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Davidson: di Resta needs to beat Sutil – but give him time
14 February 2011
Paul di Resta can have only one objective during his maiden campaign of top flight competition in F1 2011, according to Anthony Davidson – that of consistently getting the better of his Force India team-mate Adrian Sutil.
di Resta will join the grand prix grid this season after being promoted from the reserve ranks at FIF1 to replace the fast-but-erratic Vitantonio Liuzzi. As a driver whose career CV includes beating reigning F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel to the F3 Euroseries laurels in 2006 and clinching the DTM crown last year, the Scot's credentials are impeccable – even if his testing bow in the new VJM04 did not get off to the most glittering of starts at Jerez at the weekend with a spin and just the tenth and eleventh-fastest times on the two days, placing him a lowly 22nd out of the 24 drivers in total.
Davidson – who himself began 24 grands prix for Super Aguri, BAR-Honda and Minardi between 2002 and 2008, and now competes for Peugeot in sportscars – contends that ultimately, di Resta's potential and future in F1 will be judged entirely upon how he matches up against Sutil. The German is regarded within the paddock as a solid if unspectacular midfield competitor – and as such, Davidson argues, his new team-mate must beat him.
“When it's your first year and you're up against a guy like Adrian, who is experienced now in F1, in the same equipment that's probably not going to allow you to score podiums or many top five places, you've got to look at your team-mate,” he urged, speaking during a special pre-season BBC F1 'Meet the Team' session at Television Centre. “After a long season last year, in my mind, Sutil had the outright pace on Tonio Liuzzi and was still team leader – I don't think many would disagree with that.
“Adrian is the benchmark in that team, and I'll be impressed if Paul can outpace him for the whole year. I think Adrian has matured a lot as a driver but his speed has always been there, so if Paul can outperform him and really blueprint the speed of that car and come out as the team leader by the end of the season in terms of pace, then I think he's going to have a long career in F1.
“I've seen him come up through the karting ranks, and I think Paul is a very talented driver. I fully expect him by mid-season to be matching Adrian's pace in qualifying at least. If he can show better speed than Tonio did last season, then it obviously means he was the right choice for the team going into this year.
“He's got a tough driver to crack in Adrian, though, and I think the problem for Paul is that maybe Adrian is not seen as one of the best drivers out there, so therefore he is expected to at least match him. That's what he's got to overcome – and that's quite difficult to do, because it's all about perception at the end of the day when you're not in the best car.
“It's just sheer pace, it's lap time at the end of the day. If you can regularly out-qualify your team-mate and outscore them in a couple of races in your rookie season, I think that's a real good showing for your long-term future in F1. Sometimes that comes after mid-season, but it's something for the public to take note of, that it can take quite a long time to really click with the team and the car – it's a long process in F1, and sometimes people judge a bit too quickly. Obviously with the support of Britain behind him, we wish Paul all the best.”
Davidson will of course be commentating on the races for BBC Radio 5 Live again this year, and he forecasts another thrilling season in prospect. Arguably the greatest unknown, he opines, is the impact that Pirelli tyres are going to have upon the action and the pecking order, with the Italian manufacturer's super-soft rubber having thus far proven to be somewhat less durable than that of predecessor Bridgestone – albeit, it must be noted, deliberately so, at the behest of governing body the FIA.
One school of thought is that in view of his super-smooth, easy-on-the-tyres driving style – in stark contrast to the more balls-out aggression of team-mate Lewis Hamilton – the momentum could swing firmly in favour of Jenson Button inside the McLaren-Mercedes garage in F1 2011, but Davidson insists that right now, it's pretty much impossible to accurately predict anything.
“The tyres are the biggest factor,” acknowledged the 31-year-old Brit. “It's going to be up to everybody to master the Pirellis this year, and it's going to be interesting to watch how it actually unfolds with tyre-wear and the different compounds of tyres round the different tracks we go to.
“I think Pirelli have been a lot braver in their choice of compounds and tyre structures than Bridgestone were, so we're going to see drivers and teams struggling a lot more, I think, than what we saw last year in trying to keep them alive. Qualifying is one thing, but the race and the degradation on those tyres is a totally different ballgame this year.
“On the Bridgestones last year, in that particular car, in that particular season, Lewis seemed to have the upper hand [over Button] in qualifying. It's completely different this year, and we've just got to go into it with an open mind. The balance can easily change in one of these cars with the tyres – they dominate balance and grip – and that can sometimes suit one driver's style more than another's.
“If the balance were to suit Jenson's style a bit more – he depends a lot on the front end to be there, especially in qualifying, and he's very good at feeling the edge of a tyre and the slip-angle drop-off – there's no reason why he can't be quicker than Lewis, but Lewis is very good at adapting himself to lots of different situations. It's going to be fascinating to see which drivers react better or worse with these tyres.”
The F1 2011 World Championship campaign will rev into life with the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir on 13 March. The BBC will broadcast all of the action both on and off-track season-long via comprehensive coverage across TV, HD, radio, online, red button and mobile.