The pinnacle in the world of motor racing never ceases to surprise. New rules, newly introduced circuits in the F1 calendar year and frequently changing driver combinations often make heads turn in a contest marked by supreme thrills and often unexpected results.
For 2016, the announcement that a brand new racing team will be entering the competitive grind of F1 has already raised eyebrows.
It has been confirmed that together with 29-year-old Romain Grosjean, Mexican driver Esteban Gutierrez will be racing for Haas F1 team. The American team, the first from the country in two decades and the only one on the current calendar, which is headquartered at Kannapolis, North Carolina will be eagerly looking out for the services of two of the youngest and impressive Formula One driver's in what would be their inaugural F1 season.
The experience of Grosjean and the exuberance of young Gutierrez may just deliver the promise expected from a young dynamic team that would be hoping to account for maximum in F1's opulent stage.
We take a look at the promising racing careers and challenges that have both thwarted and solidified the journeys of F1’s latest pair in Haas Racing where we attempt to understand what can the young pairing deliver whilst competing against champions and and experienced starts of motor racing.
The experience of Romain Grosjean
Romain Grosjean, who holds dual French-Swiss citizenship, never had it easy in his racing career. He was merely 19 when he dominated the French Formula Renault championship in 2005. Determined to make it to F1, by 2005, Grosjean was part of the Renault young drivers’ program, pumping his confidence to compete in F1’s grand stage.
Making heads turn
Romain commanded the 2007 Formula 3 Euro Series drivers competition and emerged on top. Further glories awaited him as he conquered the GP2 Asia series. This was his first ever attempt in the competition which was in its debut year. Back then, for the first time he came across mercurial talents who were to compete with him in Formula one. The late Jules Bianchi was an early rival as were Bottas and France's Jean-Eric Vergne and Australian Daniel Ricciardo.
Upon his mega success in GP2 Asia series, Romain made it to F1. He made his debut with Renault in 2009 while he was only 23. While, the F1 call came early for Grosjean, but upon reaching Renault, he mostly struggled and failed to impress with a string of poor performances at Europe(his debut race), Belgium, Italy, Singapore and Abu Dhabi, the season ender. All of these races were either marked by Romain's consistent poor car handling. It was said that it would be highly unlikely that Grosjan would retain his seat for the 2010 season.
Return to GP2 and bouncing back
For any talented young driver being dropped from F1 could be nothing less than a heartbreak that could dispel a complete loss of hope but not for Romain Grosjean. He realized that unlike F1 which gave minimal scope for errors, he could shape up his skills and sharpen his acumen for racing in the more accommodating version of racing, so he joined GP2. His impressive showing at Belgium in the 2010 season followed by amazingly quick drives in GP2 2011 and GP2 Asia 2011 series were marked with commanding drives at Monaco and Spa- Francorchamps where from the current lot of drivers, stars like Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton have raced with elan.
Grosjean competed with full might with good friend Jules Bianchi in GP2 2011 Asia series and contesting tough battles with the likes of the late great prepared him better to reappear in F1, where his heart lay.
Finding the best form of his life, Romain was welcomed at Lotus-Renault Formula One team in 2012.
Partnering the Iceman at Lotus for 2012 and 2013
The team had last one a race in mid 1980's and were seeming confident of a good showing with the return of the "Iceman" Kimi Raikkonen, who looked all set to return after a brief hiatus from F1. Together with the naturally quick but reticent Finn, the soft speaking albeit competitive Romain made most of the 2012 and 2013 season.
While Kimi looked every bit himself as he was before his break from the sport in 2010, finishing 3rd in his comeback year in 2012, Grosjean didn't fail to impress either.
The Lotus duo of Raikkonen and Grosjean aced at Bahrain's Sakhir circuit under extremely hot conditions. While the Finn triumphed his way to 2nd on the podium, Grosjean, then 26, stood 3rd. At Bahrain, he clinched his maiden podium finish and his happiness was for all to see.
Grosjean, who had matured into a thinking driver did more to impress critics and those who lacked faith in the young Frenchman. He set his first ever fastest lap at Spain in the next race and followed it up with impressive drives at Montreal (2nd), Hungaroring (3rd) and Silverstone (6th). Next year, he seemed to have picked up from where he left in 2012, where he finished 8th on the driver's standings collecting 96 points.
Exhibiting great form
If the Grosjean of 2012 was learning to pick the tricks of the trade, improving his crafts under the aegis of an ever friendly team-principal Eric Boullier and his not so talkative teammate Kimi, the Grosjean of 2013 was more competitive and seemingly intent than ever to collect useful points for his Enstone based outfit.
Perhaps one could say, there were times, such as at Bahrain, India, Spain and Hungary where one could sense a healthy competition between an icy-cool Raikkonen who dominated despite tyre degradation and a threatening back problem and a vastly improved Romain who was eager to attack his experienced partner with astute skill and confidence.
Grosjean, who finished a career best 7th in 2013, collected 6 podium finishes in the year, coming 3rd at Bahrain( 3rd), Germany (3rd) and Korea, Japan and India where he displayed amazing skill and speed whilst maintaining amazing consistency.
