Inside the mind of an F1 rookie

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Things are getting real for Formula One rookie Esteban Gutierrez.

The Mexican pilot, who has moved into a race seat with Sauber after two seasons of juggling reserve duty for the team and racing in GP2, is moving closer to his F1 debut next month in Australia and the recent pre-season testing has him itching for the moment.

“I actually feel quite established now and I’ll do everything I can to be as best prepared as possible for my first race in Australia,” Gutierrez writes in a “rookie blog” on Formula1.com. “Right now, near the end of the test season, I think that everybody wants to go out do some racing. I feel that everybody is so eager for competition – at least that’s what I am feeling very strongly.

“The adrenaline, the challenges of qualifying, and then my first time on the grid – I can’t wait!”

Gutierrez enters F1 this season after finishing third in last year’s GP2 championship with two feature wins at Valencia and Silverstone, as well as a sprint win in Hungary. He’ll be paired with fourth-year driver and former Force India racer Nico Hulkenberg, who he plans to use as a barometer for his early progress.

“I don’t necessarily want to get his help – because, of course, he is looking for his own benefits, just as I am – but I consider him a very good reference,” wrote Gutierrez of his German counterpart. “The main thing that I expect from him is that we work together as a team, that we will sit down and discuss issues with the engineers, and always have the goal to get the best solution.”

Hulkenberg will certainly test him, but with the Sauber team, at least Gutierrez won’t have to deal with as much pressure as his compatriot, Sergio Perez — who netted three podiums last year for the Swiss squad but must now live up to the always high expectations at McLaren.

Relative to his fellow Mexican, Gutierrez will be racing under the radar. As he develops, that could perhaps prove to be a good thing.

F1 2017 driver review: Esteban Ocon

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Esteban Ocon

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 31
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P5 (Spain, Mexico)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 87
Championship Position: 8th

A shining star in Mercedes’ junior programme, Esteban Ocon vaulted fellow youngster Pascal Wehrlein in the pecking order to secure a seat at Force India for 2017 – and boy, did he live up to the hype.

Ocon arrived at Force India with half a season of racing under his belt after his outings with Manor late in 2016, but wasted little time in settling in, scoring points on debut in Australia after winning a thrilling three-way fight with Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso.

The Frenchman spent much of the year close to teammate Sergio Perez – even if things did get a little too close in Canada, Baku and, finally, Spa, prompting the team to introduce team orders – and impressed the entire paddock with his displays.

While no podium was forthcoming, Ocon was often leading the midfield fight, enjoying three straight finishes ahead of Perez from Japan to Mexico. Given how well Perez is rated on-track in the paddock, to have convincingly beaten him in such fashion did a lot for Ocon’s reputation.

The term ‘Oconsistency’ also came into F1’s dictionary as he set a new record for consecutive finishes from his first race, with his retirement in Brazil ending the streak at 27 grands prix. It was also his first retirement in a single-seater race since the 2014 Macau Grand Prix.

The highlight moment arguably came at Monza, though, when Ocon stuck his Force India third on the grid through torrential rain in qualifying. While he would drop to P6 at the checkered flag, the display nevertheless cemented his place as one of F1’s rising stars.

Mercedes rates Ocon very highly, and with Valtteri Bottas’ future beyond 2018 already being questioned by the paddock, a good season could see the youngster move on up to the top table of F1 for 2019. His progression in the next 12 months will be fascinating to keep track of.

Season High: Lining up P3 on the grid at Monza after a rainy qualifying.

Season Low: Clashing with Perez in Baku, costing Force India a possible podium.