The unveiling of Paul di Resta as Adrian Sutil’s new teammate at Force India was probably not the most unexpected of announcements to be aired yesterday.
The young Scot had found himself in the wings of the Force India garage at many of the Grand Prix in 2010 – for much of the year, it was simply a question of who he would replace. As the season wore on, the needle of favour swung toward Sutil, leaving Vitantonio Liuzzi without a drive.
Unless he were to find himself marooned at Hispania Racing, Liuzzi will once again be on the sidelines; as he was for 2008 and much of 2009. Only this time, Liuzzi’s chance of a seat is much harder, when one takes into account how late into the pre-season we are and Liuzzi’s age – at 29, the Italian pilot is no spring chicken in Formula 1 years.
However Sutil must not get too comfortable either. While his performances certainly stepped up a gear last season, the 28-year-old may be looking over his shoulder throughout this year, for in the background will be Willi Weber’s young charger, Nico Hulkenberg.
Following a brief bleed-in period, Hulkenberg faired quite well at Williams and would certainly still be in the second seat at the Didcot team, were money not such a pressing issue. The second-half of the season brought some very solid results for the then rookie, including a wonderful pole position at Interlagos. Yet a year off for the 23-year-old German is not the most ideal of situations and one can rest assured that Hulkenberg will aim to impress this year, when he takes over the Friday morning role. Whatever the result, it is quite likely that Hulkenberg will in at least one of the Force India seats for 2012.
As for di Resta, by the time Bahrain comes around in March, it will have been 4-and-a-half years since his last competitive run in a single-seater; although the Scot did run at several first practice sessions in 2010. There is some solid pedigree there too – in 2006, di Resta beat current World Champion Sebastian Vettel to the title in the World Series by Renault category. Di Resta is also the reigning DTM Champion.
Success in junior formulae has often played tricks in the past though. The likes of Jan Magnussen, Luca Badoer, Ricardo Zonta, Ralph Firman and many others claimed titles in the minor divisions, only to disappoint when promoted later on. Even Liuzzi entered Formula 1 as the reigning Formula 300 Champion…
One hopes di Resta makes the most of this opportunity.