Esteban Gutierrez says the prospect of achieving an “equilibrium” with his main business endeavors facilitated his racing return in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
The former Sauber and Haas Formula 1 driver will make his first race appearance since 2017 this weekend when he lines up for LMP2 squad Inter Europol Competition at the 1000 Miles of Sebring.
Explaining the background to his comeback, Gutierrez said that he has been focusing on a range of business interests in recent years but only now has the opportunity arisen to balance that life with racing.
The 30-year-old Mexican holds a handful of investor positions and in October 2020 founded Edasi, which is the official F1 merchandise distributor in Latin America.
After his third F1 season in 2016, Gutierrez ran a partial IndyCar campaign with Dale Coyne Racing and entered three Formula E races with Techeetah but hasn’t competed in a major series since.
He joined Mercedes as an official development driver in 2018 before transferring to a ‘brand and business ambassador’ position with the German manufacturer last year.
“I’ve always looked at endurance as a step that I was eventually going to make and try,” Gutierrez told Sportscar365.
“I am very passionate about racing. Endurance is a very different approach, but I am doing it because it’s a great way to combine my other activities, mainly around business.
“It is something I have been working on for a couple of years and now I am in a great position to combine it with a racing program, which is to find an equilibrium.
“I love racing and competing, and I think WEC is a great place to be racing and combining my other activities.”
Gutierrez explained that the six-round WEC program gives him “balance from a schedule perspective.”
He expects to be on-site with Mercedes at eight Grands Prix, giving a total of 14 events which he views as the maximum number he can attend this year.
During his time away from competition he decided not to look for racing options as he dedicated time to establishing his business connections and ventures.
“I decided to give myself some years away from competition for many personal reasons,” he said. “But I still kept my involvement in motorsports.
“I have been with Mercedes since 2018 and that will continue. It’s more business-focused now, not so much development as a driver anymore. I decided to take a different path with Mercedes and I’ve learned a lot. It’s been a great experience.
“With sports car racing, I didn’t really look for it until now. I did get some attractive offers, but I didn’t take them because it wasn’t the right time for me and I was not in the place I wanted to be, to commit to a racing season.
“Some drivers want to be racing and [also] have the lifestyle of fashion industry or other hobbies. For me, it’s business.
“To be able to perform in racing, I need to have a balance. That’s the reality that I admit and it’s part of my preference. I love the business side and combining that with racing is the perfect combination.”
Gutierrez spent five days at Inter Europol’s headquarters in Poland getting acquainted with the team and meeting his new co-drivers Alex Brundle and Jakub Smiechowski.
However, prior to last weekend’s Prologue test with the team, he had only driven an Oreca 07 Gibson once towards the end of 2021.
“It came very quickly, very straightforward,” he said regarding the Inter Europol deal.
“Last year I tried a [GT3-spec] Mercedes DTM car at Paul Ricard. I then had a test with Prema in LMP2.
“The main reason was to drive the car and get a feeling if I enjoy it or not. Because for me that was really important: to get a good feeling and get acclimated with the car nicely, and that it suits my driving style.
“I really enjoyed it a lot back then. We then made contact with Inter Europol and the deal came pretty quickly. We were already in conversations some weeks before the [Prema] test.
“As soon as I found the LMP2 car was nice to drive, I said that I wanted to try it.”
Gutierrez also considered the DTM but soon decided that it wouldn’t enable him to achieve a suitable balance with his business.
“There were some talks but I didn’t really pursue it because I really looked at the program and what other drivers were doing, how many weekends they were investing,” he explained.
“I quickly realized that was not going to work for me with my other activities. WEC is a great place to be and a great championship. It’s an honor to be here.”
Focus on Adapting to New Discipline
Gutierrez expects his WEC debut to be a “challenge” considering the strength of the LMP2 grid and the fact that he will be adapting to a new type of racing after four years away.
He joins the Inter Europol team that finished fifth in last year’s standings and achieved a best result of fourth at the 6 Hours of Monza with Brundle, Smiechowski and Renger van der Zande.
“I think it’s all about taking what the team is today, which is I think a great, solid base, and then finding the areas of opportunity to improve,” Gutierrez suggested.
“Creating a great environment in the team is also really important, between the drivers, mechanics and engineers.
“My personal approach is that it’s my first experience in endurance racing. I have some rules to learn. Fortunately, my teammates have a lot of experience.
“I’m learning as quick as I can, adapting to the championship. Avoiding any kind of mistakes on track, just driving smoothly and very consistent, which is normally my approach.”
Gutierrez acknowledged that he would be interested in establishing a career in sports car racing, however he is currently focused on 2022 and discovering the discipline.
“The most important thing is for me to enjoy it,” he said. “If I enjoy it, I will continue and I will pursue a career in Hypercar or LMDh, or whatever opportunities may come in the future.
“But at the moment, my main objective is to enjoy racing here and combining this with my other activities, to be in a good team environment, and then we’ll see
“I’m sure the doors will open if they are meant to be opened.”