The 2016 silly season has been more about musical chairs among F1’s current roster, rather than teams taking the plunge on fresh blood. Sure, Williams have taken a punt on Lance Stroll, but this largely goes against the grain.
Even Stoffel Vandoorne feels like a known quantity having raced for McLaren in Bahrain and being a familiar paddock personality already.
Sauber’s seem to be following the seasonal trend. Marcus Ericsson has unsurprisingly been confirmed at the team for 2017, leaving just one available seat at the Swiss squad.
Reports suggest it is a shootout between incumbent Felipe Nasr and Haas-exile Esteban Gutierrez. That is a difficult call as there is little to split the two.
They both performed solidly in GP2, with Nasr finishing runner up to Jolyon Palmer in 2014 and Gutierrez finishing third in the standings two years earlier. Both were pretty good if not best in class.
Then there is their F1 careers to consider. Again, both have endured prolonged periods in midfield obscurity, which makes the headline results all the more poignant.
Here, Nasr has the edge. He holds the record for the best result achieved by a Brazilian on debut, with fifth place in Australia last season. Last time out, his ninth place rocketed Sauber up to tenth in the Constructors’, demoting rivals Manor, in a result that could land the team £30 million in additional prize money – not a bad way to endear yourself to your bosses.
Gutierrez, on the other hand, has just one point to his name, landed in the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix. This was during the Mexican’s spell at Sauber, so the engineers will be able to quantify the scale of this particular achievement versus that of Nasr’s.
Where Gutierrez makes up for his points deficit versus Nasr is in his time at Ferrari. Being Development Driver at a manufacturer has its benefits, particularly when that manufacturer is your team’s engine supplier!
As a result, there really is little to separate the pair. Their CV’s are similar. What this will likely come down to is the size of their wallets. Nasr has Banco do Brazil, while Gutierrez has a number of Mexican partners.
Given that his ninth place in Brazil has likely secured he team’s future, Nasr would surely get the drive in a fair world. But, as I’m sure Giedo Van Der Garde would testify, F1 is often a world away from fair.