Another midfield team has unveiled its driver line up for next year, but unlike Toro Rosso, which sacked both incumbents this week, Sahara Force India has gone with the line up which was predicted in the final third of this season.
Paul di Resta keeps his seat for another year and Nico Hulkenberg steps up from reserve driver to race driver alongside him. This means that there is no place for Adrian Sutil, who has been with the team for four seasons.
Sutil’s manager was a man on a mission in Brazil, which was the tell tale indicator that this was the line up the team had in mind. Sutil brings some budget with him from Medion and with his results and performances in the second half of the season, surely has a good chance of a seat at Williams. Sutil finished the season in 9th place in the drivers’ championship, which is the best finish of his career and the best of the rest after the drivers from the top four high-spending teams.
Sutil is fast, has sometimes been erratic, but clearly Sahara Force India think that he’s reached a plateau, whereas there is still more to come from Di Resta and Hulkenberg. It’s a young, dynamic line up and they will no doubt push each other hard next season.
The team’s engineers have had a good chance to evaluate Nico Hulkenberg this season, by running him on Friday mornings. He is a known quantity anyway from his rookie season with Williams in 2010.
“I think Paul caught the eye of everybody in the pit lane during his rookie season,” said team principal Vijay Mallya. “His speed, maturity and racecraft confirmed that we were right to believe in him and we look forward to working with him again next year.
“As for Nico, we identified him as a rising star at the end of 2010 and chose to evaluate him during the course of this season. Despite having only limited time in the car, he convinced us that he deserved a race seat for 2012.”
Mallya himself remains something of a question mark in this team. He sold almost 50% to Sahara shortly before the Indian Grand Prix and problems in other areas of his business empire have led to the suggestion within F1 circles that he may be heading out of the team in the near future, either selling the remaining shareholding to Sahara or to other investors. Whether he would keep a minority stake remains to be seen.
The team has been on a steady rise since it became Force India in 2008; 9th in the constructors’ championship in 2009, 7th last year and 6th this season.