Paul di Resta secured himself a fitting birthday present by racking up the first top ten grid position of his young F1 career in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix.
The Scot, despite finishing tenth in each of his two races with the Force India team, had not previously bettered the seventh row of the grid in qualifying, but took advantage of the VJM04's decent straight-line speed and the unexpected help of a red flag in Q2 to make the cut and enter the pole position shoot-out.
Although he knew that, without another stroke of luck, he was unlikely to threaten Red Bull and McLaren at the front of the grid, di Resta continued to set impressive lap times as he cemented eighth place in the short final session, belying the fact that he had had to sit out the whole of second practice on Friday afternoon with a fuel pressure problem.
"I could not have wished for more today and it's nice to get into Q3," the rookie commented, "After missing the whole of FP2 yesterday, we knew that it was going to be difficult this morning, but we've got a small upgrade here and it certainly improved the performance today.
"Luckily, I did my quickest lap in the second running in Q1, as I just struggled a little bit with balance in the others. Our race pace seems to be not too bad, so fingers crossed we can pick up some points again tomorrow as we have in the previous two grands prix."
Team-mate Adrian Sutil was not quite as fortunate, finding himself bumped out of the top ten right at the end of Q2. The German had been sitting 'on the bubble' as the majority of the field streamed back on track following the red flag interruption, but Nico Rosberg's lone improvement was enough to condemn him to an early bath after a delay at the weighbridge denied him a chance to reply.
"It was a good qualifying and I am looking forward to the race tomorrow," the German noted phlegmatically, "This weekend has so far been much better than the last ones, with no real problems, so it looks good for us. It was a little bit difficult at the end of the session when the red flag came out and I missed out on a final flying lap, but overall I am very happy and our car performance is improving well."
"I think that we were there on merit and the car's improving pace is showing.," Dominic Harlow, Force India's engineering director, commented, "It was a cooler day today and different atmospheric conditions have had a significant effect on the lap times compared to Friday, but we achieved our first Q3 position of the year in P8, and so congratulations to Paul, who also celebrates his Birthday today.
"Adrian just missed out on the third period of qualifying. With the red flag, and having been weighed earlier in the session, he wasn't able to complete a full second outing but, nevertheless, we are looking forward to the race tomorrow and, of course, aiming to secure further points."