Esteban Gutierrez’s promotion to Formula One has been pencilled in for much of the season meaning that Kamui Kobayashi’s departure from Sauber isn’t a huge surprise. The issue for Kobayashi is that very few teams will see him as a long term investment, both in the car and in terms of attracting sponsors. Another problem facing the Japanese driver is that once you fall off of the F1 radar – especially in the midfield – getting back in is perhaps more difficult than breaking into the sport in the first place.
Kobayashi’s results haven’t set the word on fire, but he’s competent enough to be in the sport. His drive to the podium in Japan was outstanding and achieved on pure pace throughout the entire weekend. His performances compared to Sergio Perez have been closer than some people would believe, with their qualifying pace also similarly matched.
One other issue for Kobayashi is that his flamboyant overtaking style – who can forget his debut in Brazil and the race at Suzuka in 2010 – was nullified significantly by the introduction of DRS. Whereas in the past a mixture of judgement, bravery and a little bit of luck was an advantage in races where passing was tricky, in post-2011 spec F1 the flick of a button is usually good enough to see you past a rival.
Kobayashi will most likely leave F1 with 60 starts, a podium that will live long in the memory and a decent reputation – which is more than a lot of drivers have.
Sauber’s new line up is also rather exciting. Not only do many people feel that Nico Hulkenberg would be a perfect slot in a top team, but Esteban Gutierrez has been tipped as a future star for several years.
Sauber has come under criticism for hiring Gutierrez in place of Kobayashi, although a lot of the justification for this angst is hypocritical. Gutierrez’s position in the team backdates the Telmex sponsorship that arrived with Sergio Perez at the start of 2011. His nationality undeniably helps, but then again, so did Kobayashi’s Japanese background when Toyota was in need of a replacement driver. Gutierrez’s junior formulae record is also solid, even if his GP2 career was less than stellar.
Gutierrez appears to be a driver in the mould of Perez, although he will need to iron out some of the unfathomably silly moves that he made in GP2 this season, most notably his incident with Johnny Cecotto at Silverstone.
Sauber has also made a shrewd move in acquiring the services of Dutch driver Robin Frijns. Predicting F1 driver moves in the long term is always a tricky proposition, but Hulkenberg’s position at Sauber suggests that Ferrari has one eye on him for 2014. Frijns arrives at Sauber having shot through the ranks, claiming a surprise FR3.5 title in his rookie season against some experienced drivers. It’s a classic Sauber swoop for a young driver without much sponsorship and Frijns’s presence within the team should keep Gutierrez on his toes.
There will be pressure on Gutierrez with the inevitable comparisons to predecessor Perez, but F1’s new Mexican isn’t called The Chosen One for nothing.
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