F1 rookie Esteban Gutierrez has admitted that his first grand prix as a race driver was better than he could have imagined, although he admitted it was hard not to get lost in the moment.
The Mexican has, of course, been a part of the F1 fraternity for a couple of years, and has been on track with the sport's biggest names during free practice sessions since joining the Sauber team as official reserve ahead of the 2011 campaign, but he has revealed that finally making the grid was beyond anything he could have dreamed.
The 21-year old fell foul of the tricky conditions during qualifying at Melbourne's Albert Park circuit, exiting after an accident in the rain-hit Q1, but kept it together on race day to come home in 13th position with Sauber's hopes resting on him following team-mate Nico Hulkenberg's DNS.
“The experience of my first grand prix was better than I had expected in my wildest dreams,” Gutierrez told the official F1 website, “My first ever qualifying session was tricky but, at the same time, it was an adventure. When you have such extreme conditions - where you are always changing between full wet tyres and intermediates - it makes it very interesting.
“I definitely expected more than to go out in Q1. I think we had good pace and, in the wet, we've been in quite good shape - good enough to be in Q2 I would say – but, at the end of Q1, I had only one shot at setting a good time on intermediates and I made a mistake.”
A two-stop strategy helped Gutierrez make up places in the 58-lap race, and the rookie – still the youngest in the field despite his F1 involvement – said that he was happy with his performance, even though he was unable to challenge for points.
“When I was sat on the grid in Melbourne, I was just living the moment,” he explained, “I was trying to keep my emotions very stable and simply not getting carried away. To be honest, the emotions came after the race. I sat down thinking 'wow, now I can say that I have finished my first F1 race'. It's something that I'd worked so hard to achieve.
“In terms of racing, my first race was just like any other race. Of course, the level is higher in F1 and, yes, you can feel it physically but, at the same time, everybody is more professional and that has a huge influence on how you compete. Doing something stupid is the exception - not the rule! My aim was to stay very natural and that is probably the reason why I was able to feel the same way as I have in the hundred or so races I've done in other kinds of car in the past.
“However, I think it is important to consider that it was my first race - so it was important to live the whole experience in a very focused way in order to extract the maximum amount of information for the future. One of the things that keeps me very motivated and gives me confidence is that it is easier to fix a small mistake - like I did in qualifying - than it would be to fix the fact of not being quick enough. So I took a lot of positives from my 'first day' and the focus is clearly on moving forward.