Paul di Resta may be poised to make his grand prix debut when the F1 season finally gets underway in Melbourne this weekend, but he knows that the hard work is only just beginning.
The Scot was a rival of current world champion Sebastian Vettel in F3 and Lewis Hamilton in Formula Renault but, while the German was fast-tracked into F1 by the Red Bull development scheme and Hamilton nurtured by McLaren, di Resta has had to prove himself all over again, despite claiming the F3 Euroseries crown in 2006. Now, however, he finally gets another crack at Vettel, having been handed the chance to graduate to the top flight by Force India and Mercedes, and is determined to show that he deserves his place among motorsport's elite.
The 24-year old, cousin to multiple Indycar and Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti, has had to work hard to make it, despite being a past winner of the McLaren Autosport
BRDC Young Driver of the Year Award. Unable to raise the finance necessary to step up into the GP2 Series, he took the wise decision to remain with Mercedes and move to the DTM touring car series, and insists that he would not have been ready for F1 while still a teenager.
"Okay, [Hamilton and Vettel] have won world championships, but I've achieved what I wanted to achieve," he told Britain's Guardian
newspaper, "I'm not sure I would have wanted to be a F1 driver at 19. I've had four good years in touring cars, and I'll look back and say I definitely enjoyed them. I don't regret it. The DTM is a massively underrated championship, but it gives the driver a great grounding. The cars also have a lot of downforce, which again should be a big help in F1."
Set the goal of winning the DTM title, di Resta combined a successful championship assault with an increasing workload at Force India, and was already being talked about as a potential replacement for the lacklustre Tonio Liuzzi midway through last season. Even when it became clear that the Italian was not going to be in the mix for 2011, however, di Resta admits that he could not be sure that his time had come either.
"I was confident in a sense but, in other ways, I never really knew what would happen because it is quite a tricky business to get your head around," he said of the work and luck involved in making it to the top flight, "There are different sides to it than what you saw.
"I'm a driver, but there's also a commercial market as well. There was talk of the team taking a pay driver. You question it in your head, but you take it from the horse's mouth and you have to be confident that's where it's going. So I can say now it's been a progression I definitely worked hard to try and do. That was one of the things when I first went into Force India. With their plans they set down in front of me, I did see a natural progression. It was definitely a good route to getting a race drive. Happily, it has all paid off and they've delivered on what they've said they are going to deliver on."
Despite getting the chance to line up alongside Hamilton and Vettel again, however, di Resta knows that he is unlikely to be locking horns with either on a regular basis, and that his main battle will be to match up to Force India team-mate Adrian Sutil and cement his place on the grid for years to come.
"I know it is going to be difficult," he acknowledged, "The workload is going to increase for me this year with so many grands prix, a lot of racing compared to what I am used to in a year. I don't think, time-wise, it's going to be as bad but, on the brain, it is going to be much more demanding.