F1 » Adrian Sutil
Adrian Sutil got his chance at the pinnacle of the sport thanks to his relationship with Colin Kolles, his mentor and, more significantly, the boss of the Midland/Spyker F1 team. However, he more than proved that he earned a longer tenure on ability.
Sutil began his career, like most, in go-karts, first getting behind the wheel at the tender age of just 14, before moving up to the Swiss Formula Ford 1800 championship in 2002. He dominated the series, winning all ten races, en-route to taking his first title. He also took five wins in the Austrian Formula Masters Championship during the same year.
Bolstered by his success in '02, he graduated to the German Formula BMW Championship in 2003, and while he took no wins and ended the year sixth in the standings, he did enough to secure a place in the Formula 3 Euro Series for the following year with HBR.
Although Sutil scored only twice in 2004 and ended the season 17th in the standings, he continued to learn and did enough to make an impression on then HBR team boss, Colin Kolles.
For the final two races he switched to ASM F3 and during 2005 he remained with the squad, partnered by future F1 rival and McLaren youngster, Lewis Hamilton.
While Hamilton dominated the F3 Euro Series in '05 though, taking the title and 15 wins, Sutil had to settle for 'best of the rest' and ended the year second overall, with two wins to his credit, despite opting to skip the last two events in favour of representing Germany in the A1 Grand Prix series. He didn't enjoy much success in A1 GP though and his best results, from his three outings - in Portugal, Australia and Dubai - were two twelfth places.
2006 was his big chance and at the start of the year he was confirmed as one of the official test drivers for Midland MF1 - now the Spyker team. Sutil took in three Friday practice sessions, at the Nurburgring, Magny-Cours and Suzuka, and posted some pretty promising times in the 'third car'. Indeed he was seventh overall at the French Grand Prix, over a second up on the next best Toyota powered-M16. He also posted the tenth best time in Friday practice at the European GP.
All the while he was combining his commitments in F1 with a programme in the Japanese F3 Championship, which he incidentally won with the TOM's Toyota team. He also shined at the prestigious Macau F3 event, finishing third overall, despite sticking with the TOM's Dallara-Toyota package, which was inferior to the Mercedes and Mugen engines used by most of the other competitors.
While most expected him to remain in a testing capacity in 2007 and perhaps supplement this with a campaign in GP2 or the World Series by Renault, Kolles had other ideas. Towards the end of December, Sutil was confirmed alongside Christijan Albers, stepping into the race seat previously occupied by Tiago Monteiro.
Whether he deserved the chance was debatable, but Spyker proved an ideal platform from which to display any talent that he might have, and Sutil grasped the opportunity with both hands.
Although he did not score until the end of the season - and then in controversial fashion after Tonio Liuzzi was adjudged to have passed him under yellow flags in Japan, where their places were subsequently reversed after a protest - Sutil had shown that he had the speed necessary to hustle better car-driver comnbinations, notably in the wet at Monaco, where he topped Saturday morning practice on merit, and Spa, where he made use of the softer tyre option to run on the fringes of the top ten, harrying David Coulthard's patently better Red Bull-Renault.
Although the good performances were interspersed by the occasional 'off' as Sutil tried a little too hard, his performances not only warranted the option of a second year at Spyker - or Force India, as it became following Vijay Mallya's buy-in - but also attracted the attention of rival teams, notably Williams, Toyota and McLaren.
In the end, though, he signed another deal with the Silverstone-based outfit, where he would line up alongside Giancarlo Fisichella.
If Sutil had hoped that under new ownership, Force India would take a significant leap up the F1 starting grid in 2008, he would be disappointed – but there were enough flashes of promise along the way to convince his doubters that he deserved an extended stay in the top flight.
Relatively evenly-matched with Fisichella in qualifying – trailing the three-time grand prix-winner ten-eight over the balance of proceedings – the German only narrowly missed out on getting through to the Q2 phase in Canada, but the undoubted highlight of his season had come a fortnight earlier in Monaco.
A flawlessly composed drive around the narrow, tortuous streets of the Principality – keeping his head like a seasoned pro as a number of his rivals lost theirs – elevated the man from Bavaria to fifth position less than ten laps from the chequered flag, before he was struck by one of the year’s very cruellest blows.
Keeping pace with cars that on paper should have had a clear performance advantage over the VJM01, Sutil found himself harpooned by the out-of-control Ferrari of then reigning world champion Kimi Raikkonen on the exit of the tunnel, putting him out on the spot and shattering his dreams in one fell swoop.
He would not even come close to threatening the points for the remainder of the campaign, but no matter as he had shown what he is capable of when the circumstances allow. Retained for 2009, when Force India secured an engine supply deal and technical tie-up with McLaren-Mercedes, Sutil again had the chance to shine. Although his results up to the summer break did not hint at much - ninth in the Australian season-opener his best finish - constant development at Force India had honed the car to the point where team-mate Fisichella could put it on pole and challenge for victory in Belgium. While Sutil only finished eleventh at Spa, his weekend in the spotlight was to come next time out at Monza where, with Fisichella now at Ferrari, he put the VJM02 on the front row and raced competitively before having to settle for fourth.
Shrugging off claims that the result was the benefit of the car's superior low-downforce spec, Sutil went on to claim second row grid spots in both Japan and Brazil, although neither produced points, leaving him 17th in the standings.
Remaining at Force India for 2010, and ostensibly as team leader alongside Vitantonio Liuzzi, Sutil was hoping that the new VJM03 could build on the late-season success of its predecessor and make him a regular fixture in the points, but the car was little more than a competent evolution, hinting at points without elevating the team to the front of the midfield bunch.
A brace of fifth place finishes, in Malaysia and Belgium, were as good as it got for Sutill but he still managed to rack up 47 points under F1's new scoring system and out-perform team-mate Liuzzi on the majority of race weekends. He ended the season tied on points with Williams' Rubens Barrichello, but Force India fell short of dislodging the Grove team from sixth in the standings.
Despite allowing his option with Force India to lapse as he eyed potential moves to Renault and Mercedes, Sutil returned to the Silverstone-based outfit for a fourth year in 2011, to lead one of the season's few altered line-ups with former reserve Paul di Resta replacing Liuzzi. The pair proved evenly matched, despite di Resta'a lack of F1 race experience, although Sutil eventually came out on top in the standings as a strong end to the season lifted him to ninth overall.
Whether it was the knowledge that there were three drivers vying for two seats at Force India for 2012 that drove him on cannot be proved, but even a storming drive to sixth in Brazil was not enough to save Sutil, as reserve driver Nico Hulkenberg was promoted into his seat as team-mate to di Resta.
What may have counted against Sutil, both at Force India and his subsequent pursuit of a seat at Williams, was an impending court case resulting from an alleged assault on Genii Capital's Eric Lux in a Shanghai nightclub in the wake of the Chinese Grand Prix. That, and Sutil's F1 future, remained unresolved as the 2012 season neared, and the German was ultimately left on the sidelines to rebuild his case for inclusion in 2013.
He was later charged with grievous bodily harm in the incident with Lux, receiving an 18-month suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay a €200,000 fine. Despite that, he remained a regular visitor to grands prix, and was still in the frame for a return to Force India following Hulkenberg's decision to move to Sauber.
The process of deciding on di Resta's team-mate for 2013 dragged on until the final pre-season test in Barcelona, with the Silverstone squad clearly taking more into account than talent and experience. In the end, Sutil did
get the nod over Ferrari protege Jules Bianchi, reforming Force India's 2011 partnership despite widespread belief that the Frenchman would have been the better option going forward.