To no-one's great surprise, the Sauber team has confirmed that Esteban Gutierrez will fill its second seat for the 2013 F1 season, forming an all-new partnership with Nico Hulkenberg.
The deal ensures that Kamui Kobayashi is left looking for work next season, while current team-mate Sergio Perez heads for McLaren, having been tabbed as Lewis Hamilton's replacement alongside Jenson Button for 2013. Sauber also confirmed that Dutchman Robin Frijns will take on the role of test and reserve driver occupied for the past two seasons by Gutierrez.
The Mexican began his career in karting before moving on to race in the Formula BMW USA series in 2007. Having finished as runner-up in his first season, he crossed the Atlantic to go on and win the Formula BMW Europe crown a year later. After a spell in the F3 Euroseries, he switched to GP3 in 2010 and stormed to the title with five race wins. Two seasons in GP2 followed, with 2012 seeing him collect three victories and finish third in the standings.
Gutierrez was given his first chance to test for the BMW Sauber F1 Team back in 2009, and further opportunities followed, eventually leading to him being appointed as the official test and reserve driver for the renamed Sauber squad ahead of the 2011 campaign.
“Esteban has already been part of the team for a long time and we have followed his career very closely,” new team principal Monisha Kaltenborn confirmed, “In 2010, we signed him up as an affiliated driver and, in 2011 and 2012, he was our test and reserve driver. We mapped out his path to F1 step by step. Esteban has great talent and now he's ready to take the leap. We are in no doubt we have a strong driver pairing in place for the 2013 season.”
While some questioned whether Gutierrez was mature enough to make the step up after a sometimes ragged GP2 campaign, the Mexican is confident that he can adapt to his new surroundings.
“After three years working with Sauber, I feel very grateful for all the attention I have received from everyone in the team and for all their input, which has allowed me to develop into an F1 driver in a very progressive way," he explained, "Now, after experiencing other categories of racing as an introduction to F1, this is the start of the real challenge to succeed at the pinnacle of motorsport.
"The support from my family, as well as from my sponsors, has been a key factor in getting there and I am very grateful to everyone who has been involved in our project. It will be a great pleasure to be racing in the same team as an experienced driver like Nico Hülkenberg. He will be a good reference point for me and will push me to adapt quickly to F1 competition so we can develop the car together with the team in the best way.”
Perez and Kobayashi will contest their final races for Sauber in Brazil this weekend, looking to wipe out the twelve-point margin that separates the Swiss team from Mercedes in the constructors' standings.