Force Indias Paul di Resta - coming home on a high 01 Jul 2011
Mention Silverstone, Formula One and home drivers to average Joe Public and chances are Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button are the names you will hear in response. But while the McLaren stars - the only men to beat Sebastian Vettel this season - have been hogging the limelight, the grids third Brit, Force Indias Paul di Resta, has been quietly enjoying the most impressive debut campaign of any 2011 rookie.
Had you told Di Resta at the start of the year that eight races into his F1 career hed have out-qualified his highly rated team mate six times, hed probably have been more than happy. The Scots Sunday outings may have been less successful than Adrian Sutils, but just compare those Saturday stats to his fellow newcomers: Williams Pastor Maldonado has out-qualified the veteran Rubens Barrichello four times; Saubers Sergio Perez has got the better of Kamui Kobayashi only twice; and at Virgin Jerome DAmbrosio has bested Timo Glock just once.
Di Resta, 24, arrived on the 2011 grid as reigning DTM champion, prompting some casual observers to dismiss him as a tin-top specialist, F1 wannabe with ideas above his station. Those with more insight noted his impressive performances for Force India in Friday practice sessions last year. They also pointed out the single-seater pedigree from his earlier career, notably beating that man Vettel to the 2006 F3 Euro title.
But even those with previous knowledge of Di Restas talent have been impressed with the confident and constructive manner in which he has gone about his first few Grands Prix. It wasnt long ago that Sutil was the man being dubbed the next big thing. Now it is Di Resta being tipped for a rapid rise, with the more excitable elements of the F1 media even suggesting he could replace Michael Schumacher at Mercedes.
On Saturdays Di Resta has shone over a single lap with unerring consistency, even at circuits that were new to him. He has made Q2 in every qualifying session and has given Force India their best 2011 grid position to date with eighth place in China. That pace has put his team mate firmly on the back foot and forced Sutil to draw on his superior experience and racecraft to come through on a Sunday afternoon. Even so, in the seven races they have both finished, Di Resta has been ahead at the flag on a highly respectable three occasions.
So where are the weaknesses? Calling them weaknesses in a rookie is arguably harsh. Like most new to Formula One, there have been times when enthusiasm has got the better of him. Twice at the hairpin in Monaco there were clashes with other drivers, the first earning him a drive-through penalty, though to his credit Di Resta held his hands up to it. He also drew the stewards attention in Montreal, where he was again penalised after losing his front wing against a rival car. He later crashed out of the race after clipping the wall, having - by his own admission - pushed too hard.
So, yes, there have been mistakes, but Di Resta has acknowledged them and learnt from them - plus the damage has been minimal. It is not uncommon for a rookie to bin a car in practice on an unfamiliar circuit, costing him valuable track time and handicapping him (and his team) for the remainder of the weekend. There have been no such antics from Di Resta, whose Friday running has been remarkably assured.
Thats not to say he hasnt had to cope with adversity. At four rounds he has given over Fridays opening session to Force India tester Nico Hulkenberg. In China he sat out afternoon practice due to a fuel pressure problem, while in Monaco technical issues kept him in the garage for an hour. Worst of all in Valencia, he ran just three timed laps on the opening day after Hulkenberg crashed his car.
Every time he has bounced back and now he faces his most high-profile race to date, his first home Grand Prix, an event he freely admits will be the highlight of his career thus far. Scotsmen have an excellent record in the championships British round - between them, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and David Coulthard claimed nine victories.
It may be slightly early for Di Resta to be adding his name to that illustrious list, but any man who can go sixth fastest on a track hes never seen before (as he did on Friday in Montreal) will naturally be aiming high on a circuit he knows well. Yes, in F1 machinery he has run only a handful of flying laps of the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit, but car 15 will nevertheless be one to watch next Sunday.
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