Pending final line-up announcements from Force India and Caterham, there will be at least three new faces on the F1 grid for 2013. They add a second Mexican name, another young Briton and the latest flying Finn to the multi-national talents on display.
Esteban Gutierrez: ‘This Is The Start Of The Real Challenge'
With Sergio Perez gone to potential glory with McLaren and Kamui Kobayashi simply gone, Sauber start 2013 with an all-new driver pairing. Alongside rising German star Nico Hülkenberg will be another Mexican in the form of 21-year-old Esteban Gutiérrez.
Gutiérrez has been on the Swiss outfit’s radar for three years and was their test and reserve driver in 2011 and 2012. “I feel very grateful for all the attention I have received from everyone in the team and for all their input, which has allowed me to develop into a Formula One driver in a very progressive way,” he said when his signing as replacement for Perez was announced.
His pedigree is well-nigh impeccable: runner-up in Formula BMW USA in 2007, he moved to Europe to win the Formula BMW title there in 2008. By 2010 he was champion in the new category called GP3, taking five race wins in the process.
Gutiérrez then completed two seasons in GP2, finishing third overall in 2012 with Lotus GP and taking three race wins at Silverstone, Valencia and Budapest. His first F1 test with Sauber came as far back as 2009, his most recent at the Young Driver Test in Abu Dhabi last November. As he says, “This is the start of the real challenge…”
Valtteri Bottas: ‘Business As Usual'
Heikki Kovalainen may be gone, but Finland still has two F1 players as 23-year-old ‘Vale’ continues his development with one of the oldest names in the sport. Like Gutiérrez at Sauber, Bottas has been three years in the making at Williams after a superb apprenticeship in single-seater racing cars.
A long grounding in karts led to the Formula Renault two-litre class in 2007 and 2008, where he took no fewer than 17 wins from 28 starts before moving up to the F3 Euroseries with the highly-regarded ART team in 2009.
He spent two years in that class and won the F3 Masters in both seasons, being named as the Williams test driver (in succession to Nico Hülkenberg) for 2010. He combined that role with GP3 in 2011, when he duly won the championship, starting slowly but coming home with four race wins in the second part of the season.
In 2012 Bottas opted not to race but to focus on his apprenticeship with Williams, taking part in 15 Friday F1 practice sessions. In fact Albert Park will be one of just five venues where he has not been in the car already, which is why he is unfazed by what lies ahead.
“I’ve been racing constantly since a very young age,” he said, “so when the lights go out in Australia it will be business as usual.” The pugnacious-looking Finn is a keen triathlon competitor and has been described by Sir Frank himself as “quite simply one of the most talented young drivers I have come across”.
Max Chilton: ‘Already Up To Speed'
Britain’s fourth representative on the 2013 grid may not have quite the stellar background that Gutiérrez and Bottas can claim, but he brings solid, race-winning GP2 experience with him as he replaces Charles Pic at Marussia.
The 21-year-old from Reigate in Surrey is from a comfortable background but has worked hard to establish his own reputation as a racer.
His career started in earnest in 2007 in Formula 3 and began to take off when he joined fabled racing stable Carlin Motorsport in 2009.
In 2010 he graduated to GP2 in the Asian series to begin with, then moved to Ocean Racing Technology in the main game. He stayed in that category in 2011 but was back at Carlin as they also made their first foray into the series.
But it wasn’t until 2012 that Chilton came to the fore, winning the Budapest feature race in a late-season burst of form that saw him finish fourth overall.
By that time Marussia had named him their official test driver in time for the Japanese Grand Prix, and his first proper taste of F1 (he had done the Young Driver Test with Force India in 2011) came with a run in the first Friday free practice session in Abu Dhabi.
Chilton insists he has a handle on things after his promotion late in 2012. “Instead of a standing start, I am already up to speed and at ease with the people, the culture, the systems,” he says – but his could be the steepest learning-curve of all the three rookies on the 2013 grid.