Rookie watch: how have the newbies fared?

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A Formula One debut is usually labelled as being a “baptism of fire” as young drivers step up from the feeder series to challenge the very best. 2013 has seen five new drivers join the sport, all of whom have considerable racing experience, but their first two races have differed in terms of success.

Esteban Gutierrez

Gutierrez has done a solid job so far for Sauber, but nothing out of the ordinary. In Australia, he represented the team alone following Nico Hulkenberg’s fuel system failure, and he finished a good 13th ahead of Valtteri Bottas. Malaysia was a difficult weekend, and he came close to scoring his first points, only to drop off at the end. It has been a good start for the Mexican, but nothing that will worry the front runners.

Valtteri Bottas

The Bottas revolution has been stunted greatly by the Williams FW35. It is unfortunate that the Finn’s long-anticipated debut has been hindered by a troublesome car, although this could in fact make his P11 in Malaysia a huge achievement. He outraced the backmarkers and Gutierrez to finish just outside the points, but his qualifying has lacked the spark that Maldonado gave the team last season. Regardless, outpeforming his race-winning teammate in both of the opening two races shows that Bottas is certainly quick.

Giedo van der Garde

At 27, van der Garde is by far the oldest rookie on the grid, yet his experience has failed to produce any inspired performances. It is true that both he and Charles Pic are struggling with the CT-02.5 (i.e. a lot of the 2012 car is in the CT03), but the Dutch driver looks set to be racing Max Chilton for last place this season unless his fortunes change.

Max Chilton

It is essentially the same story as van der Garde for Max Chilton, but his lack of experience compared to the Caterham driver could explain this. What will be worrying Chilton’s backers is the ease with which Jules Bianchi has outpaced him, but this yields the question: is Bianchi brilliant in a poor car, or is Chilton underperforming?

Jules Bianchi

Bianchi is undoubtedly the star of the ‘class of 2013’. In two races, he has already made a bigger impression than any of the Caterham or Marussia drivers since 2010, and comparisons are already being drawn to Fernando Alonso’s debut season with Minardi in 2001. The points drought for the backmarkers could soon end courtesy of Jules Bianchi. There is no doubt this kid is special.

Andretti Autosport picks James Hinchcliffe for last 3 races of season

Andretti Autosport James Hinchcliffe
Chris Owens/IndyCar
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James Hinchcliffe will finish the NTT IndyCar Series season for Andretti Autosport, replacing Zach Veach in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda.

The team made the announcement Friday afternoon that Hinchcliffe will return after racing for Andretti at Texas Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Indianapolis 500.

Hinchcliffe, who also has worked as an IndyCar on NBC analyst and pit reporter, will race in the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“It’s always unfortunate to have to change drivers this far into a season, but we have to look at finishing the year the best we can for the 26 team and start evaluating and looking at options for 2021,” team owner Michael Andretti said in a release. “James has an existing relationship with our team that we’d love to build on and it makes the most sense for him to step in for these last three races. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do.”

Hinchcliffe has a season-best finish of seventh in the Indy 500. He had been working on trying to put together a deal for next season after scrambling to secure a partial schedule this year when he lost his ride at Arrow McLaren SP after 2020 with a year left on his deal.

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“I know, probably better than most, what Zach is feeling right now, and I have to say that he has handled everything about as class act as you can,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’ve known Zach as a teammate, before that as a colleague and even before that as a friend, and he is a guy that I respect in every way. I know he is a fighter and will fight back to where he wants to be.

“For me now, my focus is 100% on racing the Harvest GP and getting the best possible results for Gainbridge, for Honda, for Michael and for the team. I obviously haven’t been on a road course in a while, but at least the last time I was, it was here at IMS! Hopefully that puts us in a good position to go out there and have a strong weekend.”