A1GP’s mid-season review
In its second season of competition, the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport has become into one of the most unpredictable and exciting racing series on the sporting calendar. Five Sprint races and five Feature races have produced seven different winners, with South Africa, Germany, Malaysia, Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland and New Zealand each notching up wins.
A1 Team Germany has been the revelation of this season so far, with lead driver Nico Hülkenberg firmly establishing himself as a competent, quick driver. Despite his young age, at 19 years old he’s one of the youngest pilots on the grid, and relative racing inexperience, the youngster from Emmerich on the German-Dutch border has been consistently fast all season.
Hülkenberg recorded the fastest time at the pre-season Silverstone test, even though the 550-bhp A1GP car was a huge step up from the Formula BMW machine he’d been driving until that point. His early pace set him out as one to watch and he certainly matched up to the public, and manager Willi Weber’s, expectations when he recorded the fastest time in the opening Zandvoort practice session. He delivered on the promise with a controlled, measured driver in the same weekend’s incident-filled, unpredictable Feature race to secure his nation’s first A1GP victory.
Hülkenberg has consistently been among the fastest drivers in the field, and has recorded points in 80% of the races so far to put Germany at the top of the nations’ standings. His victory in Malaysia was the proof of his potential when he scythed past more experienced drivers in torrential rain to win by more than 42secs.
Hülkenberg’s progress has not been without controversy, however. Twice this season, at Brno and Sepang, he has clashed with New Zealand’s Jonny Reid off the start, which ended both drivers’ races.
New Zealand has been at the top of the field throughout the first half of the season. Jonny Reid has scored three pole positions, the most of all teams, and notched up New Zealand’s first A1GP victory at the last race in Sentul, Indonesia. The ‘Black Beauty’ has been one of the most consistent teams so far, scoring points in the last five consecutive races to place the team in fifth position, just one point behind defending champions France.
France has been disappointed with the season progress so far. It’s been 14 races since the team’s last victory in Mexico; at the same point in the 2005/06 season, the team had already scored eight wins. It’s a small consolation will be that France notched up its 200th A1GP point in Sentul and Nicolas Lapierre has scored four podiums so far, and Loic Duval has shown promising form in the young driver and developing nations practice session. The second half of the year must be the time to open the 2006/07 victory account.
Great Britain, currently second in the nations’ title, has the highest average Qualifying position of the field, starting each race from an average fifth position. Oliver Jarvis and Robbie Kerr gave the team podiums in Beijing and Sepang, but that first victory is still proving elusive. However with just 12 points between Germany and Great Britain, Kerr and Jarvis’ consistency may well edge them ahead should Hülkenberg’s current form take a dive.
It’s not just the top two who are close at the top; the championship, at its festive season break, is wide open, with just 22 points separating the top seven. With a maximum possible 17 points up for grabs at each race weekend, the second half of the season looks to be just as close as the first. With 83% of the field scoring points this year, including newcomer nation Singapore, the lower positions are also hotly contested.
With this kind of open competition, we’re in for a close fight to the end of the championship!