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Paul Di Resta - Formula One's next rookie sensation? 18 Jan 2011

Paul di Resta (GBR) Force India F1 Third Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 1 April 2010 Paul di Resta (GBR) Force India VJM03 Third Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice Day, Barcelona, Spain, Friday, 7 May 2010 Paul Di Resta (GBR), AMG Mercedes-Benz, celebrates becoming DTM 2010 Champion. DTM, Rd11, Shanghai, China, 26-28 November 2010. Paul di Resta (GBR) Force India VJM03 Third Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 4, Chinese Grand Prix, Practice Day, Shanghai, China, Friday, 16 April 2010 Paul di Resta (GBR) Force India VJM03 Third Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 9, European Grand Prix, Practice Day, Valencia Spain, Friday, 25 June 2010

As the 2011 season draws ever closer, vacant slots on the Formula One grid are disappearing fast and Force India are one of the few teams still to confirm their line-up. Although 2010 drivers Adrian Sutil and Vitantonio Liuzzi remain strong contenders, the rumour gathering most momentum in the media is that bright young talent (and the team’s third driver) Paul di Resta could make his F1 race debut in Bahrain in March.

At just 24 years old, Di Resta may be young but he already boasts a strong CV for the job. The Scot recently clinched the 2010 DTM title, with three wins and a further four podiums, after his fourth season in the ultra-competitive German touring car series, fending off fellow F1 tester Gary Paffett. He had finished the 2009 DTM season third overall with one win, and had even scored several podiums in his debut year.

Di Resta may be best known for his tin top triumphs, but the West Lothian-born driver is no stranger to single-seater success either, having won the Formula Three EuroSeries in 2006, against a field that included reigning Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel. Indeed, he was singled out as a talent to watch some time ago, being awarded the prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year Award in 2004. He can even boast racing royalty in his family - three-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti is his cousin. And he is managed by none other than Lewis Hamilton’s father Anthony.

In terms of Formula One experience, Di Resta has yet to prove his mettle in a Grand Prix but has plenty of test mileage under his belt - a valuable commodity for a rookie in these days of cost-cutting and limited track time. His first F1 opportunity came courtesy of McLaren towards the end of 2008, while in 2009 he was back in action for Force India at the end-of-season young driver test, alongside Indy Lights champion JR Hildebrand.

Di Resta was thrilled with the opportunity, and Force India were just as impressed with his feedback. They quickly signed him up as the team’s test and reserve driver for the 2010 season, with agreement that he would attend every Grand Prix and participate in a number of Friday practice sessions to get properly acquainted with the car and the circuits.

Force India delivered on their promise, with Di Resta taking part in eight Friday sessions over the course of the year. More often than not it was his first time driving at the tracks, but that didn’t stop him consistently getting close to the pace of Sutil and Liuzzi, even beating the latter on one occasion. More significantly, he made very few mistakes and racked up 179 laps in the VJM03 cockpit. He was even chosen to head up the team’s pre-Christmas track work, testing over four days and sampling the new Pirelli tyres for the first time.

It’s clear Di Resta’s talents warrant a place on the 2011 grid, but it’s still far from certain whether there is a place on offer at Force India. Over the 2010 season, the Sutil-Liuzzi pairing was much less successful than the team had hoped. Both drivers made mistakes and despite some good results at the start of the year Force India finished a disappointing seventh in the constructors’ table. The stats suggest Liuzzi is the most likely to be unseated - he scored 21 points to Sutil’s 47 - though the Italian has been at pains to let everyone know he’s still under contract.

Whatever happens, Di Resta at least has the luxury of knowing that he's the man in pole position to fill any vacancy that might arise at Force India for 2011. And if they opt to retain their 2010 line-up, he surely now carries enough currency to make him a driver worthy of consideration by any team…

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