Touted as a talent of the future from a young age, Mexican Esteban Gutiérrezascended through the junior categories quickly having delivered impressive performances straight from the get go when he made his debut in single-seaters in 2007.
Gutiérrez finished his maiden season in Formula BMW USA runner-up to eventual winner Daniel Morad, claiming nine pole positions and four wins in 14 races.
He then made the move to Europe to compete in more competitive series, joining Josef Kaufmann Racing to race in Formula BMW Europe where he beat Marco Wittmann to the championship, his impressive season included a winning streak of six races in a row.
Having enjoyed successful seasons in the Formula BMW category, Gutiérrez joined ART Grand Prix, where he would remain until his promotion to Formula 1. His Formula 3 Euro Series campaign wasn’t as competitive as his previous two years collecting just the two podiums during the season, but for the following year, ART gave Gutierrez a seat in their GP3 team where he won the championship in his rookie year.
Now in GP2, Gutiérrez struggled to make an impact in his first year only winning the one Sprint Race in Valencia, however, returned in 2012 to finish third in the series with three wins and five fastest laps.
Our journalist Josh Kruse sat down with Gutiérrez in the Haas hospitality unit at the Monaco Grand Prix to talk about the Mexican’s career to date.
You rose through the ranks quite quickly in your younger days, can you describe your experience in the junior categories?
Well it was first in Formula BMW in America, it was my first year after two years of karting in Mexico, it was a very interesting moment because obviously everything was new. I was raw, let’s say, in many ways so it was straight away I had really good results and that’s why we decided to go to Europe and give it a try, to the most competitive categories. One of the conditions from my father was that if I was going to leave school, he said that “you would be responsible for everything. You will be writing your contracts, you will be negotiating with the teams, you will find your sponsors and you will go to the best teams with the best engineers and mechanics, and that will be your university”.
So for many years basically I was doing everything by myself with support from my father, he was a fan of the family project. And that’s how I went on to different categories, very nice teams – Josef Kaufmann at that time, then I switched to ART in Formula 3, and I stayed with ART for four years in Formula 3, GP3 and two years in GP2. So it’s always been very nice, it was a bit up and down in Formula 3 season, but Formula BMW and GP3 was very strong and then my second year in GP2 was very strong so that’s how it was.
Did you cope well with the pressure since it was all down to you?
Well the most difficult part, initially I started to do everything myself, there was more time, there was not many things and it was pretty straight forward. But when I started to go up and up it started to become more complicated, until I reached Formula 1. From the start until Formula 1 with no manager, without any contracts, without anything, it was by myself. Obviously with the advice from my father but the responsibility of the decisions were mine. I appreciated that from my father because he had this vision for me to develop in many areas and to get to know everything around it, everything around the sport. Because if you are only a racing driver and you have other people doing the rest of the things, you need to understand what those people are doing. And I have been in that position as well, even though I was young, very young. At that time I sat down with some powerful people and I was 17 or 16 years old, it was very interesting. By the time I reached Formula 1, I said “shit, now I need a manager” because I couldn’t cope with everything! It was a very tricky transition which then I decided to delegate to someone else and have other people do those things for me. It was interesting to have done that in the way it was.
Talk us through your transition to Formula 1 in 2013, you’re coming off winning championships in junior categories and then you make the move to a midfield Formula 1 team.
It was not only a midfield team, it was a team that had a lot of problems and issues inside financially. And the atmosphere was, the goal was to survive, it was not the case to have projects to go forward. I had a contract with Sauber from 2009 when I signed with BMW, it was the same contract until 2014. So it was two years with Sauber that was not very simple or straight forward. That’s when after I had the opportunity to join Ferrari as a third driver in a completely different line as I was taking risks.
Between 2013 and 2014 the engines changed from a V8 to a V6 turbo and you went from scoring six points to none, can you contribute the drop in form to the new power unit?
Something that is true is that in my rookie year, I wasn’t let’s say up to the job at that time. Everything was new I was trying to catch up with everything, the experience and everything. I had a very strong teammate [Nico Hulkenberg] which I managed to match a few times, and it was not an easy transition. In my second year I was much better prepared. I was in really good shape, very well everything was good. Then there was the change of power unit, we were sometimes 20kph slower in the straight and the car was not good, the car was just so unpredictable. It was so frustrating for me to come into my second year, in a year you have to show and demonstrate what you can do and not have the tools because the car was really way far back, which was not a very pleasant situation. In some cases I was just not enjoying it anymore to be honest because it was a lot of negativity. Not only because of the car not performing, but the situation around the team, everything was just not the right moment to be there. That’s why I said OK, I’m going to look for something else and this opportunity came up [with Ferrari] to pursue something different with a lot of risk. Today I am here.
What was your season like with Ferrari, what did they have you doing? Did they have a long term plan to get you in Haas when they announced their entry into the sport?
Well, first of all, there were Ferrari people in the team [Sauber] which knew my approach and the way I worked, they knew my potential, so that helped me out a lot to then get a chance with Ferrari. They decided to take me in as a reserve driver and adopt me into the family, and say ‘OK you come one year with us and then we see what options are available’. Because the decision was quite late. And then the Haas project, Guenther [Steiner] and Gene [Haas] got interested in me, and in June/July when had some conversations, and we went on from that.
So it made sense for Ferrari to send you to Haas because you could contribute to the Ferrari team from there.
Yeah definitely, I had the transition from 2013 with the V8 engines to the V6 engines, I worked a lot to improve the V6 in 2014 when we had a very complicated year. Even for Ferrari the engine was very complicated and there was a lot of input from the drivers to try to make it better, more progressive, and I think it’s helped me a lot in my experience to then come here and contribute from a team that has been starting from zero, and really understand and know and have the confidence to say ‘go in this direction’, and that’s the way it’s been this year.
What was it like joining Haas, compared to Sauber, different operations, did you fit in more easily?
It’s a completely different world, you cannot compare it. In Haas everything is new and clean, you don’t carry negativity from the past. It’s a fantastic project, everything is new and everything is to go forward, and it’s a great opportunity for me for my career, to have an experience starting a team from zero and being a part of that. It’s an experience that I’m enjoying and it’s helping me to grow.
You had a bit of trouble getting your head around the car’s performance in the first few races, how long do you see this teething problem lasting?
It was there from the beginning, the troubles were that we had a lot of interruptions from the weekend, unfortunately, a lot of mechanical things that didn’t allow me to have a proper weekend in terms of flow or car setup development. So it’s not been very easy, for example in Melbourne I had the collision with Fernando [Alonso] which was not really my fault. And then we went on to Bahrain, I was running in eighth position and one of the brake discs broke, then I went on to China, I didn’t do any laps before qualifying basically on the dry, so I had to go straight into qualifying. Then in the race it was pretty good, but then I didn’t have DRS, so I couldn’t really go forward! Then Russia was a first lap incident which was a bit more on my side, and then Barcelona was a pretty good race, we probably missed a bit of reaction time in terms of strategy at the end of the race, but it was overall quite a positive weekend for me. Obviously not completely satisfied because I wanted to get my points because we’re there to get the points.
Images via HaasF1. Interview originally published here