Adrian Sutil could have just a day or two to prove that he deserves to return to the top flight of international motorsport, according to his management team.
The German is expected to be confirmed as part of Force India's testing roster ahead of this week's group session at the Circuit de Catalunya and, if included, could find himself in a shoot-out for the second seat alongside Paul di Resta with Ferrari protégé Jules Bianchi.
The pair are understood to be the only two under consideration for the vacancy, despite reports linking HRT refugee Narain Karthikeyan with a late bid to gazump both. Bianchi joined di Resta and Force India simulator pilot James Rossiter for the opening group test at Jerez, and did his claim no harm by posting the third fastest time of the week. Sutil, however, is thought to bring the bigger financial package.
The German remains under a cloud, though, having sat out last season following a 2011 altercation in a Chinese nightclub that led to Genii Capital's Eric Lux pursuing GBH charges and Nico Hulkenberg getting the nod to partner di Resta.
Sutil's manager, Manfred Zimmermann, admits that, with his client having been unable to race anywhere last season, this week's test could be a watershed in his F1 career, with rejection by Force India likely to cast him into the grand prix wilderness. The 30-year old brings both speed and experience, based on his previous spell with the team as it morphed through Midland, Spyker and Force India guises, but Bianchi could carry the trump card of being linked to Ferrari, should the team decide that it wants to run the Scuderia's engines from 2014.
“The chance of rejoining Force India remains intact, and we continue to hope, albeit knowing that Barcelona is pretty much the last chance,” Zimmermann told German news agency DPA
following confirmation that Sutil had a seat fitting at the team's Silverstone base last week.
With just one four-day test remaining between this week's session and the Australian Grand Prix in a month's time, Force India is expected to formalise it line-up in order to maximise both track time and focus on its return to Barcelona in early March.
Interestingly, a Crash.net
poll asking for opinions regarding di Resta's likely team-mate [ vote here
] is currently showing overwhelming support for Sauber outcast Kamui Kobayashi, with Heikki Kovalainen holding down second spot as he seeks alternative employment following his release from Caterham. Sutil is only in fourth spot, behind Bianchi.