Adrian Sutil has admitted that a double points-scoring finish was a pleasant surprise and something of a bonus for Force India in the F1 2011 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne just over a week ago, given that off the back of pre-season testing, 'we expected the worst'.
The new VJM04 was neither fast nor particularly reliable in the build-up to the new campaign, and a spectacular 360° spin going onto the start/finish straight for Sutil during qualifying scarcely aided that situation, leaving the German just 16th on the starting grid Down Under, two spots behind young rookie team-mate Paul di Resta who he describes as 'very good to work with', 'very calm' and 'a grown-up racing driver already...not like somebody straight out of GP2 who's maybe a little bit wild!'
From there, however, both made bright starts and went on to run in close company throughout the grand prix, doing battle with the two Scuderia Toro Rossos for much of the duration. Although taking the chequered flag just eleventh (Sutil) and twelfth (di Resta), the pair were promoted into the top ten by the double Sauber disqualification, earning FIF1 three unanticipated but very welcome points.
“It was quite an interesting weekend,” Sutil reflected. “Everybody thought it was going to be challenging with the new tyres, the wing, all the buttons and everything that you had to do – but it turned out to be a normal race as usual. The Pirelli tyres performed very well and they did a very good job in general – you could even do a one-stop strategy and it really worked! I had a similar feeling when I was on the soft or hard; the tyre was just lasting and lasting. It was really good. It was surprising, but I think it was a good job from Pirelli.
“I lost a little [ground] in the first corner; it looked like I was going to gain a little bit, but in the end there was a bit of a mess! The fight for positions got a little too close for me and I did not want to lose my front wing, so I had to back off and I lost three or four places. Then I thought, 'okay, wait a few corners, they're going to eliminate themselves anyway' – and that's how it happened!
“There were three or four cars out of the race and I was there where I wanted to be, so from that point-of-view it was quite good. I've had quite a few shunts in the first corner [in Australia], and I know if you just try to stay in the race you're going to be well-placed in the end.
“After that it was okay, but I think I missed a position. I was fighting against [Sébastien] Buemi at the beginning, once I had fought past other cars. I was right behind him and I went into the pits a lap later to have the extra lap advantage on new tyres, but the pit-stop wasn't so good, as we lost around four seconds with a problem with the left-rear. I went out of the pits still in front of him, but with new tyres you're so slow in the first sector, and he passed me by going completely off-track. Then Paul passed me, so I had to get past Paul again and Buemi was gone.
“In general, it was a good weekend for us, though – our car performed quite well. We expected the worst as the pace wasn't there in Barcelona during testing, but here it was much better. Our main target was to finish the race and we achieved that with both cars and even scored some points. I'm very happy about this result, and I hope it continues like that for the next races.”
The first of those will come at Sepang with the upcoming Malaysian Grand Prix, a race in which the German claimed his equal-best finish of the season in 2010 with a competitive fifth place. Whilst a similar result will likely be out-of-reach twelve months on, with stormy conditions forecast for the weekend ahead, he is well aware that anything could happen.
“It will be quite an interesting race,” the 28-year-old acknowledged. “It's going to be a little bit different on the tyres, and with extreme heat and high-speed corners it is always challenging. Let's see if the rain comes down. I hope so, as that will help us quite a lot!
“Malaysia was a great race last year, one of my best results, so I am really looking forward to racing there again. It's not my favourite track, but if you have a good car, every circuit is nice! It's a challenging circuit, and with a good balance on the car you can definitely enjoy driving it. It is also usually an interesting weekend from a strategy point-of-view because you don't know how the rain is going to affect the teams, which is exciting – but in the end it's going to be a hard race for us.”