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GP Week : Issue 178
While Nico Hulkenberg’s failure to start the Australian Grand Prix was a bitter disappointment for the Sauber team – Monisha Kaltenborn was overheard saying “this is so annoying” as she walked down the grid before the race start – the Swiss outfit can take some consolation from the fact that Esteban Gutierrez won the weekend’s battle of the rookies. It could be argued that Gutierrez was blessed with the best car of the lot, and that Jules Bianchi’s performance in an inferior car deser ves higher praise, but when push came to shove it was the Sauber driver who recorded the highest finishing position of any of the grid’s five rookies. The biggest surprise was in the Mexican racer’s besting of popular Finn Valtteri Bottas, who crossed the line just under 7.5s seconds behind Gutierrez. Bottas was the most experienced of the six newbies on track, with 15 Friday drives over the course of the 2012 season, but he was hampered by a car that his teammate – and past grand prix winner – deemed undriveable. Gutierrez finished in P13 for Sauber on a two-stop strategy; the other rookies all made three stops. Particularly noteworthy was his long run on the medium compound – with 30 laps on the Pirelli medium under his belt, Gutierrez laid claim to the race’s longest stint on the harder rubber. Further down the grid, however, Frenchman Jules Bianchi delivered an impressive performance in a much slower car. At one point, the Marussia driver was running in a heretofore unimaginable P12. The list of fastest laps produced by the FIA after every race showed that Bianchi’s best effort – a 1m30.454s set on lap 52 – was only 0.045s slower than Sebastian Vettel’s fastest time. According to Marussia team principal John Booth, Bianchi’s drive on Sunday was but a vindication of the team’s efforts to move from perennial backmarkers to genuine midfield contenders. “Generally we are pleased with our debut race with the MR02 and happy that the positive signs from pre-season testing were an accurate reflection of the true performance level of our early package,” Booth said. “Jules drove a fantastic race and quickly left the Caterhams in his wake to focus on the midfield pack in front.” Battle of the rookies Gutierrez takes round one F1 >>> AUSTRALIA 23 GPWEEK.com // 23 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: