In what is likely the worst-kept F1 secret, Mexico’s Esteban Gutierrez, who has been a test driver for Scuderia Ferrari through the 2014 season, has been announced as the second driver for Haas F1 Team alongside Romain Grosjean. The team, the first American side in the sport in over two decades, is the only new entrant this year and the only American side.
As the end of the 2014 F1 season approached, so did the end of Gutierrez’s first-string F1 career. The young Mexican, who held his own against established teammates and proved his talent, was to be without a drive the following year. It came as no surprise, as F1 is a cut-throat environment where even talented drivers haven’t succeeded in getting back once they were left without a drive.
But the arrival of a new entrant in the form of Haas F1 provided new hopes for drivers waiting in hibernation to get back to the sport. The major beneficiary from this new entrant has undoubtedly been Gutierrez, who a year ago looked to be heading away from the sport, with very slim chances of getting back. Haas has provided a lifeline to the talented Mexican and it is also in the interest of the sport to see a promising talent return to the fold.
The side, founded by American entrepreneur Gene Haas, will use Ferrari engines in addition to its facilities, and is widely rtegarded as its b-team, so the selection comes as no surprise.
On his comeback to F1, here’s a brief look at how he has fared in his racing career so far.
Gutierrez got the racing fever early on in his life when he got to karting. He stacked up several stellar performances in his home country, which also earned him the financial backing of Escuderia Telmex. Although he is a pay driver, his career credentials prove that he is no slouch, a fact further proved by his successful junior formula career.
He moved to single-seater racing in 2007, when he competed in the Formula BMW USA Series. There, in his debut year, he enjoyed a fantastic season which included 4 victories, 8 podiums and 9 poles on his way to second in the championship.
After this, he finally moved to Europe, the mecca of racing, where he further flourished. In 2008, he won the Formula BMW Europe Championship thumpingly – by a huge margin of 26 points, taking 7 victories in 16 races.
This was followed by an average campaign in the 2009 Formula 3 Euro Series, in which he scored 26 points including two podiums and finished ninth in the championship, but this was achieved in a field which also comprised quality drivers such as Valtteri Bottas and Jules Bianchi.
In 2010, he participated in the GP3 Series, the toughest tournament he had faced yet. GP3 attracts the best of the younger generation of drivers who are capable of moving up the ladder to Formula 1; if he could impress here then he would surely come under the radar of influential eyes.
When he began his racing endeavors there, impress he did as in a field comprising of more than 25 drivers, Gutierrez came out on top, taking 5 victories and 8 podiums on the way to winning the championship by 17 points.
Strong results automatically fast tracked his move to GP2. He had an average season with Lotus ART in 2011, in which he secured 1 victory and 2 podiums and finished 13th in the championship. The following season, he got back to his old form when he took 3 victories and 7 podiums on his way to 3rd in the championship.
In 2012, Sauber F1 team had already been impressed by his performances and signed him as their test driver for the season.
For 2013, both Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi had left the team, with Perez moving to Force India, whom he is still currently with. Sauber then signed Nico Hulkenberg as their main driver and promoted Gutierrez to a race seat alongside him. For a rookie, Gutierrez enjoyed a good first season.
In 2013, Sauber was nowhere near the podium contender it was a year ago, instead it was even hard to get the car into points finishes. But Gutierrez did well.
Through that season, he secured eleven top-13 finishes and achieved the fastest lap of the race in Spain. His best result of the season came in Japan, where despite qualifying a lowly 14th, he fought back to finish 7th in the race, which remains his best finish till date.
For the following season in 2014, Sauber retained his services, but this time he was partnered with another experienced driver – Adrian Sutil. This season, the car’s performance had further declined, which resulted in the team having its worst season in over 20 years.
In addition to this, the team was also now beginning to struggle financially. Even in the midst of all these adversities, Gutierrez held his own and gave a tough fight to his teammate. In the eighteen qualifying sessions in which the duo participated, their record stands tied with both out-qualifying each other nine times apiece.
In the races too, the teammates were closely matched. In a rather forgettable season, Gutierrez still proved his mettle against Sutil, who had been in F1 for more than 6 years.
Unfortunately, Sauber did not retain him further and with no seats available elsewhere, it seemed likely that he would have to leave F1 altogether. But Ferrari provided a lifeline to the Mexican by signing him up as their reserve driver. This role at least kept him around the F1 radar should a drive emerge at any team.
With Haas F1 Team signing a major technical support deal with Ferrari which also included engine supply, it was widely expected that Ferrari would at least provide drive to one of its drivers in the fledgling team. Those expectations have indeed been proved right with the signing of Gutierrez.
Very few drivers have been awarded with second chances in this cut-throat competition, with many talented drivers disappearing in oblivion after few seasons. Gutierrez has got a golden opportunity to re-establish himself and with the talent he has showcased in the past, it would be no surprise if he succeeds in surpassing expectations even when paired against another experienced driver like Romain Grosjean.
Some interesting challenges lie ahead for the Mexican and it is to be seen how he performs in the second chapter of his F1 career.