The final seats for the GP2 grid were confirmed Thursday night (cutting it somewhat fine) so I felt it was time to preview the upcoming season.

Of last years top six, all but James Calado (ART GP) have departed GP2 for F1, except for Razia who leaves GP2 with unconfirmed plans after his funding issues at Marussia. Many are picking Calado as the favourite for the year, and after his promising debut last year which netted him two wins and another five podiums, I can’t help but agree.

However, he will have competition, with an increasingly promising line-up of drivers revealing itself as the winter months drew on. The most interesting pairing for me is that of RUSSIAN TIME, the team replacing iSport in the category after the Norfolk team sadly decided to step down and sell up it’s GP2 outfit. After testing a promising host of drivers in pre-season runs (Dillman, F2 champion Bacheta, Frijins, Zanella), they signed Tom Dillman and Sam Bird, both of whom have previous GP2 form, and wins.

Photo: Alastair Staley/GP2 Series Media

Photo: Alastair Staley/GP2 Series Media

Dillman had already topped two days of GP2 testing with previous tests for Hilmer Motorsport, and it will be interested to see how he fairs over a full season, as he is often mentioned, popping up driving for a raft of teams in GP2 over the recent years. Sam Bird, Mercedes F1 test driver, raced in GP2 in 2010 and 2011, taking one win and six podiums before finishing third in the WSR FR3.5 series in 2012, finishing behind Jules Bianchi and Robin Frijins, who is Sauber’s reserve driver.

Alongside this experienced pairing, there are a group of drivers remaining in GP2 who showed promise last year, including Palmer (Carlin), Cecotto Jr. (who mixes it up at Arden with an all-or-nothing approach, and has seemingly opening up 2013 on the erratic side with his qualifying session incident with Bird), Ericsson & Richelmi (DAMS), Nasr (Carlin), Leimer (Racing Engineering). These guys will be gunning for the championship this year, if they are not to fall off the F1 radar.

Stepping up from other series include GP3 champion Evans (Arden), his rivals from GP3 Abt (ART GP) and Daly (Hilmer); and Quaife-Hobbs (MP) from a championship-winning year in Auto GP.

Overall, the grid has a lot of talent onboard and it promises to be an interesting season. Expectations will be on Calado to clinch the championship this year, particularly after such a promising début season – but I imagine he will have his work cut out, as the GP2 series tours with the F1 circus around Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Sam Bird expects RUSSIAN TIME to be able to race for the title, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be several other teams and drivers in contention too.