Sauber have signed Mexican driver Estaban Gutiérrez to race alongside Nico Hulkenberg in 2013. Gutiérrez has been Sauber’s test and reserve driver during 2011 and 2012 while he has been competing in GP2, but has now been promoted into a full-time Formula One race seat.
Sauber’s announcement confirms that Kamui Kobayashi is out of a drive for next season. The exciting and often sideways Japanese driver had a promising start to his Formula One career late in 2009 for Toyota and was signed by Sauber from 2010. He impressed during 2010 and 2011 but has had a fairly lacklustre 2012, apart from an emotional first podium at his home race in Japan. Unfortunately for Kobayashi, it is becoming increasingly difficult for drivers to find seats based solely on talent, and he is now seeking sponsorship to assist in finding a drive for next season.
Gutiérrez has already proven his talent, taking the inaugural GP3 title in 2010 and finishing third in GP2 in 2012. He first tested for BMW Sauber in 2009 and has since been run by Sauber at the annual Young Driver Test. The young Mexican is only 21 years old, which raises questions about whether or not he has the necessary experience for Formula One. In the current tough economic climate, he has likely been rushed into an F1 race seat in order to continue Sauber’s sponsorship relationship with Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim, which began when the team signed Sergio Perez who is moving to McLaren from next season.
It was highly likely that Gutiérrez would end up in Formula One anyway. He is certainly quick enough. Whether or not he is ready to race at the top level of motorsport will be revealed by his performance on the track in 2013.