Haas' Esteban Gutierrez Is Talking His Way out of Formula 1 at End of 2016

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2016

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 16:  Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico and Haas F1 in the Pitlane during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 16, 2016 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

More power to Haas for doing things differently upon their entry to Formula One in 2016.

On course to finish eighth in the constructors' championship with 29 points, the team have proved their unique approach to motor racing can succeed—purchasing as many parts as possible from Ferrari and fitting them to a chassis designed by Dallara.

Sure, teething troubles have developed and their competitiveness has inevitably waned as their debut season has progressed, but the newcomers have generally achieved their aim of looking like seasoned professionals.

And what's more, Haas appear to have taken the sport to a wider audience and, in their own way, helped tackle two of the most feared words in the F1 dictionary: "fan" and "engagement."

Haas F1 Team @HaasF1Team

Want to send a message to our team? Tweet us and your message could end up on display in our garage. #HaasF1 https://t.co/UbWnV8w4cY

Ahead of August's Belgian Grand Prix, the team launched an initiative encouraging their Twitter followers to send messages of support, several of which would be plastered to the walls of their garage on a race weekend.

Despite F1's failure to fully embrace cyberspace over the years, teams being creative with their use of social media was nothing new—the Lotus team competed with a variety of hashtags on their car throughout 2013—yet this was slightly different, forming a direct link between Haas and their supporters.

It meant the last thing the drivers saw before they disappeared beneath their armour, climbed into their cockpits and started their engines was a collection of inspiring words, creating an atmosphere akin to the players' tunnel of a football stadium.

Such has been the sheer volume of responses that the decorations have changed on a weekly basis, with messages tailored for each individual race.

Haas F1 Team @HaasF1Team

We're on deadline for #SingaporeGP pack-up! Send your tweets now for the @F1NightRace. #HaasF1 https://t.co/gPNYjP9jUH

But if one note were to become a permanent fixture within the garage, it would be the mantra recycled by almost every competitor across the pit lane: "Just remember: We win and lose as a team."

As impressive as Haas have been in 2016, the team's debut season has risked being defined by the complaints of Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez, who—in true racing-driver spirit—have always wanted more.

In a team who clearly consider themselves lucky to have him, Grosjean's unflattering, emotional comments over pit-to-car radio have been a relatively small price to pay for a driver who will deliver more often than not—he has 100 grand prix starts and 10 podium finishes to his name, after all.

Yet the frequent, scathing and often public criticisms made by a driver of the stature of Gutierrez, who has failed to score a single point this season, have been much harder to stomach.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 28: Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico and Haas F1 in the Drivers Press Conference during previews ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 28, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Fortunate to earn a second chance in F1 after two anonymous seasons with Sauber in 2013 and '14, this should have been a year for Gutierrez to operate under the radar and finally develop into the driver so many—including esteemed driver coach Rob Wilson—felt he could become.

While his team-mate eased to top-six finishes in the opening two races in Australia and Bahrain, Gutierrez was handicapped by several reliability problems and prevented from converting the VF-16's pace into points at a stage of the season when the car performed at its best.

And he refused to let them ever forget it.

As early as May's Spanish GP, Gutierrez accused the team of making him "look very bad to the outside," per Autosport (h/t Eurosport), suggesting the sheer amount of car problems—an expected hurdle for a new team, you'd assume—were overshadowing the "f--king great job" he was doing internally.

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 09: Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico and Haas F1 walks in the Pitlane during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 9, 2016 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Although his performances improved from that weekend, a first point of 2016 continued to elude him.

And after a third 11th-place finish in five races in July's Austrian GP—where he was pipped to the final point by Pascal Wehrlein, behind the wheel of the slowest car on the grid—he took it upon himself to chair a "very strong meeting," per ESPN F1's Nate Saunders.

The Spielberg summit, attended by team principal Guenther Steiner, was intended to bang Haas' heads together and encourage them "to work as a team," but it only served to pull them further apart.

During the summer break—around the time he irritated his fellow drivers by blocking Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and Wehrlein on track—Gutierrez issued an apology to the team, admitting to Autosport (h/t Eurosport) that he "was a bit too much on certain occasions."

SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 07:  Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico driving the (21) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka Circuit on October 7, 2016 in Suzuka.  (Photo by Clive
Clive Mason/Getty Images

His statement felt like the words of a driver desperately attempting to backtrack, knowing he'd gone too far, yet the damage had already been done.

When he missed his best chance of scoring a point in Italy, where a lacklustre start dropped him from 10th to the rear of the field on the opening lap, Steiner made no attempt to defend him, suggesting Gutierrez simply cracked under pressure, per Autosport (h/t Eurosport).

At a time Haas' original deadline for their 2017 driver lineup came and went, Steiner's decision to hang his driver out to dry was a sure sign that Gutierrez was fighting for his future, but the 25-year-old made no real attempt to save his skin.

Ahead of his home race at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, the Mexican arrogantly declared he was seriously considering alternative options for next season in an FIA press conference, almost oblivious to the fact that two could play at that game.

Haas F1 Team @HaasF1Team

NEWS: @KevinMagnussen to drive alongside @RGrosjean beginning with the 2017 FIA #F1 World Championship. #HaasF1 https://t.co/dxAZfNSLNs https://t.co/8voufhSKLg

As reported by Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper, it emerged later that weekend that Haas had offered his seat to Kevin Magnussen, whose signing from Renault was confirmed after Friday practice at the Brazilian GP.

And with Jolyon Palmer partnering Nico Hulkenberg at Renault for 2017, and with Esteban Ocon promoted to Force India alongside Sergio Perez, the options Gutierrez may have been considering in Mexico have suddenly disappeared into thin air.

In a season when they have been dismissed as a Ferrari B team, the decision to replace Gutierrez is a politically significant move by Haas—proof that they will not settle for any driver offered to them by their technical partner, an indication of their desire to become a serious F1 operation in their own right.

Having been so confident of securing a reasonably competitive drive for 2017, Gutierrez has been left to join the scramble for seats at the two most unattractive teams on the grid.

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 16:  Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico and Haas F1 in the Pitlane during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 16, 2016 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

But consider this: Why would he return to Sauber, whom he was more than happy to leave for a Ferrari reserve role at the end of 2014 and who, with year-old engines, are likely to be nailed to the back of the grid next year?

And given his frustration with Haas in 2016, why would he take a chance on a Manor team who have registered just two points finishes in almost seven full seasons and who, under the management of uncompromising racing director Dave Ryan, will not tolerate his petulance?

Although his personal sponsorship may yet keep his career alive, Gutierrez appears to have talked his way out of F1 having failed to appreciate what he had in 2016, failed to endear himself to his employers and failed to understand the value of winning and losing as a team.

If this is the end, he will not be missed.


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