Adrian Sutil put a brave face on the outcome of today's Chinese Grand Prix – a race in which he had looked set to register Force India's first-ever points in the top flight, only to be cruelly denied sixth place barely a handful of laps from the chequered flag when his 'out-of-control' car got away from him one time too many.
The young German has something of an unfortunate and unenviable history of falling at the last hurdle, having been running a superb fourth in the closing stages of last year's Monaco Grand Prix only to be unceremoniously removed from contention by the sideways Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen almost within sight of the finish line. Raikkonen was safely six spots further in arrears this time around in Shanghai, but Sutil's bad luck curse struck again to leave him with still just a single point from his 38-race Formula 1 career.
Shining in the torrential conditions much as he had done en route
to eighth place for Force India's predecessor Spyker in the water-logged Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji back in 2007, the 26-year-old excelled to rise up into the points and profited from a late-race error by the McLaren-Mercedes of former F3 Euroseries team-mate Lewis Hamilton to snatch fifth position.
He was still there, fending off the challenge from behind of Hamilton, Nick Heidfeld, Timo Glock and Sébastien Buemi, when on lap 51 of 56 worn tyres caused Sutil's car to aquaplane off the road and into the circuit's unforgiving barriers, putting him out of contention on the spot. As in Monaco, it was a cruel, cruel blow.
“I had prepared myself for a hard race and that's exactly what it was,” acknowledged the man from Starnberg afterwards. “We took a risk with the strategy with a very early stop, and it was a long way to go with one set of tyres. Then it started to rain again and it was very hard to keep the car on the circuit. Sometimes even in a straight line in fourth or fifth gear I was struggling with aquaplaning, and I was very lucky to keep the car on the circuit for so long.
“It's a shame – you focus so much and think you can do it, but the car was just out of control at the end. I had the same feeling as in Monaco – it's hard to believe when you are in the car and then suddenly you lose it and it's all over from such a great position, but you have to get over it. We had a great performance today, it's good for the team and I think we deserved the points. I just feel bad for everyone here. It was a very good strategy call, but that's what we had to do – take a risk.”
Team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella never featured so highly, reaching a peak of eleventh spot mid-race from his back-of-the-grid starting position and going on to take the chequered flag just 14th of the 16 finishers. The experienced Italian similarly vouched for the treacherous nature of the conditions out on-track.
“It was a difficult race,” the 36-year-old concurred. “The rain was really hard at the beginning, but my main problem was the graining on the tyres. With both sets we had a lot of wear and the car was sliding on four wheels through some corners. It was very hard just to keep the car on the ground, and many times I had a huge moment.
“The strategy was good, though, and I think we can be pleased with the performance today. It's a disappointment that Adrian came so close to scoring the team's first points, but we all know how hard it was out there.”
“What a phenomenal race and yet what heartbreak,” summarised the Silverstone-based squad's chairman and team principal Dr Vijay Mallya of Force India's most competitive showing in F1 to-date. “We can all be very proud of Adrian and the team's achievements today. He has proved yet again that he has a genuine flair in the wet and came desperately close to scoring those elusive points once more.
“We made all the right calls in the race and functioned very well as a team; it was just such a shame we couldn't translate it into points at the end of the race. Although we know we have much work remaining, both Adrian and Giancarlo's performances give us a shot in the arm and show that, if and when the conditions allow, we can be right up there. I must also extend my warm congratulations to Red Bull for a well-deserved first win.”