SOMEWHAT overlooked in the midst of all the pre-British Grand Prix Hamilton/Button hype is the superb job that fellow countryman Paul di Resta has done in his eight grands prix this season for Force India.
Before starting the Australian GP in March, the 25-year-old Scot made no bones about his aim to challenge team-mate Adrian Sutil, the young German with a reputation for moments of blinding speed allied to the occasional instance of brain fade. “I would hope to be on the same pace as him, to be quicker than him from the start,” he said. “He’s my team-mate, and that’s always the first person you judge yourself on, so I’ll be doing my utmost to be in front of him. I want to be quicker than him.”
The comment was made matter-of-factly, without any intention of raising expectations.
The record shows that he achieved his goal of outqualifying Sutil on his debut, and that it was not until the fourth race of the year that the German turned the tables. And that in their eight Saturday afternoon encounters thus far, di Resta has been faster on six occasions. On his birthday in China in April he put his Force India eighth on the grid, proving convincingly that he deserves his seat.
That Australian race saw him score a point for 10th place, a result he repeated in Malaysia, and though there have been slim pickings since as Force India’s development pace fell behind others’, his races in Monaco and Montreal further underlined his potential.
“It was very positive at the beginning,” he says. “Some highs and lows, but generally I’m quite pleased with it. I’ve been competitive with my team-mate and I am building on that. I’ve not raced on a lot of the tracks we visit, and these guys have lots of experience and I respect that, but hopefully I can just be in the mix and be competitive among them.”
Di Resta is fast, self-contained and a quick learner. And he doesn’t fool himself. He’s well aware that he’s still climbing a steep learning curve.
“Eight Friday mornings isn’t much on which to judge somebody,” he says, of the experience he got as Force India’s third driver last year. “That was a difficult challenge, especially as I hadn’t driven on any of the tracks and I was in somebody else’s car. It was always difficult to decide just how to approach those sessions. You had to do it with care, but at the same time you had to be quite aggressive, yet at the same time you only had one set of tyres. You could have gone from hero to zero.”
The situation is different this year, now that he’s the regular team driver. But there’s still that incongruous yet canny blend of innate caution and raw speed. “You’re always learning as a racing driver,” he says, “and the biggest thing in F1 is confidence, and building it up the right way. You probably start a little bit on the safe side at the beginning of the weekend and keep building up, that’s the best way to go forward. In terms of driving it’s different to what I’ve been used to, driving touring cars in the DTM. But it’s good fun and I’m willing to put in the hard work to be in F1.”
As an example of the latter, he walked the 3.7-mile track yesterday morning, to check out first-hand the surface variations and nuances. “One of the things I noticed was the wind on the exit to Copse and Stowe corners, which could make things interesting...”
Extraordinarily, for a British driver, he has very little experience of his home track. Bar the hour and a half Friday morning session last year, he hasn’t driven it much.
“Actually, I’ve only raced here once, because I went racing in Europe very young, so I suppose my biggest memory here was driving an F1 car on the national track as part of the British Racing Drivers’ Club/Autosport Young Driver Award some years back. The track layout has changed a lot since then. Now Silverstone is very fast, and not easy, but we had a reasonable session in the team’s simulator this week and I hope that I can capitalise on the Friday morning experience I had here last year.”
It is, he readily admits, a “massive weekend”, racing in front of his countrymen for the first time. Naturally, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button will draw much of the sell-out crowd’s attention, but British race fans are a generous bunch and they will be cheering him on enthusiastically. “Obviously this is the biggest race of my career so far,” he adds, “and I’m proud to be part of Jenson and Lewis, our back-to-back British world champions, part of this generation, on this revamped track. It’s been a lot of hard work to get this far, and the British weather won’t make it straightforward, but I’ll be doing my best to keep going forward.”
While he may be the third-string Brit at this stage of his career, you get the impression that this suits a private man, who will be quite content to linger in the shadows - until such time as he has the equipment to run wheel-to-wheel again with the likes of world champion Sebastian Vettel, whom he vanquished in their days as Formula Three team-mates.
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