Whilst insisting that it is merely 'coincidence' that the two occasions on which he has looked set for a strong result in Formula 1 only to lose it almost within sight of the chequered flag have been when he has had the reigning world champion behind him, Adrian Sutil is adamant that the entire Force India team should be 'very proud' of its performance in Shanghai at the weekend.
After taking a gamble in coming in to re-fuel under both of the safety car periods – on laps four and 19 – Sutil then completed the remainder of the Chinese Grand Prix without stopping again, with a heavy car that he admitted was 'on the limit' in terms of making it to the end and on just a single set of tyres.
That enabled him to work his way impressively up the order in the treacherous conditions to be lying sixth with barely a handful of laps to go – ahead of former F3 Euroseries team-mate and defending F1 title-winner Lewis Hamilton, no less – when his worn tyres finally gave up the ghost and he aquaplaned off the track on standing water and into the unforgiving tyre barriers.
It was a cruel blow to both the young German and his Silverstone-based squad, which still has yet to trouble the scorers in its 21-race history in the top flight, and which was similarly denied a superb fourth place in last year's Monaco Grand Prix, when Sutil was unceremoniously removed from the action just six laps from home by the out-of-control Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen.
That race, too, was held in inclement conditions, as was the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji, the only outing in which Sutil has thus far finished inside the points in eighth place, with his talent and car control clearly compensating for a lack of performance from the machinery underneath him when the heavens open and the weather turns nasty. Those kinds of opportunity, sadly, arise few-and-far between – meaning Sunday's acute disappointment was a missed chance of significant proportions.
“Our performance was really very good,” the 26-year-old underlined, “and we should all be very proud of this race. We had really good pace, so that was promising. It was a risk to go on one-stop, because I stopped very early. I was very light at the beginning, and then under the safety car we went into the pits and just filled it up. I tried to save a lot of fuel during the race. I knew it was going to be a long way to the end, but in the last ten laps I was attacking again, because we didn't need to save fuel anymore.
“We knew it would be tight on the tyres, though – the profile goes down and down; we're talking about a few millimetres, but it is still enough to cause a lot of problems with the water – but the grip in the corners was enough to stay in a good position. With the aquaplaning on the straights, though, it was sometimes hard to keep it on the circuit. You never knew what was going to happen because the car went to the left or the right. With six laps to go I hit another patch of water and ended up in the wall. It was very disappointing.
“We could have done a safe run, changed tyres and maybe we would have been at the back – but that's not the way we wanted it to go. We had to take a risk because we know that we're good in the wet. Of course we were unlucky and it wasn't possible to bring it home, but sometimes it's just bad luck if you hit a patch of water. We couldn't do anything about it.”
Sutil conceded that it had been 'good' to be competing against the McLaren-Mercedes' of Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen as he had done against Raikkonen in Monaco just under twelve months ago – 'it's nice to race the world champions of course, when we don't have the fastest car in the field right now' – and he joked that it was just 'a little bit of bad luck' that he had lost what would have been by some margin the finest two results of his fledgling F1 career to-date in similar circumstances.
As he now looks ahead to the Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir this coming weekend – a race in which he has a best finish of a lowly 15th place to his name, with Spyker back in 2007 – the man from Starnberg acknowledged that he would need rather better luck if he is to get close to threatening the points-scoring positions again.
“I think there we'll have seriously dry conditions!” he affirmed. “We'll get a few updates on the car which will help us to have a better performance in qualifying, but again it's going to be difficult. We're at the back of the field right now, and we have to take our chances, like we did [in China], and try to move on. Development is going on, and we're getting new upgrades for the next few races. Hopefully they'll be enough to progress.”