New Kids on the Block

This is going to be a big year for Esteban Gutierrez and Valtteri Bottas. I mean, after joining twitter, starting his F1 career will be the latter’s greatest accomplishment.

These two young drivers have a lot of hype surrounding them. They both have junior championships under their belts and at least two years of being test drivers for an established Formula One team. Along with this, they have been with their respective teams for a number of years, having both been picked up early on in their journey up the F1 ladder.

The similarities continue when you look at the teams they’re at. They both arrive on the scene against very formidable teammates, both former pole-sitters and one, a race winner. Their respective teams had much improved seasons last year, with Sauber grabbing four podiums and a several top-5 grid spots and Williams taking a pole, win and more top-5 grid spots as well. All of this points to a lot of pressure for them to improve in 2013. Indeed consistency, not usually trademarks of rookies, is all the teams really need in order to deem 2013 a success.

While he plays down the prospects of any eye-catching performances, don’t think that Esteban will just hide in the shadows in 2013. The Mexican has a very solid racing platform that will serve him well.

Esteban comes into Formula One on the back of a slightly disappointing GP2 campaign. While he finished 3rd in the championship, it was a rather distant one, with some careless accidents denting his hopes of a championship challenge mid-season. However, the performances that did come together were very impressive. He beat veterans of the series like Giedo van der Garde and Max Chilton who should have done better in the championship. This relative disappointment from Gp2 doesn’t mean he hasn’t enjoyed success. He absolutely dominated the 2010 GP3 season, taking 5 wins. All this time, he was test driver for BMW Sauber, courtesy of his Formula BMW championship in 2008. Indeed, that championship 5 years ago may have secured his place in F1.

Esteban has a lot going for him. He is young, eager, talented and has financial backing in the form of Telmex. Being funded by the richest man in the world certainly has its perks, but don’t think that was the determining factor in his step up into a race seat. We must keep in mind that Telmex was staying with Sauber regardless of their driver choice. This goes to show Sauber’s decision wasn’t purely commercial.

This season, Esteban will have to call upon his experience with Sauber and their way of operating in orfer to gain any advantage over Nico Hilkenberg, his new teammate. Esteban has been with the the Swiss squad since 2009, so he has lived through the tough transition of the team from factory giant to privateer outfit. If the Mexican is to deem his debut season as a success, consistency and solid points need to be the minimum. If he can score a podium, that will be a fantastic boost for both him and the team who hope to emulate the giant killing performances from 2012.

There is a sense from a lot of people that Esteban needs to perform on the level of now Mclaren driver, Seegio Perez. His near wins in Malaysia and Italy are a testament to his immense talent, but just because he his a fellow countryman, it doesn’t mean Esteban will be directly compared to him. Of course, completely avoiding comparison will be impossible, but the rookie deserves a clean slate on which to make his mark, rather than just adding to Sergio’s already decorated CV. Who knows, maybe Esteban will surprise us all this year.

Esteban has enjoyed a very successful preseason. All of his outings in the car have been uninterrupted and consistent. He is proving to be reliable in this sense. The consensus also points to the team being quick. They won’t challenge for the title, but nothing suggests they can’t scare the big boys more often than last year. All Esteban needs to do is stay out of trouble.

The trouble is, one very determined Finn could get in his way.

Valtteri Bottas has finally stepped up to the race seat many believed was his the moment we saw him drive his first FP1 of 2012. His speed and consistency impressed throughout the paddock. Indeed, he was good enough to even beat Maldonado every once in a while in practice. For 2013, the expectations are high as everyone at Williams has dubbed the Finn the next great thing. Certainly, his goal must be to emulate the successes fellow countrymen Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen, rather then the relative disappointments of Heikki Kovalainen and Mika Salo.

Like Gutierrez, Valtteri is a champion of GP3. He won the championship the year after the Mexican and was already a part of the Williams family before that. His time with Williams exceeds that of several current F1 drivers, and he hasn’t even raced yet! Indeed, there are many similarities between the careers of Esteban and Valtteri. Perhaps this will make it easier to compare their success or failure throughout this unpredictable season.

Valtteri’s transition from test to race driver for Williams was expected early on in the 2012 season. Most expected the 2012 campaign to be a buffer year just to get the Finn ready for racing in 2013. Bottas should be well prepared, though, as he has had one of the more pleasant preseason testing experiences of any of the drivers. In Jerez, he got used to the new tires in the car he already knew very well, and in Barcelona, he added the new car variable to the tricky tire mix. This will be a very trying year for all the rookies as the tires have proven to be at least easy to warm up, but very hard to conserve. Valtteri, though, is taking the challenge in his stride.

Having a teammate like Pastor will be helpful as well. Although a bit unpredictable, the Venezuelan is undeniably quick and a proven race winner, providing the Finn the perfect performance benchmark. Having immensely talented teammates are just more of the similarities between Esteban and Valtteri.

Throughout his career, Valtteri has been supported and backed by Toto Wolff, a former stakeholder of the Williams F1 Team. Many were skeptical about the partnership and assumed that the Finn was in the team just because of this connection. When Wolff announced his departure from the team last month, though, I personally was convinced that Valtteri’s placement as a race driver was genuine and not linked explicitly to his connection with Wolff.

Williams is the perfect place for Valtteri at the moment. They are on an upward swing in terms of performance and management, and with the determination to challenge the big teams this year, Williams have provided the Finn with the perfect opportunity to prove to us all that he deserves his place in F1. If he lives up to all the hype, it won’t be long before the likes of Mclaren are knocking on the doors of Williams.

The battle between the midfield teams is set to be one for the ages, but their new drivers promise one that could be even more spectacular. Roll on the Australian Grand Prix!

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