Adrian Sutil is adamant that he is driving better than ever in 2008 – even if his stock has fallen a little since his impressive rookie season in Formula 1 last year.
Having turned a number of heads over the course of his 2007 campaign in the top flight with a string of standout performances in his back-of-the-grid Spyker-cum-Force India machine, much was expected of the young German during his sophomore season, only for the arrival of the experienced Giancarlo Fisichella to somewhat steal his thunder.
The Italian clearly held the upper hand over the initial races – with Sutil failing to out-qualify his 35-year-old team-mate until the sixth outing in Monaco – but since then things have levelled out more between the pair, with the qualifying battle currently tilted six-five in Fisichella's favour, and that
drive of Sutil's around the tortuous, unforgiving streets of Monte Carlo going down in memory as one of the undoubted performances of the year to-date.
“The team has always been behind me,” the 25-year-old stressed in an interview with Dutch magazine Formule 1 Race Report
, giving the lie to suggestions Force India chairman Vijay Mallya had considered replacing him with test driver Vitantonio Liuzzi early on in 2008. “When it was obvious that I was having some problems, they gave me the time to work it out.
“There was a lot written about it in the press, but I never thought I was going to get fired.”
Blaming his initial struggles on a lack of testing time over the winter months, Lewis Hamilton's former F3 Euroseries team-mate also sought to point out that racing alongside three-time grand prix-winner Fisichella was an altogether different prospect than that which he had faced in 2007, when Christijan Albers, Markus Winkelhock and Sakon Yamamoto between them shared the sister car.
“I have to be driving really well, otherwise I am behind him,” the man from Starnberg insisted. “Last season was different – I knew almost certainly before every session, 'my team-mate will be half a second slower'.
“There's not so much between us (Sutil and Fisichella) in terms of driving the car at the limit. If there were three tenths between us, that's a different story, but sometimes you could just flip a coin [to separate the pair]. That's not too bad, is it?
“I think I'm at my very best now. Of course I was driving as quickly as possible last year, but [this year] is a different thing.”
Sutil, like Fisichella, is expected to remain at Force India in F1 in 2009, but in the meantime, he revealed, he is simply hoping another opportunity like Monaco will present itself that enables him to transcend the abilities of his car and prove his worth in the uppermost echelon. Due to its ostensibly similar nature, Valencia this weekend has to be counted as a possibility.