Adrian Sutil is heading into F1 2010 with his tail up and his confidence sky-high off the back of a breakthrough season for the highly-rated young German in 2009, during which he achieved his maiden front row start in the top flight and best-ever finish – and revealing that he feels completely at home in the Force India 'family', he is aiming for bigger and better things again this year.
From a driver who had always been fairly well-regarded but had never really had the results to show for it – witness his cruel harpooning at the hands of Ferrari rival Kimi Raikkonen whilst lying in fifth position in the closing stages of the 2008 Monaco Grand Prix as an example of his typical ill-fortune – Sutil finally grabbed some limelight of his own in qualifying second, finishing a strong fourth and setting fastest lap for good measure in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza last September, his 48th start at the highest level since making his debut at the beginning of 2007.
That suddenly thrust the Starnberg native into public recognition, and concretised the promise shown both in Monaco the previous year and in running up in P6 until he lost control of his VJM02 in treacherous conditions in the dying laps of the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai just under five months earlier. There would follow second row qualifying performances in both Japan and Brazil – though like a number of other drivers, Sutil was demoted at Suzuka for a yellow flag indiscretion – meaning that as he prepares to start his fourth campaign in F1, the 27-year-old's mood is buoyant.
“2009 was a really important year,” he acknowledged. “I was very close to scoring points in a lot of races and, frustratingly, something always happened – so when we got to Monza, it was a pretty perfect weekend. I scored my first front row, my first points since 2007 and it gave me a lot of extra confidence.
“I was very happy when the success came and it was for sure a big moment in my career, the turning-point. It's really different to start from the front row and race at the front, and I feel it has helped me to grow. I know I need to follow it up this year now.
“2010 is a really important season, and we are very optimistic about going well. I hope we will have a good season and I am pretty confident we will. We have had a good winter and a very good development programme, so expectations are high. The car looks great [and] we made a positive step with the wind tunnel simulations, but let's test and see where we are. I know we need to perform well, and from my side I have tried to be perfectly-prepared.
“When you start a season you always want it to be better than the previous one, and I think this year it's important to be consistent from the first race. It's the first time we have been completely on-schedule, so I feel this will be the first season when I can show from the beginning to the end what is possible with the car and what I can do. I'd like to be in the midfield and be competitive from Bahrain.”
Indeed, the forthcoming campaign will in effect mark Sutil's fifth with the Silverstone-based squad, having set out in 2006 as a test driver for what was then Midland and would subsequently metamorphose into Spyker and now FIF1. It is, he admits, like a home-from-home, and far from breeding contempt, familiarity in this case is breeding only contentment and confidence.
“I feel really good in the team,” asserted the man who pushed 2008 F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton for F3 Euroseries glory in 2005. “It's like family for me as they know me very well; they know how I work and my strengths and weaknesses. With that kind of relationship, they can really get the things that suit me and I have confidence in them to do it.
“At the end of last season I felt very good, and it was hard to find a better option for 2010. Over the past four years we have of course seen many different changes, but when Vijay [Mallya] took over in 2007 it was a step in the right direction. He's committed to go for it and he has his goals. Right now we're looking really good, we've sorted out all the issues and this winter has been a consistent working situation so it's a big advantage. It's nice to be one of the few teams who have stability now and can just focus on the racing.
“The competition of course will be really tough, with four world champions in the field now – Lewis and Jenson [Button] at McLaren, Fernando [Alonso] in the Ferrari and Michael [Schumacher] back with Mercedes. I have a lot of respect for all of them and I'm actually really excited about being on the same grid, but at the end of the day they are your competitors. You can't hold them up as heroes or goals – when we're racing they are people you need to beat. If you do go well against them it will really lift you, so I'm looking forward to seeing how I do.”