Having threatened to stun the Formula 1 fraternity with a fourth place finish in last year's Monaco Grand Prix, Adrian Sutil says he hopes to be a more consistent points challenger in 2009 - with a little help from his new friends at McLaren-Mercedes...

Though Sutil ultimately failed to take the chequered flag any higher than 13th in the final reckoning in 2008 - with only seven finishes to his name from 18 starts and a ten-eight deficit to experienced, three-time grand prix-winning team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella in the qualifying stakes - his season will always be remembered for his incredible performance around the streets of the Principality in May.

From the very back row of the grid, the young German kept his head superbly in tricky conditions that caught out a good many bigger names, to be lying in fourth position just a handful of laps from the close. To see his dreams of a true giant-killing result unceremoniously shattered by the out-of-control Ferrari of defending F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen slewing into his Force India machine on the exit of the tunnel was cruel fate indeed - albeit a moment he can look back and smile at now the pain has gone.

"Monaco was for sure my absolute highlight," he told Paddock Talk. "We had quite a lot of wet races or rainy conditions in qualifying - but nothing compares to Monaco. Monaco in the rain is a very special circuit. All the other circuits have run-off areas, you can make mistakes, it just gives you a much more confident feeling in the car and everybody's pushing straightaway, but in Monaco you have to go really easy.

"Some people risk more; some of them are really scared. If you risk more and you really put a good lap together, you're at the front. This is a big difference, really.

"When I look back it's still a fantastic memory, it gives me motivation and it makes me very happy. I still have on my computer the picture of the timing screen when I was in fourth position, doing the fastest lap with a 'pink' (ie. fastest) time! I watch it and think that was a good day.

"Kimi apologised afterwards straightaway, and when I see him he always comes up with this story. He's a good guy. After a week I thought, 'okay, you can't change it', but when I look back like this I think I can't believe it. Why? Still now when I really remember back it's incredible, the feeling that comes up, and I don't understand the words sometimes.

"After half a year all the fans remember the situation very clearly. It was Monaco, it was unexpected and then it ended so dramatically - it was a good story for a race. It was also a good thing for my reputation. It was a very good race with a dramatic ending, and I think that was even better for reminding people. For sure next year when I come back to Monaco there will be lots of PR things to do, and there will be many questions!"

That, sadly, would prove to be Sutil's only real chance to shine throughout the campaign, as Force India struggled to keep pace with the development of its rivals - even if he acknowledged the introduction of the new seamless-shift gearbox for the European Grand Prix in late August gave the Silverstone-based minnows a bit of a boost.

There were also, he admits, rather too many accidents - especially on the opening lap - that were perhaps a factor in suggestions that the 26-year-old would be replaced by 2008 DTM Vice-Champion Paul di Resta for the forthcoming season, but he insists the team never applied any undue pressure on him.

"A few times I was risking quite a lot at the beginning," he confessed. "I think I crashed into David Coulthard two times! Sometimes you [take a] risk and it works, sometimes not. Sometimes you are cautious in the first corner, and maybe you lose a little bit.

"I had good days where everybody said, 'this is great', and other ones where everybody came to me afterwards and said, 'what are you doing?' At the back you never know what will happen. Sometimes everybody's braking and you can't react to it, and it's a mess, but if you don't try you can't improve.

"The team told me just to try to survive the first lap and then go on with your race, because you're quick in the race, no problem. It was always a good conversation with my team; they were never angry, because they also knew how we could make up places at the start and how when circumstances were right we could have great races. That's why we were always talking in a good way, always trying to improve ourselves and have a better performance in the end.

"We started quite well as the car performance was a lot better than last year, but then we lost a little bit, as the development wasn't there anymore. We had a few updates, but the first six races were quite difficult for me with the new regulations. I had quite a big problem with using the tyres in the right way.

"After Monaco actually everything went better. I made good progress with all the new items I was learning. Unfortunately we had quite a lot of technical problems and some incidents in the races. There were plenty of races which could have been good, but in the end the car broke down or something happened, which was very disappointing.

"We made a good step for Valencia with the new gearbox - it worked very well as it gave us about three tenths a lap - but in a few races the other teams came with new developments and new updates and we didn't have anything, so we stayed where we were.

"Japan would have been another good opportunity to race in the midfield. Maybe a top ten position in the end would have been difficult, but not impossible. It was so sad after a few laps to get a puncture like that. You think, 'why me again?' Sometimes you have seasons where you just have bad luck."

Pinpointing the VJM01's weakest areas as its aerodynamics, particularly on the straights, Sutil clearly has somewhat higher hopes for the year ahead - and is confident that aside from having improved as a driver since making his debut in the top flight back at the beginning of 2007, his evenly-matched partnership with Fisichella and technical input from McLaren-Mercedes will help Force India to make progress and 'finish a few races in the points' in the squad's second season in its own name.

"I think with the new regulations I had to adapt my driving style," he related. "[In 2007] I was doing really well in qualifying, my laps were always quite strong; [in 2008] it was a new situation, without traction control, and it took a little while, but now I'm on the same level or a little bit stronger.

"I'm more experienced now, and I had a very good team-mate in Giancarlo - I could learn quite a lot from him, with all the data. If the gap is over half a second (between team-mates) you don't need to change anything on the car, as even with a not-so-good set-up you can still beat him - but now we are always trying to get the maximum out of the car, and that's how it should be. You really need someone in the team who pushes you.

"KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) will be very interesting. For sure it's heavy and driving will be a little bit different, but I think it's a good idea. We can also adjust the front wing while driving, which is another challenge, and slick tyres is going back to the roots. I think it will be good. There will be even more work to do while driving, which makes everything more interesting.

"I think [the McLaren-Mercedes tie-up] will be a great help. Mentally I'm much better now - after two years of F1 you feel better [and] your self-confidence is higher - so maybe we can really go into the top ten and finish a few races in the points. That would be a good step. I'm confident."

Comments

Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment