He had vowed to pay little heed to reputations on his F1 debut, and after proving to have the measure of his much more experienced team-mate Adrian Sutil first time out in today's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, Force India rookie Paul di Resta was every bit as good as his word.
Having spent last season as FIF1's test and reserve driver, di Resta has been promoted to a race seat in F1 2011, and in an interview ahead of the weekend he had confessed that he fully anticipated 'butterflies' once the truly competitive action got underway – but regardless of that, he also intended to give every bit as good as he received out on-track.
“I've got to be careful when I'm up against Lewis [Hamilton] or [Michael] Schumacher, but I don't see why I should treat them any differently,” the reigning DTM Champion – who five years ago defeated current F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel to the F3 Euroseries laurels and has won at every level at which he has competed – was quoted as saying by the Daily Mirror
. “They are the opposition, they are racing drivers but we are all on our own route. I am out there to beat them, and I will try and do that.
“It is a bit of a strange sensation, though – I have never come into a championship where you have to be realistic and say the car is not right at the front and you can't be in contention for winning the championship. It is a different approach, but you just have to stay focussed, grab any opportunity that arises and make it happen.”
Force India's new VJM04 may not be a world-beater, but di Resta certainly grabbed his opportunity come race day around the streets of Albert Park, stubbornly offering no quarter to any of his adversaries and vaulting into the top ten from 14th on the grid right from the outset. Despite slipping back a touch early on, the Scot then proceeded to closely shadow Sutil for much of the remainder of the grand prix, only falling away in the latter stages due to needing to save fuel after the team was a little 'too optimistic'.
Still, having taken the chequered flag a very solid twelfth, the double Sauber disqualification ahead of him [see separate story – click here
] subsequently promoted di Resta into the points in tenth position – thereby seeing him join an elite group of drivers to have troubled the scorers on their maiden outing in the top flight.
“We had quite a good start and fight with [Kamui] Kobayashi, but that allowed one of the Toro Rossos by and from there we lost a bit of momentum,” recollected the 24-year-old, without his long haul flight-phobic dad Louis over the weekend. “Our pace was just a little bit behind today, but hopefully by Malaysia we will be able to understand why and, when the upgrades come, perform a bit better.
“Adrian and I were on different strategies and we had to fuel conserve toward the end – that's why the gap opened up. I am going into Malaysia to try to do a better job than I did here today, but overall I am relatively happy.”
“Generally it was not a bad race,” added Sutil, who had given himself a mountain to climb following a poor qualifying session the previous day. “Coming from 16th was not easy; the start itself was good and as usual there were a lot of cars at the first corner, but I made up several places by the end of lap one. We had good performance on the track and in the end it was a good race for the first one of the season, and we hope to improve our pace in Malaysia.”
Indeed, the Silverstone-based squad will head to Sepang next with three points in the bag that they had not initially anticipated – and chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer was quick to praise both drivers for their efforts in delivering that.
“It was good to see both Force India cars run a consistent race today,” he remarked. “We have to look at the positives and what we have learned this weekend. Paul drove an impressive first race, looking after his tyres and showing that he has made a comfortable transition into F1. Adrian made up five places from the start and gave a good performance today. Moreover, the team's results confirm that our reliability is there; what we need to work on now is our race pace to be genuinely in the hunt.”