At the end of the year that belonged to the amazing racing fest held between Vettel in a visibly superior Red Bull over that of an ever threatening Alonso in his prancing horse, it was Romain amongst the younger drivers who impressed F1 pundits for his competitiveness.
2014 was an ordinary year for Lotus’ Grosjean whose only significant reason to celebrate was the birth of his son. His less than spectacular Renault hybrid engine did anything but impress the driver, who was now racing alongside Pastor Maldonado with Kimi departing for Ferrari.
In 2015, he stayed back to score some useful points for a team which he literally made his second home until an important announcement came calling a month earlier post Italian Grand Prix. His most impressive drive this year came at Spa-Francorchamps where he won Lotus their podium finish, standing 3rd on the podium, defeating the likes of Kimi, Bottas and Rosberg in important battles.
Grosjean's commanding drive came at the behest of a crippling gear-box change penalty that pushed him down to start from 9th at Belgium.
Esteban Gutierrez: waiting to exhale
He is quick, determined and ever shy of media attention. But, that does little to distill his tremendous self confidence that has reflected a slew of impressive performances since his pre-F1 days. 25-year-old Esteban Gutierrez, one of two Mexican drivers in F1 alongside Sergio Perez, has spent a year playing the waiting game at Ferrari, ever since he joined in as their reserve/test driver.
The driver, who had a first-string seat at Sauber from 2011-14, shown tremendous hunger to succeed at the top level.
Ever since winning the Formula BMW while he was just 17, in 2008, Gutierrez earned 353 points, and showed tremendous race potential in the coming years.
Formula 3 Euro Series
Gutierrez has long known late driver Jules Bianchi and current Williams F1 driver Valtteri Bottas, against whom he competed at the Formula 3 Euro Series back in 2009. Then aged 18, he raced for French team ART Racing.
Amassing 26 points in the season with two important podium finishes, at Dijon- Prenois and the ever testing Nurburgring in Germany. For his competitive drive that season , he put Mexico on 6th in the nation's cup.
In 2010, he moved further toward the competitive GP3 where again driving for French Motor racing team ART, he competed against current American driver Alexander Rossi. Out of 16 races, he won 5 races and earned 8 podium finishes.
Arriving in Formula One
His consistent showing in GP2 series and at 2012 GP2 Asia series opened F1's glamorous gates for Esteban who hitherto had driven where driving for Lotus ART, rebranded from ART Racing. His consistent point scoring finishes at Malaysia, Bahrain, Catalunya, Silverstone and Hockenheim earned him respect from F1 critics and from young contemporaries.
He first tested an F1 car while he was only 18 in 2009 when he test drove BMW Sauber and despite the team losing sponsors and ultimately its place in F1's checkered stable, he was placed alongside Pedro de la Rosa and Kamui Kobayashi in the driver training program. There, he watched Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld from the team garage.
In 2012, he signed up as Sauber's reserve driver for a season where he first participated in the free practice at the Indian Grand Prix at October 26th, substituting once again for an unwell Perez. It was declared that Esteban and Nico Hulkenberg would team up for Force India for 2013. After a rain hit qualifying session at Australia, he finished 13 at Melbourne, the best finish amongst all rookies that year.
At Malaysia, he finished 12th from 14th. His first ever race retirement came at China that year where his race was cut short due to mechanical problems in lap 4.
But he came back strongly a race later. At Spain, one of his personal best drives assured that despite facing penalty for impeding Raikkonen in qualifying and having being demoted to 19th of the grid, he would set the fastest lap. There, he even lead a race for 2 laps and contested a close battle with McLaren's Jenson Button.
He was then the youngest driver to set a fastest lap, after Nico Rosberg despite having not finished inside the top 10. His first point scoring finish came at Japan's Suzuka. Starting 14th, he finished 7th. In this spectacular race finish, he held Mercedes' Nico Rosberg during the closing stages.
While in 2013 he finished 16th, 2014 marked bitter disappointment for the Sauber driver, who suffered in the inaugural season of F1's newly introduced hybrid engines.
What can we expect from the Grosjean-Gutierrez pairing at Haas
While Grosjean, the more experienced of the two, will be banked upon to make best use of his 5 year experience in F1, a stint from which he's collected impressive points including 9 podium finishes, his younger teammate would be expected to deliver from his valuable stint at Ferrari, from where he's watched stalwarts of the class of Raikkonen and 4-time world champion Vettel from the sidelines.
Gutierrez’s ultimate test will be to partner a vastly improved Grosjean, who was once unceremoniously slammed as "crashjean" given his poor car handling skills in 2009, his debut year – an ignominous nickname that has since stuck to his teammate, Pastor Maldonado instead.
In a battle for supremacy on the track where drivers are expected to judiciously use speed, car handling and their own wisdom of understanding a race track with its sum of challenges in the form of chicanes, high speed corners and sharp turns, the pair could well hold the key to Haas' dream triumph in a competition where they would be banking on the duo's skills to pack a punch.