strong criticism in recent years for its race structure that trends towards favoring tenure and sheer experience over pure talent - may have inherited the strongest class of promising prospects that the series has seen in half a decade. The two top drivers of the Red Bull Junior Team will now join 2014 GP2 vice-champion Stoffel Vandoorne, the top driver in the McLaren Young Driver Programme, as well as the Ferrari Driver Academy's leading prospect, Raffaele Marciello.