Meet the Rookies: 2013
Although there is yet to be a full quota of Formula One drivers named to fill the 2013 grid at this moment of time, there are two new names among those already signed up for the new season. In one of the most unpredictable and exciting season of recent times Charles Pic and Jean-Eric Vergne embarked on their first taste of life as a fully fledged Formula One driver and have impressed enough to warrant a second season. In 2013 Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Gutierrez and Max Chilton will be lining up on the starting grid for Williams, Sauber and Marussia respectively, one expected to do so, one admitting he’s not ready and one a surprise addition.
The newest addition to the grid (and possibly the last) is certainly a familiar one, his name has been bandied about for a couple of seasons. Marussia were heading into the 2013 with two new drivers in Chilton and Razia, but with financial issues plaguing Razia a seat became open. Speculation was rife with Kovalainen’s name at the forefront, but after the disappointment of being overlooked by Force India who chose Sutil, Bianchi becomes the fourth French driver on the grid.
Bianchi has spent the two years of being a test driver for Ferrari and Force India respectively, appearing in 9 Friday practices for the latter last season. His close ties to Ferrari via their driver academy brings with it the vague promise of a Ferrari engine, and for a team whose current engine supplier (Cosworth) isn’t developing a 2014 engine that’s good enough.
He comes from a line of racers, and began his own career in karts like many others before graduating through the ranks of the French Formula Renault 2.0 series in 2007 (champion), Formula 3 Euroseries (third in 2008, first in 2009) and GP2 where in both 2010 and 2011 his ended the year in third. While he was a Ferrari test driver he notched up a second place in the GP2 Asia series and with Force India he took another second place in the Formula Renault 3.5 series. However with little operational experience of the Marussia, he’ll go to Melbourne with two with them and an extra one with Force India under his belt, not an ideal start but he’s on the first rung of the ladder.
Giedo van der Garde
Another driver from the GP2 series graduates to Formula One and has replaced Heikki Kovalainen at, which leaves them with a fairly inexperienced team as they head into their second year as Caterham. Van der Garde will be the first Dutch driver to take to the track since Christijan Albers drove for Spyker in 2007, a season he spent in a testing role for the same team. He followed that up in 2008 by staying with them as they became Force India and combining his testing duties with a convincing Formula Renault 3.5 series win with P1 Motorsport.
After moving up to GP2, starting with the Asia series in 2008, he stayed with the championship until 2012 where he finished 6th for Caterham while he spent his third year as a test driver, but this time with Caterham. In 2011 he obtained his best result of a third in the Asia series and 5th in full series for Barwa Addax.
His transition into Formula One hasn’t been an easy one, although he was Spyker test driver in 2007, it had been announced at the end of 2006 he was to take on the same role for Super Aguri. However on February 1st 2007 Spyker revealed he was to test for them and did so in Silverstone despite Super Aguri submitting a protest. Van der Garde was also in line to be part of the 2011 line up for the Virgin racing team, but it was Jerome d’Ambrosio who took that seat in the end.
The new Finn on the block has been a Williams test drive for three years, having first stepped into the role in for the 2010 season his name has gathered momentum in the paddock and on certain social media websites alike. During 2012 he replaced Bruno Senna for fifteen Friday practices, although not for Austin, perhaps the most telling replacement was in Brazil. Although there was strong speculation that Bottas was going to start 2013 as a Formula One driver, there was a wobble over who he would be replacing, however it came as no surprise when Senna was forced to step aside.
Bottas will join the grid with an impressive CV behind him, a start in karting gave him a solid foundation that he used to his advantage when he joined the single seater categories. In 2007 he came third in the Formula Renault 2.0 NEC series and followed that up in 2008 with a win in the same series (12 wins out of 14) and in the Eurocup. The following year he came third in the Formula 3 Renault series and won the Masters of Formula 3 race. In 2010 he matched his 2009 achievements, but bettered his result in the Macau Grand Prix to reach the bottom step, then for 2011 with Lotus ART he won the GP3 series.
When Sergio Perez joined Formula One in 2011 he was the fifth Mexican Formula One driver and the first since Hector Rebaque left in 1981, now Gutierrez will become the sixth and will hope to follow the meteoric rise of his fellow countryman. Although he won two races in GP2 last year (but finished the year third and out of reach of the title chasing duo of eventual winner Davide Valsecchi and second placed man Luiz Razia) he was prone to mistakes, of which he assures he had learned a great from. One interesting aspect of his story is that his appointment to join Nico Hulkenberg features a heavy influence from major sponsor Telmex.
Telmex back Gutierrez as they did Perez when he resided at Sauber, and when his departure was announced Kaltenborn hinted that Telmex were interested in retaining a Mexican flavour to their driver line up. With Gutierrez already on the scene as a test driver, he replaced an under the weather Perez in India for a Friday practice session last season, which raised eyebrows in and out of the paddock. But beyond that he has shown the capability to win, as he took the first GP3 title available upon its debut in 2010 with 5 wins.
Once his appointment was announced the first round of quotes from the driver did not inspire a great deal of confidence, “To be honest I don’t know if I am ready yet.” However he soon back up a little doubt with a burst of realism about what to expect from any driver in their rookie season, he wants to reach a level of consistency missing from his GP2 season.
Charles Pic’s step over to rival backmarker Caterham left a seat open at Marussia primed for someone either well funded or just starting out, or both. Chilton joined Marussia as a test driver from the 2012 Japanese Grand prix and got into the car for the first time on Friday in Abu Dhabi for practice. He replaced Pic for the first session and got within a second of Glock, and if he wants to impress like his predecessor he’ll want to get squeeze that gap sooner rather than later.
The UK native may have limited experience of Formula One (young driver and straight line tests) compared to the likes of fellow 2013 rookie Bottas and 2012 rookie Vergne, he has impressed the team enough for them to take the risk. His early success came in the T Cars (saloon cars) series in the form of a third place in 2005 and second in 2006. He then transferred to British Formula Three for three season, getting his best result of 4th overall in 2009 before graduating to GP2 in 2010. With a handful of podiumed from 2010 and 2011, he took his first win in the Hungarian feature race and his second in Singapore.
And of course…
There might be room for one more. Jules Bianchi is in the frame to step up to fill the other seat at Force India alongside, in all probability, Paul di Resta. However he has stiff competition from Adrian Sutil who has announced recently that he has been cleared to travel to any country, including China, after his incident in a club in Shanghai in 2011 and subsequent conviction.