The Formula One grid has been littered with rookies this year, each possessing the knowledge that they have one chance to shine, to show the world what they are capable of. With such little time afforded to rookies to prove themselves and more potential drivers waiting to highjack their ride, they need to stamp their signature all over the sport to avoid being a one year wonder. To avoid being invisible.
Finnish rookie Valtteri Bottas grabbed his chance to propel himself into the limelight during a damp qualifying session in Canada. Driving an exceptional lap to snatch third on the grid followed by a steely, mature approach to his first start amongst the top runners, will prove to help secure a future in Formula One. Jules Bianchi, after scoring a last minute drive with Marussia, achieved what all top drivers are able to do and created the illusion that the car had more promise than reality could deliver. His performances got him noticed and comparisons were made between the young Frenchman and Fernando Alonso. Completing the rookie line up at Marussia, Max Chilton started the season in the shadow of his promising team mate, but seems to be channeling this positively as he has begun to close the gap between them. Caterham rookie, Giedo Van de Garde, although not outperforming his more experienced team mate during races, he has been a match for him in qualifying, just slightly falling behind 3-4 after Canada. Which leaves us with the invisible rookie Esteban Gutierrez. Yet to make an imprint on the season, he seems in danger of completing 2013 without showcasing his talents.
The Mexican’s route to his seat at Sauber certainly wasn’t an invisible one. After competing in Formula BMW USA in 2007, he went on to clinch the Formula BMW European championship in 2008 at the tender age of seventeen, making him the youngest Mexican to win an international championship. In 2009, a seat with Art GP in the Formula three Euroseries beckoned, and saw him driving alongside current fellow Formula One rookies Jules Bianchi and Valterri Bottas. Staying with Art to race in the inaugural GP3 Championship in 2010, he showcased his skills as he took the first ever title in the series. His second year in GP2 exploded into life with a double points finish in Malaysia and a third and second place in Bahrain at the start of the season. He finished third in the championship overall. Though not electrifying, these performances were certainly not ghostly and did, in addition to his status as part of the young driver programme of Scuderia Telmex, get him noticed for a seat with Sauber for 2013.
|Driving for Lotus in GP2. Photo: www.mediotiempo.com|
Since being in Formula One though, he seems to be a lost soul, as if the big league has swallowed him up, as if he is not quite ready to drive at this level. Being partnered with Nico Hulkenberg, considered to be one of the most promising drivers on the grid, means he has to delve deeper into his talent reserve than the other rookies on the grid. Out of all the new drivers, he has the toughest competitor in a team mate and this has become evident in results. Every qualifying session has ended with Hulkenberg fastest out of the two. Spain has been the only race in which Esteban has finished higher than his team mate when both cars were still running. Starting from nineteenth on the grid due to a penalty given for blocking Kimi Raikkonen in qualifying, he moved himself up eight places to finish in eleventh, narrowly missing the points. In Barcelona, his talent became a little more discernible, but as the Formula One circus hit the streets of Monaco and Montreal, it seems to have vapourised.
So why has he been so invisible? How much of it can be attributed to having a fast team mate? He must have shown enough talent to get him the seat, or did his Telmex connections bear more weight than his raw talents? In GP2 in 2012, he finished third behind Davide Valsecchi and Luiz Razia; neither of whom have a race seat in Formula One, or carry the financial backing required to secure one. So the road leads us back to the contentious issue of money versus talent. Max Chilton and Giedo Van De Garde finished fourth and sixth in the 2012 GP2 championship respectively, but both have drives because they have monetary support. While not as invisible as Guttierez, perhaps because they are driving slightly less high profile cars, their talent is not the most premium available. The current climate becoming increasingly conducive to drivers being able to bankroll themselves into a Formula One seat will continue to give us invisible drivers who struggle to make an impact. Which is why we all get so excited when we are treated to undeniable, palpable talent like that shown by Jules Bianchi and Valterri Bottas.