For Esteban Gutierrez, the rise through the ranks of the junior formulae to fully fledged Formula One driver has been a rapid ascent.
From GP3 champion in 2010 to third in the GP2 series in 2012 and Sauber’s reserve driver, the young Mexican has been thrown into the deep end as teammate to the experienced Nico Hulkenberg for his first full Grand Prix season.
While Hulkenberg has scored all of Sauber’s seven points this season, Gutierrez has been learning the ropes and finding his feet. So I’m going to grade him on his Saturday and Sunday performances and give him a mark out of 10 for each.
Australia: Q18 / 13th
A tough baptism for Gutierrez as Albert Park is not the easiest of circuits if you haven’t driven it before. His goal for the opening race was to make it to the chequered flag, and to do that ahead of a Williams was a solid achievement as noted on his team's press release.
"My main goal was to finish the race, and to achieve that is really enjoyable. I want to thank the whole team, because yesterday in qualifying we had a good chance and today we were able to recover some of what we lost yesterday.
Malaysia: Q14 / 12th
An improvement on Australia both in terms of qualifying and the race. What’s more, Gutierrez was fastest of all through the speed trap, his Sauber clocked at 191.42 mph.
China: Q17 / DNF
China marked his first big rookie mistake of the season in what can only be described as a rush of blood to the head. The Mexican made a decent start in gaining a couple of places but carried too much speed into his braking point before the main straight and crashed into Adrian Sutil’s Force India. Quoted on his team's post race press release, Gutierrez owned up to his mistake:
I was braking at the same place where I usually brake, however, didn't anticipate the loss of downforce and the amount of speed I had. I tried my best to stop, but didn't succeed. It was definitely my fault, and I apologise to Adrian (Sutil) and to his team.
Bahrain: Q22 / 18th
Gutierrez was always going to be up against it after being slapped with a five-place penalty from the Chinese GP. Finished 18th behind the Caterham of Charles Pic. Not a race weekend to remember.
Spain: Q 19 / 11th
A real mixed bag of a weekend. It started badly when Gutierrez was slapped with a three-place penalty for holding up Kimi Raikkonen in the final sector of Q1. But he put the disappointment behind him on race day to finish 11th ahead of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes and Adrian Sutil’s Force India. A big confidence booster.
"I focused on getting the most out of the car today, and it was important to achieve a result like this for me and the team,” said Gutierrez on his team’s website afterwards. “The team has given me the patience and tools to improve as a driver and this is what I could extract from the car.”
Monaco: Q19 / 13th
Never an easy circuit for an F1 rookie even if he had prior experience of the track. Gutierrez struggled with the racing line in qualifying but fought hard against Valtteri Bottas in the race on a track where overtaking is close to impossible.
Canada: Q15 / DNF
Another adequate qualifying performance followed by another driving error on race day when he bizarrely locked up and crashed coming out of the pit lane after his second pit stop.
Britain: Q17 / 14th
But for a problem with his front left tyre and another with his front wing that forced him into a couple of unscheduled pitstops, the British Grand Prix could have seen Gutierrez bag his first points for the team as he only finished seven seconds behind his 10th-placed teammate. An encouraging performance.
Germany: Q14 / 14th
His Sauber’s pace on the longer straights was a bit slow, but Gutierrez still managed to finish in front of both Williams drivers.
Hungary: Q17 / DNF
Gutierrez struggled with an engine issue on Saturday before retiring with a gearbox problem after only 28 laps. A difficult race to judge his performance on.
It’s hard to know exactly how much Gutierrez will have improved by the end of the season. While he’s some way shy of teammate Hulkenberg so far, he’s been sparring well with fellow rookie Valtteri Bottas, and the pair have been fairly evenly matched, although it’s fair to say the Sauber has been slightly the more competitive car this season.