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Gutierrez returns for second season at Sauber

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Esteban Gutierrez has been confirmed to a second season at Sauber, which ends a several-month long saga about his future in the team.

The Mexican rookie came on in the second half of 2013, even though he failed to match highly rated teammate Nico Hulkenberg in the lead car. His only points finish was a seventh place result at Suzuka, but there were several races where Gutierrez came up just shy.

Gutierrez said after the year he deserved to stay in F1, and was thrilled to end the waiting game on Friday.

“I am happy to be able to continue as a driver for the Sauber F1 Team,” he said in a team statement. “It was a steep learning curve last season, but by working closely with the team I was able to improve continuously. It will be my fourth year with the team, the second as a racing driver, and I feel comfortable in taking the next step.

“The technical challenges in 2014 will be massive. Therefore, it will be even more important to know well the people you are working with. I will do my very best to improve even more and support the team the best way I can.”

Team principal Monisha Kaltenborn described the decision to retain Gutierrez rather than take a risk on a second new driver into the team. Adrian Sutil signed last week from Force India to be Sauber’s first 2014 driver.

“We are pleased Esteban will drive for us in 2014, because we believe he is a talented young racing driver,” she said. “Last season, he experienced first hand how hard it can be for a rookie to step into Formula One. Nevertheless, throughout the season he improved significantly in qualifying as well as in the races and finished the year as the best rookie in the drivers’ championship.

“Often, the results didn’t fully reflect his performances. I am confident Esteban will be able to use his experiences to gain results, and this will be helped by the fact he is very well acquainted with every member of the race team.”

With Gutierrez’s return to Sauber, one of his biggest backers – Mexican telecommunications company Telmex – will also stay with the team as a partner.

Earlier this year, a Russian consortium of investors was brought in to help secure Sauber’s financial future. As part of that rescue package, the plan was to install Russian teenager Sergey Sirotkin in one of the team’s two cars. Sirotkin has still not earned his requisite FIA Superlicense and likely will undertake a reserve role, instead.

Gutierrez was one of several drivers who could have slotted in had Sirotkin been named to one seat. A Gutierrez-Sirotkin lineup would have been one of the least experienced on the grid. As it turned out, the team opted for a veteran hand in Sutil to lead the team and now will have one bit of consistency carrying over into 2014 with Gutierrez returning.

This signing also drops the number of remaining seats on the 2014 grid down to three. The second Marussia and two Caterham drivers are yet to be named.

Formula E: Team Aguri confirms da Costa for second season

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Antonio Felix da Costa has been confirmed for a second season with Team Aguri for the 2015-2016 FIA Formula E Championship, which begins later this month in Beijing.

He won once this past year at Buenos Aires and finished eighth in the points despite missing both the season opener and season finale due to clashes with his DTM schedule.

Said the 24-year-old Portuguese driver, “I am really happy to continue with Team Aguri and Formula E for season two. This championship is earning its respect in the world of motorsport and I am honoured to be involved. Regarding the season, I am really looking forward to getting started.”

Team Aguri team principal Mark Preston added, “It is a great pleasure to have Antonio continuing with the team for season two of Formula E. Antonio brought us our maiden win in Buenos Aires and helped to develop the team from scratch, he will continue to build on that success for season two and beyond.”

The team that bares the name of ex-Formula 1 driver and team owner Aguri Suzuki has not yet confirmed its second driver, which is the last outstanding seat to be filled on the Formula E grid.

Amlin, which had partnered with Aguri last year, is now present with the Andretti Formula E team and its drivers, Robin Frijns and Simona de Silvestro.

Hulkenberg leads shorter than normal FP1 in Russia

Nico Hulkenberg
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Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg posted a 1:44.355 lap of the of the Sochi Autodrom to lead a fairly abnormal, and shorter than usual, first free practice for the Russian Grand Prix.

Hulkenberg posted the time to conclude the usual 90-minute session, to pip Nico Rosberg at 1:44.407 on his final lap. The usual 90-minute session was shortened due to a track delay for cleanup of diesel fuel on course.

Sebastian Vettel, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo completed the top five.

While the clock started on time for the full 90-minute session, track activity was halted for the opening 30 minutes to clean up diesel spillage on the track at Turn 8.

It left teams and drivers with just a 60-minute first free practice to tackle the Sochi Autodrom, but did not push the session later or affect the timetable for the rest of the day. However, with a damp if not entirely wet track, it made things difficult in FP1.

The delay also meant that teams weren’t able to use an extra set of Pirellis handed out at the start of FP1. Supersofts can be used for the first time in FP2.

During the delay, it did offer a chance for sarcasm, and Manor seized the opportunity following a comment from McLaren Honda’s Fernando Alonso noting that even with Mercedes engines next year, Manor wouldn’t move ahead of them.

NBC’s Will Buxton explained the track surface dilemma drivers would face in this session.

With just under one hour to go in the session, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was the first to head out on course, leading several others. Ericsson made the first laps of the weekend at the track where he made his final start for Caterham a year ago.

Both Williams drivers went on course on Pirelli’s wet weather tires for their installation laps. Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg tried the intermediates, and Alonso was first on course in slicks.

No official times were registered until there were less than 40 minutes remaining in the session, with Alonso registering a 2:00.736 time, while putting down a bevy of sparks. He quickly lowered the mark to 1:56.327, and 1:53.854 after that. Ericsson was next in at a 1:58.926, although dropped into the 1:54 range not long after.

Alonso’s teammate Jenson Button clocked in at 1:50.920 with just under 20 minutes remaining and for the first time this year, we could say we had a McLaren Honda 1-2 on track, albeit under abnormal circumstances.

The trsck got busy in the final 15 minutes, with Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen posting a 1:50.870 to lead before Alonso clocked in a 1:49.240.

A 1:47.959 from Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, then a 1:45.987 from Hulkenberg followed in the final 10 minutes as times firmly began to drop. Vettel got down to a 1:45.491 shortly thereafter, and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton came up two tenths shy of the mark at a 1:45.691.

Ericsson reported a power cut near the end of the session down at Sauber but otherwise there were no issues through the field, other than a handful of spins, including one from Hamilton on his final flier at the second-to-last corner.

FP2 begins from 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.