Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez found himself in trouble with the race stewards on Sunday, earning himself a drive-thru penalty in the closing stages of the race for leaving the track and gaining an advantage while pulling off an overtaking move on William's Pastor Maldonado.

Gutierrez was 14th at the time and on a charge that could have seen him get into the top ten, but the stewards' decision undid all that hard work - and the driver wasn't happy with what he felt was an unjustified penalty.

"I totally respect the FIA 's decision to penalise me for overtaking Pastor," he said. "But I don't agree with the penalty."

The team was convinced that had it not been for the drive-thru, Gutierrez would have been well positioned to gain a point or two at the end of the race.

"It was clear that for Esteban starting so far back would be difficult, but his pace and tyre management was strong, and it was unfortunate he ended up with a drive through penalty," said Tom McCullough, Head of Track Engineering. "Otherwise he would have been close to the points towards the end of the race."

"Esteban did a good job, but the drive-thru penalty made it impossible for him to score points," agreed Sauber F1 team principal Monisha Kaltenborn, after Gutierrez struggled back from the penalty to finish in 14th place by the chequered flag, a lap off the lead.

Starting from the back row of the grid after a rain-hit qualifying session, Gutierrez had been one of only four drivers to start the race on hard compound prime tyres. That made it hard work for the Mexican driver, but meant he was able to work his way up as high as ninth place before his late first visit to pit lane on lap 20.

"From where I started I had to make progress and be clever about how much I could push," he explained. "It was a matter of finding the right balance between pushing and taking care of the tyres, and I found that balance pretty well.

"I just focused on being as quick as possible, trying to manage the tyres well and getting the most out of the car," he said. "We lost a lot of time in the first stint with the traffic I encountered as I was coming from the back of the field."

Gutierrez was also involved in a subsequent incident which saw Williams' Pastor Maldonado crash into the Force Indias of Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta on lap 28, after the Venezuelan grew tired of being held up by the slower Sauber.

"I ran wide because Gutierrez pulled me a bit wider," said Maldonado when explaining how he'd ended up making contact with Sutil and then a heavier smash into di Resta's rear suspension. Maldonado didn't point the finger at Gutierrez, however: "I was completely compromised by Sutil."

Overall, Gutierrez could still find plenty of positives from what had otherwise been a frustrating first F1 Grand Prix outing at the historic Spa-Francorchamps circuit for the 22-year-old.

"To be able to fight and to extract the maximum today is good to know, " he said. "The strategy we planed was not ideal, so we had to change it and that still wasn't perfect," he continued, adding: "Now we have to improve in qualifying, because I think with the pace we have we can still fight for the top ten."

Gutierrez' team mate Nico Hulkenberg also had a moment of high drama in what was his 50th Grand Prix start in F1 when he pitted for the first time on lap 10 at the same time as Felipe Massa. Once his tyre change was done and he was given the signal to get going, Hulkenberg was slow pulling away from the pit box by which time the now-exiting Ferrari was alongside. Hulkenberg was lucky not to make contact, and also lucky not to be handed a penalty for unsafe release.

In fact probably more concerning for the team s a whole than Gutierrez' drive-thru is the question of just why Hulkenberg went on to finish just one place ahead despite not picking up that penalty for the pit lane near-miss.

"I was able to improve a couple of positions at the start - it was tight but I managed quite well," said Hulkenberg. "I had a good first lap, but the pace was missing pretty much from the beginning.

"The car was difficult to drive," he continued. "We were lacking a good balance throughout the whole weekend and during the race, and the tyres started to go off pretty quickly. We had to pit earlier than planned. Overall, we were simply missing speed today."

"We have to have a look at the data as to why Nico's performance decreased during the race," agreed Kaltenborn. "We expected more this weekend. On a performance level, we were able to close the gap to our direct competitors. However, we weren't able to translate that into points."