26 down to 9

In a little over 24 hours, the roar of engines will fill the air at Sepang International Circuit as first Formula One then GP2 take to the track. For Formula One, it is the second race of the season and plenty of teams and drivers will be hoping for better luck. For GP2, the season is just getting under way. With Sky taking over coverage of the F1 feeder series, plenty of people will be watching for the first time. Rather than gice you the low down on all 26 drivers, here are the ones I think could challenge for the championship:

Davide Valsecchi (ITA) Drove last year for AirAsia (now Caterham). He won the Monaco feature race after Sam Bird stalled on the line, and has shone in pre-season testing. He is driving for DAMS, whose cars are predominantly yellow with some black (similar to the 2010 Renault F1 car).

Fabio Leimer (SUI) Struggled with previous teams, yet won the Barcelona sprint two years in a row, having finished 8th in the feature race to give him sprint pole each time. He sparkled for Racing Engineering in the GP2 final at Abu Dhabi, taking pole and a great feature win. This season he continues with the Spanish team, who drive in predominantly red cars with some yellow.

Marcus Ericsson (SWE) There aren’t many Scandinavians left in GP2, but here is one of them. He continues with iSport in their blue and red cars, and has been fast in pre-season testing.

Jolyon Palmer (GBR) The 2010 F2 runner-up had a poor season with Arden, and so it was a huge shock that he took his first points with a podium in the GP2 final. The son of Jonathan Palmer, who runs the F2 series, he has matched his iSport teammate in testing.

Esteban Gutierrez (MEX) Champion of GP3 in 2010, the Mexican continues with ART, who have been renamed Lotus and painted black and gold. He raced fantastically against Romain Grosjean in his debut season, and is expected to impress this year too.

James Calado (GBR) 2011 GP3 runner-up James may well disprove the idea that the new Pirellis will prevent any more rookie champions. He has more than matched his teammate Gutierrez in testing, and could bring ART/Lotus to win another GP2 championship.

Giedo van der Garde (NED) Having won the Formula Renault 3.5 championship in 2008, Giedo has found it harder in GP2. However, he did well at Addax last year and has now come to Caterham. Like ART, they have a familiar livery – this time the same green and yellow as Caterham. Van der Garde is high on the list of drivers likely to be 2012 champion.

Stefano Coletti (MON) Injured in the 2011 race at Spa, he quickly returned to fitness and has joined the brilliant Italian team of Scuderia Coloni. Stefano was the best GP3 graduate last year, and could well be the first Monegasque driver to join F1 in a long time. Coloni drive in red and white.

Max Chilton (GBR) Max is another driver who had a tough first season in GP2. It was Carlin’s first as well, and they all struggled together. However, pre-season testing has shown that the team, now partnered with Marussia F1 team, have really got it together. Max Chilton has been speedy in testing, and is set to get a win or two this year. Carlin’s livery is identical to that of the Marussia F1 team and all the Manor Motorsport/Manor MP liveries – red and black.

You may think I’m being terribly biased having three British drivers on here. However, I’d ask you to check the testing times and see for yourself. But for me, I think there’s a one-in-three chance of a British GP2 champion this year. I don’t think any of them are the top choice, but with a bit of luck… you never know!

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