With five days to go until the start of the new testing season, the worst kept secret of the winter was confirmed today when the Force India team announced that its two race drivers this season will be Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta. Williams refugee Nico Hulkenberg becomes the reserve driver.
It’s a great step for Di Resta, 24, who impressed last season in his role as Friday driver and as champion of the DTM with Mercedes. The support of the Stuttgart manufacturer has been instrumental in him getting the role. Di Resta beat reigning F1 champion Sebastian Vettel when they were team mates in F3 and Mercedes has been pushing for him to get his chance for some time. He took part in eight of the Friday morning free practices sessions last season. To be given the nod ahead of the more experienced Hulkenberg, when he became available after being dropped by Williams, shows how much faith Mercedes and Force India has in his abilities.
Di Resta is managed by Anthony Hamilton, father of Lewis Hamilton.
“Naturally I am thrilled to be making my race debut this season,” said Di Resta, who becomes the third British driver on the F1 grid. “Becoming an F1 driver has been a long-held ambition of mine, something I’ve wanted to do since I first stepped into a kart, and to finally realise it feels amazing. I’ve worked really hard for this opportunity throughout my career and to get it with Force India, a young team that’s got ambitions as big as mine, is genuinely exciting. I can’t wait to be on the grid in Bahrain, it can’t come soon enough!”
For team boss Vijay Mallya, the combination of Sutil and Di Resta is a potent one,
“I am genuinely excited by the drivers we will be fielding in 2011,” he said. “I believe that the combination of talent we’ve assembled gives us one of the strongest line-ups on the grid: Adrian has matured into one of F1’s most consistent and highly-rated young drivers, while Paul is, I believe, a real star of the future. He has won in every category in his career and this base speed was in evidence when he got in the car on Fridays last year.”
Sutil is starting his fifth season as a Force India driver, during which time they have gone from the back of the grid to a solid top ten runner.
“We’ve made some good progress together over the past four years and I’m excited to be part of the the team when it takes the next step,” said Sutil. “Which is hopefully to become a front running team. We have the same ambitions so it makes a lot of sense to achieve them together.”
Force India were locked in a battle with Williams last season for 6th place in the Constructors’ Championship, losing out narrowly at the last round. It is likely they will be battling again this season. It will be difficult with the resources available to go much better than sixth, but to do so the team will need consistent points scoring from both drivers and that means Di Resta scoring at least 60% of the points Sutil scores. Last year the German scored 47 points, the same as Williams Rubens Barrichello.
The new line up leaves no place for Tonio Liuzzi and the Italian who drove 25 GPs for the team doesn’t even get a “wish him well” mention in the team’s press statement. He had a valid contract for next season, but the relationship has had a messy ending.
As I posted earlier in the month, with the caveat that we do not know what his contract says – it looks like Liuzzi would have to be paid off for the 2011 season, probably around €1.5 million, plus possibly 50% of the bonus cut (another €750,000). But then he may also seek damages because being dropped so late like this harms his career and his chances of finding a seat for 2011.
The nuclear option would be to seek some kind of injunction against the team to stop it racing, but it’s hard to see it coming to that.