Esteban Gutierrez: Top 10s are target for Haas F1

0 Comments

KANNAPOLIS, N.C.  – In a shiny, glass-plated conference room of the gleaming U.S. headquarters of newly christened Haas F1, Esteban Gutierrez confidently smiled through 36 minutes of talking firsts in Formula One.

The Mexican driver appropriately was flanked by a grainy wall mural illustrating inaugural series champion Giuseppe Farina’s victory in Formula One’s debut race at the legendary Silverstone in 1950.

Gutierrez, 24, doesn’t harbor the lofty ambitions to achieve those sorts of firsts in Haas F1’s introductory season.

But the former Ferrari test driver clearly believes he and teammate Romain Grosjean can make a splash in 2016 – boldly predicting top-10 contention out of the box for the startup team owned by Gene Haas.

“This is our target from the beginning,” Gutierrez said during a roundtable interview Tuesday with four Charlotte, North Carolina-based reporters. “We want to be there. Obviously we need to be careful on our expectations. It’s our first season.

“We are working really hard to get as prepared as possible.”

It’s more than two months from the March 20 season opener in Australia, but the preparations are well under way for Haas F1. The team already has shipped a container of equipment and pit support via sea freight to Australia for its debut (the cars will be flown separately to the circuit).

Before heading Down Under, a critical preseason test at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain, will begin late next month.

Beyond just the opportunity to shake shaking down its cars for the first time, Haas F1 eagerly is anticipating the chance to size up its competition for the first time. While he has no illusions about racing with the Mercedes Gutierrez said he doesn’t have a sense yet of which teams he expects to battle to crack the top half of the field.

“It’s always difficult to say because we don’t know who is strongest or isn’t strong,” Haas F1 team principal Guenther Steiner said. “You’re trying to hit a moving target. We don’t know what they’re coming out with, so it’s always difficult to say who will be the competition or how good they are until you get to Spain. You get a good understanding there. You don’t get the complete picture (until) Australia.”

Gutierrez said the optics already are better at Haas F1 than for recent startup team failures and implosions such as HRT, Caterham and Marussia. Haas initially revealed his intentions to enter F1 in January 2014, and the co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, who is known in NASCAR for having a maverick streak, initially considered plunging into F1 within the year.

He elected instead to defer entry for another year and work to strengthen ties with Ferrari, which will supply the team’s engines, gearboxes and technical support.

After touring Haas’ facilities in Banbury, England, and Kannapolis, Gutierrez said prudence was the right move.

“It is a very different concept,” he said. “I think Guenther and Gene together have done a very good job, especially with preparing a long time and not precipitating things or doing things quickly in order to start as soon as possible.

“They have done things properly in putting in place a good structure of an engineering group and everything has been very important. They take their time to prepare things for the first season. We have a new team, so we need to be careful on what we can expect.”

Gutierrez is expecting more than what he produced during his first stint in F1. Two disappointing seasons at Sauber yielded only one top 10 (a seventh at Japan in October 2013) in 38 starts, and the Monterrey, Mexico, native believes Haas F1’s cars will be more reflective of his ability.

“Yes, but it’s more important to prove we can be a strong team together, and that we can be efficient and have a good development,” he said. “Also for me, obviously as a driver, it is important, but it doesn’t matter which level we are. You can always be proving as a driver that you can be consistent, and people know that from behind the scenes.

“I think at the beginning we need to focus more on finishing every lap and every race and having all the data accumulated, having good feedback, focusing on team integration in order to be consistent and minimize mistakes. Because there will, for sure, be some mistakes that we will do as a new team. We need to address them quickly.”

If the team can, it could secure Gutierrez’s second experience with achieving a successful first in America, where he already enjoys strong roots through family vacations to South Padre Island, Texas, and New York.

“I love it,” he said with a smile. “Of course. I’m a neighbor! My country is a neighbor. So from childhood, I’ve been visiting the U.S.”

It also was in this country where he began his professional career in earnest, finishing second in the Formula BMW USA Series with four victories and eight podiums.

“It represents a lot to me because (it was) the first year I drove a proper racing car in a racing series,” he said. “It was for a Canadian team, but it was in the U.S., and I feel very proud to be part of Haas’ project, which is an American team that has very big targets.

“I’m sure that together we will have a very good journey in the future.”

 

Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

3 Comments

Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.