Formula E offers Gutiérrez new challenge
Targeting debut at Mexico ePrix on April 1
Losing Haas F1 seat "my mistake"
What do you do when you lose your Formula One drive?
Esteban Gutiérrez is still coming to terms with what he calls “my mistake” after losing his seat at the American Haas F1 team but he’s got plenty to keep him busy for now.
For one thing, the Mexican recently tied the knot with girlfriend Monica Casán and he’s already been given a racing lifeline in one of motorsport’s fastest growing championships.
“I don’t see myself as unlucky,” the 25-year-old told CNN. “Formula E is a fresh start, a new opportunity and I’ve found the love of my life.
“We have to see the whole picture of personal and professional combined. I’ve been very lucky.”
Gutierrez is signed up to make his Formula E debut at the Mexico ePrix on April 1 and also expects to race in July’s inaugural double-header in New York.
It may be a short-term deal for the third season of Formula E but the Mexican sees the switch to the electric car racing series as “making a bet for the future.”
He explains: “My idea is to prepare everything for (a full-time drive for) season four – that’s what I’m aiming for.
“The next two or three years, I see Formula E as being one of the most important categories in motorsport.
“It’s a totally different concept to Formula One but it’s very exciting to come in and see that there is a good future in front. Electric cars are the future of mobility in the world, most of us know that.
“Formula E has grown a lot, new sponsors are coming in, the racing itself is getting more interesting and I’ve heard that it’s fun to drive in.”
Gutiérrez says he’s been in touch with other F1-turned-Formula E racers Lucas Di Grassi, Jerome D’Ambrosio and Jean-Eric Vergne to find out about the series, but he’s not yet revealed which of the 10 teams he will be driving for in Mexico.
He is, however, impressed with how many road car manufacturers are already racing in Formula E.
“I don’t remember a series for many years where so many constructors are involved,” says Gutiérrez, who was signed by Ferrari in 2015 as its reserve driver.
“The more important manufacturers, like Ferrari, that you can have the better it would be for the series. It’s just a matter of time.”
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Among the constructors already on the grid are reigning champions Renault, Audi, which is ramping up its involvement with ABT Schaeffler team, and luxury brand Jaguar, which joined for Season Three to help showcase its electric cars.
Even F1 world champion Mercedes has reserved a spot in Formula E for the 2018/2019 season while Ferrari, winner of the most F1 races and team titles, says it would consider joining the series if the rules on car design were more open.
“I don’t think they will completely switch (from F1),” adds Gutiérrez. “But it’s attractive for the manufacturers and they will want to be part of Formula E because it’s the way the world is going in terms of electric cars.”
‘Four very tough years’
Despite focusing on Formula E in 2017, Gutiérrez equally isn’t turning his back on F1.
“I never close doors,” he insists. “Never, never. I really love Formula One.
“I always want to see a way that I can grow, that there is commitment both from the team and the driver and let’s say, a path I can really make steps forward. I got to the point in F1 where I didn’t have that in the short term so that’s why I decided to switch.”
After a high-flying junior career, Gutiérrez spent four years in F1, starting out with the Swiss team Sauber before his exit at the end of 2016.
“It was four very tough years,” he reflects. “But I learned a lot.”
Gutierrez started his 2016 campaign for the Haas F1 team with a bang as he collided with Fernando Alonso, who spun into a high-speed crash which forced him to sit out the next race, and from there the difficulties continued.
A tiff with team boss Guenther Steiner was caught on the TV cameras in Brazil, a race when the Mexican racer also found out he had been replaced by Kevin Magnussen.
“Even though it looks very bad from outside, from inside it was a great lesson,” Gutiérrez adds. “It was a great experience to build up the team from scratch.
“Even if things didn’t work out the way I wanted, I do feel very grateful with Gene Haas for giving me a year to drive for the team.”
What the 25-year-old wanted – and thought he already had in the bag – was a second season driving for the American team.
“That was originally the plan,” Gutierrez explains. “I was too confident of it and that was my mistake, to be too confident that things were taken care of.
“I was focusing on the results and being confident that the project was going to continue forward in the way it was initially spoken of or planned.
“In the end I realized the commitment from the other side wasn’t there and by the time I realized the timing wasn’t great.
“But I don’t really blame them – I don’t blame anybody – because I was the one to be too confident.”
Gutiérrez says he is evaluating reserve driver roles in F1 for 2017. When asked what it was like to try and secure a seat in F1, famously called ‘The Piranha Club,’ he responds: “How can I explain? It’s very difficult to answer that question.
“You have to be very realistic about it from a driver’s point of view.
“Sometimes part of it is having a bit of luck,” he adds with a rueful laugh.
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After four years toiling to prove his star talent in F1, Gutiérrez feels fortunate for the chance to shine his light in Formula E.
“I realize that the cars are completely different, that everything will be new to me and that’s why I have to be realistic but I’m sure I will enjoy it – and I’m going to do my best.”