Top 10 GP2 Driver of the Year vote:
3 (Asia), 15 (Europe)
11th (Asia), 13th (Europe)
If GP2 is about the stars of tomorrow, then there can be no purer example of what we're looking for than Esteban Gutiérrez. Although a step or two behind the likes of Romain Grosjean, Charles Pic and Jules Bianchi on the road to F1, there seems little doubt that this is where he's destined to go before very long.
Already, Gutiérrez had been the youngest Mexican driver to win an International Championship at 17 years old, and at 19 he was installed as Sauber F1's official test and reserve driver after winning the inaugural year of the GP3 championship. The next logical step up the ladder was obviously GP2, and he set out for his first season in the feeder series in 2011.
Inevitably, the first year in GP2 is a "getting to know you" experience for any driver - familiarising themselves with the track, with the new GP2/11 Dallara chassis and with the general manner of racing at this level of motor sport. Gutiérrez had much to learn, and while he was paying his dues there would be no dazzling first-year performance as there had in GP3.
He had his first big accident in the Turkey feature race that kicked off the GP2 Europe season, spinning and going briefly airborne after a tap from Rodolfo Gonzalez at the start. He would cause an accident of his own in the Barcelona feature when he ran into Michael Herck and got a ten-place grid penalty for causing the accident - and ended up colliding with Herck again the next day as well. A technical problem meant he didn't even get to the grid for the Monaco sprint race, and still more technical problems also put him off the track at the Nurburgring and in Budapest.
But there were moments where he really shone: a spectacular start from 11th on the grid for the GP2 Asia Imola sprint race saw him capture fourth place by the finish, his first GP2 points; and then he maximised the opportunity of a front row start in the Valencia sprint race to take the lead from Josef Kral on the first lap and go on to claim his maiden series win. He proved his wet weather talent with a fine showing at the Nurburgring until he was put out of the race when a wheel detached from his car; and would finish on the podium at Hungary, taking second place in the sprint race in Hungary despite starting from the back of the grid. That was thanks to some audacious tyre strategies in changeable conditions, and managing to hold back a surging Grosjean in the final laps.
All in all, a typical rookie year for an impressive future motor racing star. It was certainly good enough to convince Lotus ART to immediately sign him up for 2012 - and it will be this coming season that will show whether he can deliver on the promise and become the true star of the future everyone hopes and expects that he will be.
Top 10 GP2 Driver of the Year 2011 results so far:
4. Luca Filippi
5. Charles Pic
6. Marcus Ericsson
7. Sam Bird
8. Giedo Van Der Garde
9. Tom Dillmann
10. Luiz Razia