Analysis: Why Haas F1 team chose Esteban Gutierrez for 2016 race seat
Haas F1 team last night confirmed that 24 year old Esteban Gutierrez will race alongside Romain Grosjean in 2016, the team's inaugural season in th...
Haas F1 team last night confirmed that 24 year old Esteban Gutierrez will race alongside Romain Grosjean in 2016, the team's inaugural season in the sport. This is a deal that was done quite some months ago.
Gutierrez has spent the 2015 season
as a reserve driver at Ferrari, with whom Haas has a groundbreaking technical partnership and has support from Carlos Slim and the Telmex and Telcel Racing network.
So why is Gutierrez the right choice for Haas and what can we expect from the Mexican?
Gutierrez has two seasons of F1 racing under his belt with Sauber. He raced in 38 Grands Prix scoring a total of six points in that time. A seventh place finish in Suzuka was his only points scoring finish.
The Ferrari reserve role gave him a lifeline and a way back into the sport as Ferrari was developing its collaboration with Haas, which provides a deeper level of technical support than we have seen previously in F1 from a grandee team to a customer -with the exception of Red Bull and its sister team Toro Rosso.
Haas has taken a pragmatic and innovative approach in acquiring everything from Ferrari that it can legally under the current FIA technical regulations. So for around €60m a year it has a chassis, partly designed itself with Dallara and an engine and power train all ready to go. The target is to come in somewhere around where the Sauber team is in the pecking order; another team that is racing with customer Ferrari engines.
It's not often that you find the words, "despite the lack of results" in a press release announcing a new driver, but there is no hiding the fact that Gutierrez' F1 CV is not sparkling, despite earlier success as the inaugural GP3 champion in 2010.
The Haas statement uses this phrase when pointing out that the Mexican's "perseverance and driving style piqued the interest of Scuderia Ferrari," who took him on as a reserve driver.
Ferrari also took on another refugee, Jean Eric Vergne, who'd been cast out by Toro Rosso despite closing matching Daniel Ricciardo's performances in their time together. The Frenchman is a stronger driver than Gutierrez, in qualifying and especially in races, but he doesn't have the backing and his face didn't fit quite like Gutierrez'.
The showcase presentation, at Mexico City's stunning Soumaya Museum, which houses the art collection of Carlos Slim's family, allowed Mexico a moment of real sporting pride. Along with the boisterous reception for fellow countryman Sergio Perez from the packed grandstands at the new circuit, it has ensured a positive impression for Mexico on its return to F1 after two decades of absence.
It also reflects Mexico's growing standing in the world of international motorsport, with the support of Slim but also the political nous of the Abed family, which is pivotal in the Mexican motorsport federation.
Gutierrez will struggle to live with Grosjean on pace. But if Grosjean is the fully developed driver, who will stretch the car to the limit and give the engineers the benchmark they need, Gutierrez' intelligence and knowledge of the "Ferrari way" will be helpful in finding shortcuts, improving communication and thus important to Haas team's rate of development in the first couple of seasons.
"Romain has more starts, but Esteban has a deep knowledge of Ferrari and how they do things," observed Haas team principal Guenter Steiner. "He’s learned from the best in his role as their third driver, which means he knows how they’ve developed their current cars. He’s been a big part of that and he’ll be a big part in the development of our cars at Haas F1 Team.”
With Gutierrez' appointment, following that of Jolyon Palmer at Lotus/Renault next season, there are now only two seats left on the grid for 2016, both at Manor. The Banbury based team has a deal for Mercedes engines next season and with a new chassis, its first since 2014, the team is expected to make a significant step forward.Alexander Rossi is hopeful of a deal, but the decisions on drivers will be tied in with developments on the ownership structure of the team. The departure of team principal John Booth and sporting director Graeme Lowdon has raised questions about what happens next, with suggestions in the paddock that the owner Stephen Fitzpatrick plans to sell the team for around $50m, having signed the Mercedes deal and with $48m of FOM income guaranteed to the end of 2017 at least.
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