by Russell Atkins

Adrian Sutil - who produced arguably the performance of the race in Spa last weekend in keeping no less than Jarno Trulli, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello behind him for the opening 15 laps, race winners all three and all in infinitely superior machinery - has been reflecting on his maiden Formula 1 campaign to-date.

Speaking exclusively to Crash.net prior to the Belgian Grand Prix, the German admitted he faced a steep learning curve at the beginning of the season having stepped up from the F3 Euroseries in 2005 - where he was team-mate to a certain Lewis Hamilton - and occasional test-driving duties for Spyker last year. It is undoubtedly, though, one he has handled with aplomb.

"It's been very exciting," he enthused. "It's a very nice world here in Formula 1; it's great! I'm enjoying every day. It's really different to all the other categories I've raced in - there's so much to do, on top of all the testing and racing.

"I didn't expect it to be so busy. I thought I might have more time at home, but I get maybe one or two days a week maximum. There's a lot of travelling involved all over the world, but that's not a big problem for me because I love travelling.

"In F3 there's not so much to do over a race weekend; you obviously have to sit down with your engineer and discuss set-up and so forth, but apart from that it's a very relaxed atmosphere and you have a lot of time for yourself. Now there are always appointments and media interviews to take into account, drivers' briefings, sponsor events and so on... You need a good schedule to be able to manage it all. At the same time, though, you have to remain focussed and perform well on the racetrack, because that's where it all counts.

"The driving style is fairly similar to F3 - both cars need to be driven very smoothly - but there are a lot more possibilities to change the set-up of an F1 car and it takes some time to learn everything, like the electronic side and traction control. It's the same with the brakes. There are so many things you have to discuss with your engineer.

"There is a big difference in terms of speed too. F1 is so much faster that you can't really think when you're driving; it all has to be instinctive. The high g-forces make it exhausting as well; you need to train a lot more to be able to drive an F1 car. On the physical side everything is much heavier than in F3. Everything is more complicated, but overall I would say it's the perfect job for me."

Sutil has certainly made an impressive fist of things in his debut campaign, outperforming a car of modest means in much the same way as such as did Giancarlo Fisichella, Mark Webber, Trulli and Fernando Alonso at the beginning of their grand prix careers. And look where they are now. It has not, however, he admits, been an easy transition to make.

"Last year helped a little bit," the 24-year-old acknowledged, "though I didn't do that much testing to be honest. There were just some Fridays at grand prix weekends and a few normal tests, but there were always a few months in-between. That made it hard to get a real learning curve in.

"For me, F1 started for real in January this year. I had only five or six test days and then we were straight into the racing. It's got better and better over the course of the season though, and now I feel very comfortable in the car.

"There have been highs and lows along the way for sure. At the beginning I had a few crashes in the races; it's not easy starting from the back. There are so many cars and you try to overtake as many as you can, but there are times when you find the whole track ahead of you blocked and you have to practically stop in some corners.

"After that I think my performance has been really good. The biggest high point was definitely being quickest in Monaco free practice in the rain, where I could really show my potential. I love remembering that. Indy was a great race for me too - we could really fight with the others there - and it was the same in Hungary. I think overall it's been a good year so far."

Indeed, though Sutil was speaking before Spa - where he turned a number of heads with a superb drive, keeping far quicker cars behind him for lap after lap on a circuit where overtaking is far from impossible and producing lap times consistently in the same region as those of the Hondas, Toro Rossos and Super Aguris en route to 14th place at the chequered flag - it has been a more than noteworthy debut season, and this despite the lack of a regular team-mate to learn from. Christijan Albers, Markus Winkelhock and current incumbent Sakon Yamamoto have all occupied the seat of the number 21 Spyker over the course of the year, and Adrian has outperformed them all with ease.

"For me it doesn't make any difference," he insisted. "Christijan I think was doing very well by the end. He had some problems at the beginning of the year, but he was able to push me. It was interesting to work together and I could learn from him. I'm also learning from myself all the time, though, and I can overlay my data with that of my team-mate, even if he is half a second behind me. You can always learn something from each other."

As to the remaining three races of 2007, Sutil is keeping his expectations firmly under check, though he did allow for a certain degree of optimism given the improved performance of Spyker's B-spec car over its unloved and recalcitrant predecessor.

"Hopefully we can get through into the second phase in qualifying," he said, "and maybe finish the races in front of a few other cars. I think to get points will be difficult, but my aim for this season is still to score at least one point. You always need to motivate yourself and work hard."

Beyond that, despite the continuing state of flux at Spyker, the man from Bavaria pledged his loyalty to the squad for 2008, while alluding to the fact that, one day, he hoped to be able to take the fight to former team-mate Hamilton once more on equal terms. The only time he has seen Lewis this year is when the McLaren ace has been looming large in his rear-view mirrors coming up to lap him.

"My contract says I will still be at Spyker next year," Sutil affirmed. "For sure there has been some interest from other teams, but I'm happy at Spyker at the moment and that's where I will be in 2008.

"Ultimately I want to win races in my F1 career, and a championship. If the time is right it will happen."

 

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