Formula One has waved goodbye to several of its most experienced drivers this season but there are some interesting replacements – so which rookies are likely to stand out this year?
The departure of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher will be a loss in terms of a big name driver, but in truth he was not the racer he once was and Mercedes should benefit from Lewis Hamilton taking over his seat this year.
His departure led to a classic chain with Hamilton’s move freeing up a spot at McLaren for Mexican Sergio Perez, who impressed at Sauber last year, and his countryman Esteban Gutierrez filling that Sauber seat as F1’s latest rookie.
Other experienced F1 drivers, Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov, of Caterham, and former Toyota driver Timo Glock, of Marussia, have all made way for young blood too – with Giedo van der Garde filling one seat at Caterham and Luiz Razia and Max Chilton both new boys at Marussia.
Finally, at Williams, Bruno Senna failed to live up to his name and Valtteri Bottas, who was being groomed all last year to step in alongside Pastor Maldonado, will now take his place.
The lower-level teams have openly admitted being forced to drop their experienced drivers for ones with budget and, in truth, all the newcomers have secured their seats through sponsor funding.
The term ‘pay driver’ is hard to shake - but then Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and many others all had to bring support to get their break. That’s the nature of the sport.
So what are the new rookies’ backgrounds and do any have the kind of talent required to do more than just make up the numbers?
Esteban Gutiérrez (Sauber)
The 21-year-old Mexican cruised into F1 on the back of Sergio Perez’s coat tails, supported by the might of Mexican telecoms company Telmex.
He had only had two years racing in cars before getting a test with Sauber in 2009, and he’s been testing for the team ever since. In the meantime, he won the GP3 championship in 2010, took one GP2 win in 2011 and finished third in GP2 last year, winning three times for Lotus GP.
His performances this year will clearly be compared alongside those impressive showings from Perez last year – but if any rookie has the car to make a mark he is it.
Valtteri Bottas (Williams)
The 23-year-old Finn is highly rated and spent last year travelling with the F1 circus as Williams’ test and reserve driver, getting plenty of running at the different circuits during Friday practice sessions.
He first made his mark at the F3 masters in 2009 when he took the hat-trick of pole, win and fastest lap and won it again the year later. In both those years he finished third in the F3 Euroseries and he was GP3 champion in 2011, his last year of racing.
To step in straight from GP3 to F1, skipping the traditional GP2 proving ground, is either an impressive jump or one that will cost him dear. On the flip side, his track experience in F1 machinery could be a major help in settling in quick.
Giedo van der Garde (Caterham)
One of the oldest rookies, at 27, van der Garde has been racing cars since 2003 but has achieved little to suggest he will stand out now he is racing in F1.
He was Formula Renault 3.5 champion back in 2008, although the field had few starring names. He failed to shine in GP2, winning just five times and finishing the championship in 7th, 7th, 5th and 6th in four years with three different teams.
He tested for Super Aguri and Spyker back in 2007 but that went nowhere and he had to wait until last year to get another chance, when he stepped up from Caterham’s GP2 team to test their F1 machine.
Although many say that he is a tidy driver, he will not have much to measure up against with team-mate Charles Pic hardly shining in the Marussia last year.
Luiz Razia (Marussia)
The 23-year-old Brazilian drove for his country in A1GP back in 2006 and went on to race in four different categories with little success, winning just one GP2 race, before last year, when he raced for Arden in GP2 and finished championship runner-up.
He first tested F1 machinery with his new team in 2010, when it was Virgin Racing, then had a run in the Lotus (now Caterham) in 2011 and Toro Rosso and Force India last year.
Marussia and the departing Glock made no secret of the fact that Razia is replacing him because he brings budget (and also saves the team paying out for Glock), and his long-term future will very much depend on how he measures up alongside fellow rookie team-mate Max Chilton.
Max Chilton (Marussia)
The young Briton, 21, made his way up the ladder thanks to his multi-millionaire father’s support as vice chairman of Aon Corporation, but so far he has shown few signs that he can become more than a piggybank for a back-of-the-grid team.
There was little to stand out from his junior career and even in his first two years GP2 he only managed to score seven points – although he did test for Force India and helped with straight-line testing.
His best season to date was last year, when he finished fourth in GP2 with two wins and two poles and, after testing for Marussia, secured a race team seat in place of the departing Charles Pic.
So in all, it’s a mixed bunch of newcomers for 2013.
There may yet be one more if Jules Bianchi secures a place at Force India, but out of all the rookies, Gutierrez probably has the biggest opportunity to shine.
Others may spring a surprise, but for all of these newcomers, now they have done enough to get into F1 they must now use this chance to prove they have the right to stay...