The 2013 F1 season welcomes five new drivers to the grid, with the tearful departures of old favourites Heikki, Kamui and Timo forcing us to learn complex new names and – perhaps – fall in love all over again. Let’s meet the newcomers looking to make their mark this year.
Valtteri Bottas (Williams)
Pre-F1 Form: 2008 Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup champion (beating Daniel Ricciardo by a slender three points), Bottas switched to F3 Euro Series in 2009 and finished an impressive third, also clinching the Zandvoort Masters race. He returned to the series for 2010, again finishing third, and repeated his Zandvoort win – making him the only driver to conquer the famous race twice. In 2011 he won the GP3 Series, the minimum expected of him given his experience and his place at the crack ART squad, before becoming Williams third driver in 2012.
The Hype: Williams would have you believe Bottas is the next big thing, though the fact that he’s managed by team shareholder Toto Wolff means we should take that with a pinch of salt. He’s definitely quick, but he’s not always translated his ability into the right results at sub-F1 level.
Team-mate comparison: Bottas is probably a better all-round driver than Maldonado, possessing a superior racing brain. Over one lap however it should be the Venezuelan who emerges on top, so this will be a fascinating duel.
Future potential: For all Williams praise, Bottas’ pre-F1 career suggests that while very talented, he’s not quite going to reach the Vettel/Alonso/Hamilton bracket of F1 superstardom. Could well be a future race winner though, and in the right car you never know what he could achieve. 7/10
And another thing: Bottas becomes Finland’s ninth F1 driver. The first was Leo Kinnunen, who qualified last and failed to finish at the 1974 Swedish Grand Prix. I’ll get my coat.
Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber)
Pre-F1 Form: Patchy. Formula BMW Europe champion in 2008, he was unspectacular in ’09 when he contested the F3 Euro Series. He then won the GP3 title with ease in 2010 before stepping up to GP2 with ART Grand Prix – the team who took Rosberg, Hamilton and Hulkenburg to their championships. However Gutierrez shone only sporadically over two seasons, and though he was third in 2012 it should really have been his title-winning year.
The Hype: Someone once said: “if you think Perez is fast, wait until you see Gutierrez,” but then Ayrton Senna once said something similar about himself and his 10-year-old nephew Bruno. Gutierrez has talent, but he never looked as good as Perez in GP2.
Team-mate comparison: It doesn’t look promising for the Mexican – Hulkenburg should convincingly beat Guttierez all season long.
Future Potential: Future world champions don’t stumble as much as Esteban has at sub-F1 level. That said, you don’t win a GP3 title and four GP2 races without some talent. May have good days and could enjoy a long career, but doesn’t look the complete package. 6/10
And another thing: Born on 5 August 1991, Gutierrez is the youngest man on this year’s grid and was born after Nelson Piquet took his final F1 win.
Giedo van der Garde (Caterham)
Pre-F1 form: Extensive. Spent three years in F3 Euro Series before graduating to Formula Renault 3.5. He won that title – albeit in his third season – and in 2010 switched to GP2. Four seasons and five race wins later he’s in F1, despite at no stage seeming destined for the big time. Thoroughly nice bloke though.
The Hype: There’s not a huge amount of fanfare surrounding Van der Garde. He’s acknowledged as a decent pair of hands, albeit not the fastest racer on the planet. It’s also well known that his drive is funded by his father-in-law, which kind of spoils your chances of being a prodigy. That and being 27.
Team-mate comparison: Though he’s not far off Pic ability-wise, the Frenchman’s year of F1 experience should prove crucial. Still, this should be an interesting, albeit back-of-the-grid, intra-team battle.
Future potential: Van der Garde’s massive financial backing and his decent on-track abilities could see him hang around for a few years but, given that he’d almost 28 years old, it’s hard to see him ever reaching the top. 4/10
And another thing: Giedo made his F3 Euro Series debut in 2004 – the same year as F1 veterans Lewis Hamilton and Adrian Sutil.
Jules Bianchi (Marussia)
Pre-F1 Form: F3 Euro Series champion in 2009, Bianchi was third in GP2 in both 2010 and ’11. He finished as runner-up in Formula Renault 3.5 last season after Robin Frijns punted him off that the final round while also contesting several FP1s for Force India and the Young Driver Test for Ferrari. He’s as ready for F1 as he’ll ever be.
The Hype: Ferrari’s top young driver following the defection of Sergio Perez, Bianchi blows hot and cold and is often seen as mentally lacking, a racer who can be blindingly fast on his day but lets his head drop when things go wrong. However, there is no questioning his raw ability.
Team-mate comparison: Their comparative junior records suggest Bianchi is a far greater natural talent than Chilton. If the Frenchman’s head is right he should comfortably dispatch Max this year.
Future Potential: A world champion? Not unless he irons out a few creases, but there’s no doubt he’s a potential F1 front-runner. 8/10
And another thing: Jules’ great-uncle, Lucien Bianchi, started 17 grands prix between 1959 and ’68, scoring a podium at Monaco in his final season. Lucien also won the Le Mans 24 Hours in ’68, but lost his life at the same race 12 months later.
Max Chilton (Marussia)
Pre-F1 Form: With the exception of 2012, lacklustre. Three seasons of British F3 yielded a best finish of fourth in the standings, followed by two seasons at the back of the GP2 grid. In 2012 he was much closer to the front, scoring two poles and two race wins, but while Max can be quick over a lap his ultimate race pace is less impressive.
The Hype: Err, no. Chilton’s arrival in F1 has been very low-key, little surprise from the only 2013 rookie who has not won a major junior single-seater series.
Team-mate comparison: See Jules Bianchi (above).
Future Potential: Chilton clearly has the money to stay in F1 for some time, not least if his dad buys the Marussia team. Ultimately though he’s never going to me mentioned in the same breath as the Buttons or Hamiltons of this world. 4/10
And another thing: In 2011, Max’s dad Graeme was named the 33rd richest person in Surrey, joining the likes of Roman Abramovich, Mick Jagger and Ron Dennis on the list.