Mid-Season Review: Esteban Gutierrez

The penultimate article in this summer break series sees the young Mexican, Esteban Gutierrez, thrust under the microscope. Sauber’s hotly debated appointment of the twenty-two year old may have been of benefit to their financial restraints, yet Esteban has failed to demonstrate his potential in what has been a thoroughly disappointing start to his Formula One career. Here is my review of his season to date…

Any avid readers of the blog, will realize that my opinion in regards to young Esteban is far from positive. After jumping into single seaters in 2007, Gutierrez has managed to compete in a range of Formula, which should in theory be a huge positive. From his humble beginnings in Formula BMW, the Mexican then headed to Formula Three, before joining the GP3 Series in 2010. With five wins to his name in his debut season, Esteban claimed the title with ART Grand Prix and made a well-deserved progression into GP2. However, consistency abandoned him almost immediately, as he struggled in his first season. This of course could be forgiven, as it was his first season in a new Series, yet the transition from GP3 to GP2 is often seamless – Esteban failed to maintain momentum following his outstanding 2010 campaign. While 2012 brought much greater success for Gutierrez, (in the form of three victories), his P3 in the final standings failed to illustrate the huge void between title contenders, Valsecchi and Razia, in relation to the rest of the field. Esteban’s achievements are more accurately compared with the likes of Max Chilton and Giedo Van Der Garde.
However, my initial concerns as to Gutierrez’s ability came during his first FP1 appearance for Sauber in India last year. The team were evidently looking to test Gutierrez’s capabilities, yet it was clear that he was very uncomfortable. The Mexican suffered an early spin, before an off-track excursion nearly curtailed his session with the daunting barriers just inches away. It was a far from convincing session and while Sauber excused the calamities, suggesting that a lack of experience in the C31 had proved overwhelming, drivers such as Chilton and Van Der Garde had produced effective performances in similar conditions. A familiar trend was evident during winter testing and this translated to Melbourne.
In Melbourne, Gutierrez needed to silence his critics, yet failed to impress on neither Saturday nor Sunday. The Sunday morning qualifying did not feature Gutierrez, as he dropped out of qualifying at the Q1 stage, following a big accident at Turn 12. After being lapped in the race, Gutierrez finished just P13. Similar results have been produced at almost each and every race, with a Q2 spot achieved on only four occasions; Malaysia, Spain, Canada and Germany. Meanwhile, race results have been incomparable with teammate Hulkenberg, as Gutierrez is yet to score a point, with P11 signifying his best finish to date. This however, did come in a promising Spanish Grand Prix, where an intelligent strategy elevated Esteban from a P19 grid slot, to a brief stint as race leader, (where he became the fifth youngest driver to lead a race). Furthermore, a last minute dash on a fresh set of options in the final stint saw the Mexican claim the fastest lap, as he became the second youngest driver in history to achieve the feat. Unfortunately, these are the only positives in his lackluster season so far.
Several decidedly rookie maneuvers have overshadowed Gutierrez’s season, most notably, his second lap collision with Adrian Sutil in China. At the end of the back straight, Esteban was seen to lock up, before careering into the back of the innocent German, ending both of their races. Meanwhile, his pit-exit blunder in the latter stages of the Canadian Grand Prix curtailed his race early, yet as he completed more than 90% of the race distance, he was classified. However, this did not deter the criticism angled at the Mexican for committing another avoidable incident.
So, as for Gutierrez’s half term report, he fails to meet the pass mark. His performances have not demonstrated his hidden talent, as his inability to handle the frankly ineffective C32 has been all too clear. In terms of job security, Esteban seems to have nothing to worry about. Sauber’s financial predicament has only increased their reliance on Esteban’s lucrative links with Telmex and while Sergey Sirotkin may fill one of the Sauber seats in 2014, the likelihood is that the team will have no choice but to keep Gutierrez, forming the possibility of the youngest driver partnership in the history of the sport. Surly Sauber are heading for disaster if an erratic twenty-three year old is assigned the position of de facto team leader. Esteban has work to do if he is to prove us all wrong.            

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