F1 2011 rookie Paul di Resta has been tipped to graduate to a 'top team' sooner rather than later off the back of his eye-catching arrival on the grand prix grid in the first three outings of the current campaign – with Mercedes Grand Prix's Michael Schumacher reckoned to be the man most likely to make way.
Having impressively scored points in both of the opening two races of his F1 career in Australia and Malaysia, di Resta only just missed out on making it a remarkable hat-trick when he took the chequered flag eleventh in China last time out, five seconds adrift of Kamui Kobayashi who snatched the final marker.
What's more, the Scot has out-qualified his far more experienced Force India F1 team-mate Adrian Sutil on all three occasions – with a superb eighth place on the grid in Shanghai a particular highlight – and even if he confesses to being 'disappointed' not to have made it three-from-three on race day in the Chinese Grand Prix, still he acknowledges that it has been an extremely positive and 'solid' start.
“It was disappointing after we qualified eighth,” he told The Daily Telegraph
, “but realistically, I guess we had a Mercedes, a Red Bull and two Renaults behind us who had more outright pace. I think we did the best job we could.
“I've given it as much as I have been able to. There are times when I could have taken more risks, but I want to learn and to do that you have to finish races. It's a massive thing to have finished your first three grands prix and almost to have been in the points in all of them.
“At the same time, I'm getting more comfortable in the car and things are coming more naturally. I don't really want to say what level I'm at, but all I will say is that I am progressing and I'll continue to work at bettering my performance level. I never take anything for granted. It is important to have ambitions, of course, but I try just to stay focussed on each individual thing and not worry too much about the future – take it day-by-day.”
Whilst di Resta himself is keeping his sights restricted for the time being to the short-term, his long-term future, it seems, is already being mapped out behind-the-scenes. Legendary F1 commentator Murray Walker has mused that 'one of the big teams is going to be signing him up before very much longer', suggesting that Mercedes is arguably the most viable contender – and the Stuttgart-based marque's motorsport vice-president Norbert Haug has stoked the flames in describing the 24-year-old's F1 form thus far as 'exceptional' [see separate story – click here
To add further credence to the speculation, di Resta has a long and successful history with the three-pointed star and clinched the DTM crown with Mercedes last year, whilst the continuing trials and tribulations of seven-time F1 World Champion Schumacher have stirred the rumours once more about just how much longer the German legend can stand to bear the humiliation that he is currently being dished out on a fortnightly basis – and how much longer his employer is willing to accept his distinctly mediocre performances.
“Obviously I am close to Mercedes,” di Resta concedes. “They have had a huge influence on my career, and I'm very grateful to them. It is great that people are talking, but at the same time, I have got to keep progressing. Force India have given me a great opportunity and delivered what they said they would. Hopefully I am delivering what they hoped I would deliver for the team.”
“I would like to think there is an interest [from Mercedes Grand Prix],” added his manager Anthony Hamilton, father of current McLaren-Mercedes star Lewis. “We've not spoken to anyone, but for sure Paul is a Mercedes protégé
and Norbert has said some very complimentary things about him. I'm just really proud of him.
“He has made a fantastic start, and more importantly, he has done it in the right way. He has not over-driven; he has brought the car home every time and delivered points. Certainly he will make a great replacement for someone at a top team.”