It’s become a good and a long-lasting tradition for GP3 Series to visit Estoril circuit, conveniently located near my Lisbon HQ, in early spring for a bit of fun in the rain and occasionally sunshine. Oh, how many cameras did get wet during these golden years (2012-2016)! Only two actually – your donations leave a lot to be desired, people. At least I could finally splash some cash on a brand new Sony monster zoom digital machine in 2015.
2016 is the year you MUST attend as many GP3 races as possible because the new GP3/16 car is amazing! The famous classic “bespoke Mecachrome 6 cylinder 3.4 litres naturally aspirated 400 HP at 8000 rpm” power plant plants its massive power on the asphalt via yet another classic, “bespoke six gear longitudinal gearbox designed by Hewland” (magic word for any petrolhead!) with a little help from Pirelli Motorsport. And check this out: “acceleration 0 to 200km/h: 7.7 seconds”, the best seconds of your life.
Mickey Mouse or snowman exhaust? Nah, twin jet is more like it! The “bespoke” sound coming out of the “bespoke” engine could be heard a couple of kilometres away and instantly attracted a buzzing crowd of enthusiastic fans (young and old) in the grandstands – the test is always open to the general public.
The new car features a low nose to go with the general F1 flow I suppose, albeit it’s an elegant design produced by Dallara for GP3/16, no thumbs or anteaters here.
The overall concept is the epitome of a modern junior category single-seater, you’ll certainly think about IndyLights machinery once or twice while admiring the GP3/16’s looks. The Italian Stallion’s half-brother in the U.S. of A. was also conceived in the belly of Dallara’s factory; where’s Felix Rosenqvist? Although I’m sure there’s nothing in common between the two cars, maybe we should ask Didier Perrin, GP3 Series Technical Director.
Driver line-up in 2016 is really promising (some familiar helmets there from my FIA European F3 visit to Portimão last year): Leclerc, Charles; de Vries, Nyck; Albon, Alexander; Alesi, Giuliano (Alesi Sr in the pits); Aitken, Jack; Dennis, Jake (Ron is in Woking, don’t worry, just remember that “more markedly than in many other fields of human endeavour, Formula One teams’ performance relative to their competitors is notoriously hard to predict, not least because their target never stays still”); Calderón, Tatiana; Parry, Matthew; Palou, Álex; Tereshchenko, Konstantin; Ferrucci, Santino; Fuoco, Antonio; Hughes, Jake; to name a few. Champions, multiple winners and rising stars. I’m sure other drivers outside my wish list are perfectly capable of doing a Ghiotto and have the power to surprise, no?
Many of these guys are Renault F1, Ferrari F1, McLaren/Honda F1 and Haas F1 junior drivers, hence why F1 team uniforms can be spotted in the GP3 paddock.
We’ll probably acknowledge that GP3 is extremely tough to get right: you must be in it to win it, the term “GP3 veteran” won’t look too good on your CV – it’s a tightrope. Finish in the top 3 and you can be racing in F1, IndyCar or GP2 next; get it wrong and you’ll find yourself behind the wheel of a Porsche GT in your local championship or running a family business and retiring from the sport at the tender age of 22. All young drivers are professional athletes these days, it’s incredible how the sport has developed over the years. We used to think guys like Lauda were pros, now a seven-year-old karting wonder will give you a PR speech in three different languages about being delighted and all that, we had a fast Pampers Birel ART kart pretty much all weekend, thank you very much.
DAMS are the new kids on the GP3 block this time; they win the best livery of the year award even before the season’s first official race in Barcelona in May.
Speaking of liveries, I noted a slight excess of red in the pit lane, not dissimilar to F1’s current obsession with grey and black. C’mon, no purple or green? Set your imagination free, graphic design departments of GP3!
Here’s how things stood at the end of day 1 in Estoril.
Testing will resume on Wednesday and will end on Thursday.
Please now take a few milliseconds of your time to enjoy my gallery of selected images from day 1 below.