It proved to be a tough baptism at the top level of motorsport for Esteban Gutierrez but Sauber have handed the young Mexican a second chance to put the lessons of year one into practice in 2014.
Last Updated: 05/02/14 3:45pm
It proved to be a tough baptism at the top level of motorsport for Esteban Gutierrez but Sauber have handed the young Mexican a second chance to put the lessons learnt from year one into practice in 2014.
Having stepped into the cockpit vacated by his countryman and friend Sergio Perez, Gutierrez took time to acclimatise to the challenges associated with being an F1 driver - no more so than in qualifying, as he dropped out in Q1 in six of his first ten GPs.
However, by the end of the campaign, while still unable to match 2013 team-mate Nico Hulkenberg's increasingly impressive exploits, Gutierrez, via a breakthrough points finish in Japan and several Q3 appearances, had shown first glimpses of the form that made him a four-times race winner in GP2.
Confirmation of his Sauber retention duly arrived just before Christmas - now the pressure is on Gutierrez to justify the Hinwil team's long-time faith in him.
As while 2014 represents only his second season in a race seat, the 22-year-old has been very much schooled in the Sauber way, having first tested for the team as long ago as 2009 and then served as their reserve driver in 2011-2012.
Hailing from Monterrey in Mexico, Gutierrez first got behind a kart competitively in 2004 and contested the final three events of the Mexican Rotax Max Challenge. A full campaign followed the next year, with the young charger finishing the season as Mexican Champion at the Grand National in Indiana, USA, and earning a place at the World Finals in Malaysia.
Gutierrez stayed in karting in 2006, finishing first in the North Mexico regional series of Rotax Max, and also winning all five rounds of the Camkart Challenge Mexico. That year he also received his first taste of single-seater action with a two-day test in Dynamic Motorsports' Formula Renault 2000 car, matching the lap record at Zacatecas.
A move north of the border beckoned in 2007 as Gutierrez moved to Formula BMW USA. He made an immediate impact, taking pole position at nine of the 14 races on his way to second in the championship. A September test in an A1GP car followed at Silverstone, ahead of a permanent move to Europe in 2008 to compete in Formula BMW Europe.
Gutierrez took the Championship by storm, finishing on the podium at 12 of the 16 races and picking up seven wins on his way to the title. The achievement made him the youngest Mexican driver ever to win an international title, aged just 17.
The F3 Euroseries beckoned in 2009 and Gutierrez followed in the footsteps of former series champions such as Lewis Hamilton and Hulkenberg in being signed to the dominant ART GP team. However, while stablemate Jules Bianchi took the crown, the rookie Gutierrez fared less well and finished only ninth - some 88 points behind the Frenchman.
Better was to follow in 2010, however, as ART entered the inaugural GP3 Series, with Gutierrez sweeping to five race wins and four further podiums to seal the maiden title. To underline his supremacy and pace during the season, he also claimed three hat-tricks of pole, fastest lap and race win.
His ascendancy continued into the 2011 season as he took his first steps into GP2 with ART, although a 13th place Championship finish highlighted that his debut year at that level was far from plain sailing. Valencia was a clear highlight, however, as Gutierrez picked up his only win of the season in the Sprint Race, setting fastest lap along the way, which forced others in the paddock to take notice.
Having by now made his full F1 test debut with Sauber in Abu Dhabi, Gutierrez assumed the role of lead driver at ART - renamed as Lotus GP - alongside rookie team-mate James Calado in 2012 and made major strides up the order. Three wins, four podium finishes and 176 points meant he finished a commendable third in the Championship, while his total of five fastest laps during the season equalled that of Champion Davide Valsecchi.
Gutierrez made his F1 practice debut with Sauber at the 2012 Indian GP, filling in for an ill Perez, and after a further two days running at the 2012 Abu Dhabi Young Driver Test, was promoted to a race seat with the Swiss team.
With the C32 initially proving a tricky mount to master, Gutierrez's F1 career began inauspiciously as he crashed on his qualifying debut in Melbourne and failed to finish in the points in his first 14 races. But seventh place, and six points, at Suzuka steadied the ship and while no further top tens arrived thereafter, Gutierrez earned a reprieve for 2014 where he will take on another German in the shape of Adrian Sutil. Sauber will expect him to deliver.