Esteban Gutierrez will get a second season as a race driver for the Sauber F1 Team after Carlos Slim’s Telmex company committed to invest in the team once again. Russian teenager Sergey Sirotkin will have to settle for the Reserve Driver role, in which he was confirmed today.
Slim has been part of the Sauber set up for three seasons now, funding first Sergio Perez’ drive there and more recently Gutierrez. But there is a sense that the Mexican billionaire hasn’t committed the kind of funding he’s capable of to the sport, despite everyone looking to him to do so. A revival of the Mexican Grand Prix was given a provisional date on the 2014 calendar but didn’t make it onto the final version. Slim has been reluctant to fund that, preferring to encourage other Mexican businesses and promoters to take some of the strain.
Although Slim is passionate about the sport, has an “establishment” role on the FIA Senate and has done a lot for Mexican drivers, there is a sense that the budget he’s allowed to work with by the parent company is limited so he’s working more on the fringes.
“We at Telmex and Telcel are very proud to continue being part of the Sauber F1 Team to keep consolidating our succesful history in motorsport, particularly in Formula One and our driver development programme for Mexican and Latin drivers such as Esteban Gutiérrez, a great young talent, friend and human being, ” said Slim.
There was a small sponsorship from his Claro company on the McLaren this year, but expert insiders say that was worth only around €4-5 million.
Sirotkin is very young and has so far struggled to persuade the powers that be that he is worthy of an FIA superlicence, but he will keep plugging away. The reserve driver role should get him some outings in the four two day tests scheduled for 2014 and maybe some Friday practice runs too.
The Russian funding announced by Sauber mid way through last season, which was supposed to get Sirotkin a race seat has not flowed as expected and it will be interesting to see how the Mexican and Russian funding models play out at Sauber over the next season or two.
For the Swiss team, still reeling from the withdrawal of BMW at the end of 2009, a high value shareholder is still a first order priority and the budget cap, announced by the FIA this month, but yet to be clarified, cannot come soon enough for them.