Fabio Leimer: The lost GP2 champion

Who won the 2013 GP2 Series championship? Even for the die-hard motorsport fan, this question can be a brainteaser. It wasn’t Sam Bird, nor was it Alexander Rossi. Jolyon Palmer had to wait another year and Davide Valsecchi had just left the class. So who was it? Feeder Series highlights the career of Fabio Leimer, a forgotten champion.

By René Oudman

In the 2013 GP2 Series season, no fewer than 26 cars appeared at the start of an 11-event championship. Each weekend consisted of the Sprint and Feature Race format still seen in Formula 2 today, albeit with the Feature Race first instead of the Sprint Race.

In the years before 2012, GP2 lost some ground to its direct competitor, Formula Renault 3.5 — as both series offered drivers a chance to prove themselves worthy of promotion to Formula One. Nevertheless, three of the five débutants of the 2013 Formula 1 season have moved on directly from GP2.

After the departure of Giedo van der Garde, Max Chilton and Esteban Gutiérrez — and of champion Davide Valsecchi — a new batch of drivers advanced to fight for the GP2 championship.

Sam Bird returned to the second highest motor racing level in Europe after a year in Formula Renault 3.5; the GP2 race winner was one of the pre-season title favorites. Bird’s compatriot James Calado was the highest-ranked driver from the previous season, having finished in fifth the previous year.

In the conversation about title favorites, hardly anyone mentioned Fabio Leimer’s name. The then 23-year-old driver from the Swiss village of Rothrist, located near the borders with Germany and France, entered his fourth full season in GP2. At the Spanish team Racing Engineering — owned by the Duke of Galliera, Alfonso de Orléans-Borbón — Leimer had something to prove.

Leimer’s racing ability was well-known, having won the 2009 International Formula Masters championship — but whether he would be able to beat all of his GP2 opponents over the course of a complete year remained to be seen.

Leimer’s title hunt

2013 proved to be a year of changing fortunes for Leimer. He started off strongly with two wins in the first three races, before a dip in performance. In the third and fourth race weekends — at Barcelona and Monaco — the Swiss driver did not score a single point.

As a result, Stefano Colleti and Bird enter title contention by winning races, whilst later on Felipe Nasr and Calado worked their way to the front. With Coletti failing to score any points after the Feature Race at the Nürburgring, halfway through the season, the Monegasque driver was the first to drop out of the title fight.

Leimer was contending with Bird for the 2013 GP2 Drivers’ Championship | Credit: GP2 Media Service

Meanwhile, the five remaining championship contenders were hunting each other, with each facing their own share of setbacks. After Nasr suffered a dip in performance and Calado failed to score in the sprint races at Monza and Singapore, the championship turned out to be a duel between Leimer and Bird.

With 179 points behind his name, Leimer was seven points ahead of Bird heading into the final round of the season. Bird failed to get away from second place in the opening Feature Race, allowing Leimer to clinch the championship title ahead of the season-ending Sprint Race by finishing in fourth.

No Formula One opportunities

Despite Leimer’s GP2 championship success, no Formula One team was open to him because the Swiss driver was not able to contribute enough financially. On the other hand, his GP2 opponent Marcus Ericsson was able to secure promotion, as the financially weak Caterham team could put his Swedish crowns to good use.

For Leimer, there were virtually no options. Only Rebellion’s World Endurance Championship team offered him an almost-free ride due to his nationality.

Driving in WEC turned out to be a huge setback. Rebellion’s first car was already struggling against the rapid challengers from Audi, Porsche and Toyota; their second car, driven by Leimer, retired from the opening four races of the season. By the end of 2014, Leimer knew that he wanted to return to single-seater racing.

Despite winning the 2013 GP2 Championship, Leimer was unable to secure promotion to Formula One | Credit: Al Staley – LAT Photographic

As Formula One remained a step too far, Leimer decided to gamble on a seat in the Japanese Super Formula championship. There seemed to be a possibility of joining the renowned Team Mugen, which, like himself, had a difficult season in 2014. Despite winning the drivers’ title with Naoki Yamamoto in 2013, Mugen finished a disappointing seventh in the teams’ standings the following year.

Leimer sought to secure sponsorship money from a Japanese businessman who wanted to represent him. However, the promised sponsorship failed to arrive in time for the start of the season — and Leimer’s already-signed contract was torn up by Team Mugen before his car had even driven a single yard.

From promising driver to journeyman

A downcast Leimer continued to try to secure a seat in single-seater racing. Leimer may not have had money, but he did have a Super Licence due to his GP2 championship win — and valuable track time after completing a tyre test in a 2012 Lotus F1 car with Pirelli in 2014. Manor’s Formula One team beckoned, but in the end Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi managed to scrape together more sponsorship money.

However, Leimer did get to take part in an official Grand Prix session. During the first free practice session for the 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix — which many may have forgotten due to the aftermath of Jules Bianchi’s death shortly before the weekend — Leimer drove eighteen laps around the Hungaroring in an ageing Manor MR03B. With a fastest time of 1.30.631, the Swiss driver was almost a full second slower than full-timer Stevens.

Shortly before his Formula One Grand Prix weekend debut, Leimer made a camo appearance in Formula E. Replacing Jaime Alguersuari, who decided to quit car racing overnight, the Swiss competed in the two ePrix races held on the streets around Battersea Park in London. Whilst Leimer’s former GP2 opponent Bird managed to win the second ePrix, Leimer was unable to score a single point across both races.

Leimer competed in a handful of races in the Ferrari Challenge Europe before retiring at the end of 2017, after which he seemed to disappear completely. Nobody knows what he is up to these days, as he has not posted on social media for years. Whilst Leimer was by no means a top talent, he arguably deserved better after securing the 2013 GP2 title against some competitive names in motorsport.

Header photo credit: GP2 / LAT

Donate like Mahaveer Raghunathan

We run on donations, so thank you for your contribution!


Donate like Arthur Leclerc

We run on donations, so thank you for your contribution!


Donate like Dennis Hauger

We run on donations, so thank you for your contribution!


Donate like Theo Pourchaire

We run on donations, so thank you for your contribution!


Donate like Andrea Kimi Antonelli

We run on donations, so thank you for your contribution!


Wish to donate a different amount? You can donate any amount directly to our PayPal page here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s