Force India have finally completed their driver line-up for 2013, confirming that Adrian Sutil will race alongside Paul di Resta. Sutil returns to Formula One after a year on the sidelines.
Most of the teams confirmed their driver line-ups well before the start of pre-season testing in February, but Force India chose instead to wait until after they had run both of their candidates for the second race seat – Adrian Sutil and Jules Bianchi – at last week’s second test in Barcelona. Both drivers impressed the team, but in the end Force India went with the experience of Sutil rather than put a new driver in their car.
Sutil has already driven for Force India for four seasons, and for the team’s previous incarnation, Spyker, for a year. He is highly rated in the paddock and is expected to deliver results in his second stint at Force India. He was paired with Paul di Resta in 2011 before his brief absence from the sport, which adds some continuity to his career and the workings of the team.
Dr Vijay Mallya, Team Principal and Managing Director: “The decision over our driver line-up has not been an easy one and we have given it great consideration over the last few months. It was a close call, but ultimately we felt that Adrian’s experience and historic links to the team gave him the edge, and will provide us with the best possible chance of realising our ambitions for the coming season. If he can rediscover the exceptional form he showed in the second half of 2011, I’m confident that we can pick up where we left off at the end of 2012. As for Jules Bianchi, he has impressed us enormously with his speed and work ethic, and I’m hopeful we can continue working with him this year to help him develop into a future Grand Prix driver.”
Adrian Sutil: “I’m delighted to be back in Formula One, especially with a team I know so well. I’m very happy and I want to thank Sahara Force India for giving me a second chance. Having been away from the sport, I’m even more determined to achieve my goals in Formula One. Things went really well at the Barcelona test last week and it almost feels as though I’ve never been away. Driving the car felt so natural and I was able to get back in the groove quickly and find the limit. Now my focus is on making the most of the final test session this week, working with the team in the simulator and getting myself in the best possible shape for Melbourne.”
This morning sees two new Formula One car launches – the Ferrari F138 and the Force India VJM06. Both will be streamed live online for fans across the world to watch.
Ferrari are up first, with the launch of the F138 in Maranello at 10:30 am CET (11:30 in South Africa). Head over to http://f138.ferrari.com to watch the launch. Photos of the new Ferrari will be up at chrisonf1.com as soon as they are made available by the team.
The Force India launch follows immediately afterwards at Silverstone in the UK. The VJM06 launch will be streamed online at http://www.forceindiaf1.com/vjm06-launch starting from 10:15 am GMT (12:15 in South Africa). Force India have not yet revealed the identity of their second driver, but could do so during today’s launch.
Paul di Resta has, quite unexpectedly and very publicly, criticised seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher. The young Scot was being interviewed at AUTOSPORT International 2013 and described how Schumacher had gone from being a childhood hero to a nuisance for him in the following words:
“I had so much respect and he was my hero and all the rest, and eventually I got to race against him. Now… I feel a bit different about Michael, cos I’m quite glad he’s retired and out of the way… cos he’s a bit of a pain in the **** on the track…”
Di Resta’s comments appear to be completely unprovoked. Yes, he has raced against Schumacher for the past two seasons, but in that time there have been no particular incidents between the two drivers – if there had, they would surely have been dealt with some time ago.
Perhaps di Resta’s comments were simply badly phrased. Schumacher was known throughout his career as an extremely tough driver who pushed the limits of what was fair on the track, something he learned from drivers like Ayrton Senna who was the man to beat when Schumacher’s career started. It paid off in terms of results, but did not make Schumacher many friends among the drivers. Di Resta could simply be referring to Schumacher as a difficult man to beat, in the process highlighting two different approaches to on-track combat from two generations.
Di Resta and Schumacher are on opposite ends of the scale in terms of Formula One success. Schumacher is Formula One’s most successful driver in history, an icon all over the world and one of the most recognisable and respected people in world sport. Di Resta by contrast is a young driver with much potential, but he has yet to have the equipment to show what he can do in Formula One – in two seasons at Force India, he has a best result of fourth at the 2012 Singapore Grand Prix.
Di Resta may not appreciate sharing the track with Schumacher, but he could learn from the seven-time World Champion. Schumacher has not concerned himself with being popular on the track. Instead, he spent his career leaving no stone unturned in the pursuit of victory, and that included the cultivation of a tough and ultra-professional image that was certainly present on the track. The results of Schumacher’s approach to winning are likely to remain unchallenged for some time – seven championships and 91 race victories are numbers that even those at the front of the current grid can barely imagine reaching.
The video of the interview is shown below. Di Resta’s comments about Schumacher start at about 01:27:
Following the departure of Nico Hulkenberg to Sauber, Force India are currently in the market for a race driver. Paul di Resta will drive one of the Force India cars, but his team-mate has not yet been chosen.
Since testing in Formula One has been all but banned, there is no enormous hurry to choose drivers. There are only 12 days of testing permitted this season, the first of which will be 5 February. Before that happens, all the drivers can do is train, get to know their engineers, have seat fittings and attend PR events. Actual driving is not part of the job for the next three weeks. But inevitably an announcement must happen by the time testing starts, as both race drivers will need time in the new car before the start of the season.
There are two strong candidates for the second seat at Force India. 2012 test and reserve driver Jules Bianchi has long since proven himself as a racing driver. Bianchi won the French Formula Renault 2.0 series in 2007 before taking the Formula 3 Euro Series title in 2009. Third places in the 2010 and 2011 GP2 championships were followed by second place in the 2011 GP2 Asia series and second place in the 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 series. Alongside his regular racing, Bianchi was Ferrari’s test and reserve driver in 2011 before being signed up to test for Force India in 2012. Although Bianchi has not yet raced in Formula One, he has tested Formula One cars on a few occasions and is certainly equipped for a race seat at the top level.
Bianchi is part of the Ferrari Driver Academy, which has led to suggestions that Force India could source engines from Ferrari in 2014 as part of a deal to sign the young Frenchman as a race driver. Force India’s current engine deal with Mercedes expires at the end of 2013 and it has been confirmed recently by Paul di Resta that the team has not yet secured engines for 2014 and beyond.
Bianchi’s major competition for the Force India drive is Adrian Sutil, who raced for the team until the end of 2011 before being replaced by Nico Hulkenberg in 2012. Sutil is known for his speed over a single lap, and has been praised his former team boss at Spyker, Colin Kolles, who believed he had the talent to challenge Lewis Hamilton.
When Sutil left the team, he was facing criminal charges for assault after being accused of cutting Genii Capital (owners of Renault at the time) boss Eric Lux in a Shanghai nightclub with a champagne glass after the 2011 Chinese Grand Prix. Sutil was tried and convicted in January 2012, and received a suspended jail sentence and a fine. It has since emerged that there are no legal barriers to him resuming his Formula One career in 2013, which was the only possible question over his eligibility to return to Force India.
Whether Bianchi or Sutil, the second Force India driver will certainly be announced before testing starts on 5 February and probably before the new car is launched at Silverstone on 1 February.