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Rookie diary - Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez 25 Sep 2013

Esteban Gutierrez (MEX) Sauber.
Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Singapore Grand Prix, Qualifying, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Saturday, 21 September 2013 Esteban Gutierrez (MEX) Sauber C32.
Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Singapore Grand Prix, Qualifying, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Saturday, 21 September 2013 Esteban Gutierrez (MEX) Sauber.
Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Singapore Grand Prix, Practice, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Friday, 20 September 2013 Esteban Gutierrez (MEX) Sauber C32.
Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Singapore Grand Prix, Practice, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Friday, 20 September 2013 Esteban Gutierrez (MEX) Sauber.
Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Singapore Grand Prix, Qualifying, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Saturday, 21 September 2013 Esteban Gutierrez (MEX) Sauber C32.
Formula One World Championship, Rd11, Belgian Grand Prix, Practice, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Friday, 23 August 2013 Esteban Gutierrez (MEX) Sauber.
Formula One World Championship, Rd11, Belgian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Saturday, 24 August 2013 Esteban Gutierrez (MEX) Sauber C32.
Formula One World Championship, Rd8, British Grand Prix, Practice, Silverstone, England, Friday, 28 June 2013

In the latest instalment of our series charting the personal and professional progress of this year’s newcomers, Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez reflects on his best Grand Prix weekend so far, his development as a driver, his hopes for the rest of the season, and more…

Singapore was a breakthrough weekend for Esteban Gutierrez. He made it into Q3 for the first time, out-qualifying highly-rated team mate Nico Hulkenberg in the process, and then put in his strongest race performance to date. Now comes a flurry of flyaway races, many of them new to the Mexican. So how is he feeling?

“I am very much looking forward to it - it is exciting. The busier the better, because it gives you the chance to improve at a higher rate as there are still things that I want to do better. And Singapore has shown that I can. I love that track. It’s one of my favourites. I knew it already from last year’s GP2 race, so I knew what was coming my way, and oh boy, what a qualifying it was! My first time in Q3 - that ticked the box!

“From the upcoming six remaining races, four are new for me: Korea and Japan, Austin and Brazil. I had a little taste of India last year doing Friday’s morning session and I know Abu Dhabi, but the rest are new territories waiting to be conquered. Of course, that will be challenging, but in fact getting to know a new track is not the biggest issue. It doesn’t really take a lot of time - a lot of laps - to get familiar with a track. Probably you will miss the last couple of hundredths, but what you lose when you’re unfamiliar with a track is not massive.

“Unfortunately we don’t have a simulator, which would give me the chance to really get to know a new track before going there, so I still do it in the same way I’ve always done it in the previous years of my racing career. I watch a lot of video footage from the previous years. I analyse the data and that gives me an idea of what to do in each corner - learning the tricks before even getting into the car. On the track walk I don’t take notes, but try to do everything by imagination. I try to register everything in my memory and imagine myself driving at the track and how I would react when in the car. These are the main the things I do to prepare.”

With 13 Grands Prix already under his belt, Gutierrez has been on a very steep learning curve. The experience gained and information accumulated in just those dozen or so races is incalculable. So does he still feel like a rookie?

“Well, you can never feel comfortable in Formula One. You are never in the comfort zone. I have learnt that if you are looking for job security you should probably look somewhere else, so I probably don’t feel like a rookie. You constantly have to push yourself, learning new things, experimenting with new things and finding solutions to problems - which for me was qualifying. Obviously in Singapore I found a solution to this issue - at least for that track. Other than that I feel comfortable driving the car and have been able to eliminate some of the problems that I had at the beginning of the season, like being a bit more aggressive with the strategy.

“It is not about being more aggressive on the driving, but on the input, on the strategy - going more to the edge with the set-up of the car, and being more aggressive with the timing in qualifying, like going out late when the track is in optimal condition. As a rookie you tend to be more conservative, as you want to get experience and get as much mileage under your belt as possible. But with more experience comes the move towards a ‘right time, right place’ strategy. If you are not sitting in a competitive car such as a Red Bull, Ferrari or Mercedes, you are usually more on the edge, as in the midfield you risk not making it into Q2 because of just two- or three-tenths of a second.

“Lately I feel much more confident in the car. It’s not easier, but I am more adapted to it. The communication with the engineers is very good, but still sometimes you are not fast enough - and that means you’ve been too conservative, and being conservative as a driver is never too positive. (laughs) Singapore qualifying demonstrated that I have overcome my glitches there and overall I would say that my races have been quite strong lately, starting from Barcelona. Driving in the wet has also been pretty strong. I like driving in the wet - I am a fish! (laughs) It brings extra excitement and holds a lot of opportunities for midfielders, as anything is possible. When the grid suddenly goes topsy-turvy there is a bigger chance to get a better result.

“I have finished the last couple of races in around P12, so the logical next step would be to jump two places and finish tenth. One championship point - that would be ticking another box. It will not get me into a position to fight for the championship, but it is a psychological hurdle - just like being in Q3 for the first time. It would mean that I have managed yet another step.”

Despite his progress, however, Sauber have yet to confirm their 2014 driver line-up and so for now at least, Gutierrez’s F1 future remains uncertain. How does a young driver cope with that? By concentrating on the positives, one of which is talk of a home race in Mexico next season…

“One thing I have understood already is that you will never be settled in Formula One. When you say, ‘I am stable,’ that means for the next three months, maximum. The rest is a rollercoaster experience and you have to make sure that you have more ups than downs. Never overindulge yourself - as this is the surest way out again. Right now I am focused on the moment. Whatever happens in 2014 I will learn soon enough. Until then I want to take my own personal steps in becoming an even more experienced driver.

“I am really looking forward to Suzuka, because of the number of fast corners this track has, and the Austin race, because of the number of Mexican fans that will be there. A Mexican Grand Prix would be the most fantastic experience for me - to race in front of my people. Mexico has a long F1 history, so the fascination for F1 is still in their genes.”

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