- Jul 23, 2014
Scuderia Ferrari have announced that former Sauber F1 Team driver Esteban Gutierrez has signed to the team for the 2015 season as the team's test and reserve driver.
The 23-year-old Mexican driver had spent the last two seasons with Sauber, but after it was announced in November that the team had elected to go a different direction with new drivers Marcus Ericsson and Brazilian rookie Felipe Nasr, Gutierrez elected to pursue a reserve role with a top team in 2015 in an effort to remain in Formula 1. He now serves as the reserve driver for the most storied team in Grand Prix auto racing, waiting in the wings and helping to test and develop the cars that newly-signed, four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel, and his teammate, 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen, will race next season.
“It is an honour to become part of the Scuderia Ferrari family, a team with such an exceptional history,” said Gutierrez. “It is for me the beginning of a new path for my future and I’m going to do my utmost to contribute to the achievement of the targets set by the Scuderia. I want to thank everybody for their belief in my potential; this will bring a great opportunity for me to develop further and get to the top in the near future. With all my passion and dedication, I’m now looking forward to the start of this new venture.”
Newly-designated Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene also said of the signing: “While confirming our full confidence in a formidable race driver pairing, made up of four times World Champion Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, a past champion with Ferrari, I am pleased to welcome Esteban Gutierrez. We are pleased to be able to offer this opportunity to Esteban who, although young, has plenty of experience relating to the new generation of Formula 1 cars. I am sure that, with his experience, he will make an important contribution to the development work of the team in the simulator."
Gutierrez is the second driver in the last week to be confirmed at a reserve role with a major F1 team; his signing follows the announcement that 2014's top-ranked rookie, Kevin Magnussen, will serve as McLaren's primary test and reserve driver in 2015 as they elect to field the veteran pairing of Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso in Honda's landmark return to Formula One.
A former champion of Formula BMW Europe in 2008, and the inaugural GP3 Series champion back in 2010 - a series that has since graduated Williams' Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull driver elect Daniil Kvyat into immediate F1 success - Gutierrez's once-promising potential for F1 stardom has yet to translate into significant results on the biggest stage in racing. Gutierrez has tallied just one points-scoring finish from 38 Grand Prix entries, recorded in the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix. In 2014, he contributed to Sauber's first pointless championship campaign in twenty-two seasons, with a best finish of 11th in Brazil, no appearances in Q3, and the lowest championship result among all drivers who competed in all 19 Grands Prix, classified in 21st place.
Having just turned 23 in August, the hope is that Gutierrez, who has struggled in the past to match the pace of teammates Nico Hulkenberg and Adrian Sutil, will be able to further hone his abilities while working with Ferrari, just as another former Sauber driver, Felipe Massa, was able to do in 2003 when he took a Ferrari reserve role after an incident-marred rookie season in 2002 - albeit without the access to unlimited testing that Massa had a decade ago.
In the year where the Mexican Grand Prix will return to the Formula One calendar after a 23-year absence, it is quite fitting that Gutierrez joins the team for which the namesakes of the race venue, the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, forged their legacies in racing. “Welcoming Esteban also means opening the gates of Ferrari to a driver from Mexico, a country where the Scuderia still has a lot of fans, just as was the case 50 years ago in the days of the Rodriguez brothers," added team principal Arrivabene.
Pedro Rodriguez was a loyal Ferrari sports car racer for nearly a decade and a half, winning the 1960 Targa Florio, taking two wins in the race now known as the 24 Hours at Daytona, and appearing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans ten times as a Ferrari driver, and his nine seasons in Formula One included eight Grand Prix starts for Ferrari from 1964 to 1969. His younger brother Ricardo Rodriguez, who made his Grand Prix debut at 19 years old and held the record for the youngest F1 driver of all time for nearly two decades, made all five of his World Championship starts with Scuderia Ferrari between 1961 and 1962. Tragically, the younger Rodriguez brother was killed during practice for the 1962 Mexican Grand Prix, just 20 years old at the time. In recent years, Force India driver Sergio Perez was a charter member of the Ferrari Driver Academy from 2010 until 2012, covering his vice-championship campaign in the GP2 Series and his first two F1 seasons at Sauber before moving on to McLaren in 2013.
The role of Ferrari test and reserve driver was shared in 2014 by longtime F1 veteran Pedro de la Rosa, and current AF Corse World Endurance Championship driver Davide Rigon. But neither driver appeared in a Free Practice session in a Formula One Grand Prix, and of the two, only De la Rosa appeared in an official test session for Ferrari. Notable Ferrari test drivers in the past have also included Jules Bianchi (2011, 2014), Luca Badoer (1998-2010), Giancarlo Fisichella (2009-10), Marc Gene (2004-10), and Nicola Larini (1992-1996).