Thanks to the sterling efforts of Sergio Perez, Pastor Maldonado et al in 2012, perhaps it’s time these so-called ‘rookies’ were given a little more limelight. In lieu of that, I’m pleased to be able to present to you the first in a three-part series of articles concerning the class of 2013, their achievements, awards and expectations for the season ahead.
Esteban Gutierrez, apart from being difficult to spell correctly, is a name that has become rather prolific in the Formula One-feeder series of late.
He first emerged onto the global stage after he graduated from karting in his native Mexico, becoming runner-up in the 2007 Formula BMW USA season and winning the accolade ‘Rookie of the Year’, the achievement being sufficient to earn him a move to the more illustrious European series the following season. 2008 proved to be a highly successful twelve months for the youngster from Monterrey, who took the championship crown with an impressive 7 race victories – 6 of which came in a spectacular run of success early on in the year at challenging tracks such as Zolder, Silverstone and Hockenheim. It was during this title-campaign that his consistency was devastatingly demonstrated, Gutierrez managing to finish all but 2 of the 16 races inside the points.
2009 was a culture shock as he graduated to the faster and equally-competitive Formula 3 Euroseries with reigning champions ART Grand Prix, which saw him paired, amongst others, with fellow future F1 drivers Valtteri Bottas and Jules Bianchi. No wins were forthcoming and two podiums were the only highlights in a season that saw him classified 9th in the final standings.
Despite this, 2010 was another step up for the Mexican as he joined ART’s GP3 line-up. Adding his consistency to a burst of new-found pace, he snatched 5 wins to take the title with two races to spare at Monza.
His reward? A full-time GP2 drive for the following year.
2011 proved another character-forming struggle, but Gutierrez secured his maiden GP2 victory in the second race at the Valencia street circuit. 13th in the championship was a bitter blow but understandable given the fact his consistency seemed to have deserted him; aside from the victory there were only three other points finishes all year. 2012 proved more successful with a brace of wins at Valencia and Silverstone helping lift him to 3rd in the table behind champion Valsecchi and 2nd placed Luis Razia. Late November brought further joy as long-time mentors Sauber promoted him to a Formula One seat in place of the ousted Kamui Kobayashi.
What will 2013 bring? Gutierrez may have shown speed in the lower formulae, but as has been proved time and again before by countless other erstwhile promising talents, that is not enough to succeed at the highest level. The challenge is a great one for the Mexican as he must pit his wits against those of super-rookie Nico Hulkenberg, fresh from a late-season spurt that saw him almost win the Brazilian Grand Prix. Even more difficult is the expectation from his native land, although the spotlight will remain firmly on compatriot Sergio Perez as he bids to become a race winner with Mclaren. Sponsors will be familiar to fans as many are the same that backed Perez during his two-year tenure with the team in 2011-2012, and equally they will want to be associated with another potential World Champion of the future.
If the Sauber C32 proves as effective a weapon as its predecessor, podiums are not out of the question for the 21 year-old. Failing that, points are what is expected as Sauber, especially new Team Principal Monisha Kaltenborn, will not be willing to cede any ground in what has become a savage battle over 6th in the constructors championship.
For Esteban a solid haul of points and a podium to his credit come November would be a very successful start to his Formula One career.