Paul di Resta has impressed for a lot of his early F1 career, but reports are circulating that if he does not get a seat for 2014, the Scot could switch to the IndyCar series in the USA.
Paul is no stranger to other car specifications, and was highly successful in DTM (German Touring Cars) before entering the F1 scene; but is leaving the realm of Formula 1 a good idea?
The team that birthed him into the sport are the only team (at time of this post, November 20, 2013) to have no drivers confirmed for the 2014 season. It’s likely that they will retain at least one of their two current drivers (Sutil being the other) but a lot rests on driver line-ups elsewhere. Do you remember the end of the 2012 season? It was only until Michael Schumacher relinquished his seat at Mercedes that anyone was able to make a move in the driver market, with Hamilton moving, then Perez, then Hulkenberg, Sutil and so on. This year is very much the same, and the pivotal driver is another German.
If Lotus’ deal with Quantum falls through, Hulkenberg wont end up there, and he is extremely in-demand at the minute, so could end up back at his 2012 team. Hypothetically, this move would push either Paul or Adrian out of their current seat, and Sutil has hinted that his contract is all but done, although Vijay Mallaya doesn’t want to make a final decision until after the team’s Christmas party in December. Following his departure from McLaren, there has also been chatter about the possibility of Sergio Perez moving to the Silverstone-based team. That’s four very decent drivers vying for two very decent seats.
Should Paul fail to secure one of those seats for next year, he may still remain as part of the Force India Family in a Reserve driver capacity. History implies that this can go one of two ways: He could either take a breather and revitalise his career after learning how precious his seat is, or vanish completely. Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa both pulled off the former when they took test driver roles at Renault in 2002 and Ferrari in 2004 respectively. After a year as a race driver in the sport, a year testing paid off handsomely the following year, with Felipe arriving at Sauber and then Ferrari, and Fernando becoming Renault’s hero and winning a race in his first full season with them.
But for these success stories there are equal numbers of drivers who seem to be swallowed up by the Testing Wilderness. Sebastian Buemi lost his Toro Rosso seat at the end of 2011 and while he has remained as part of the Red Bull furniture, has virtually no prospect of returning to a race seat with them. Jerome d’Ambrosio raced for Lowly Virgin in 2011 so when he got the chance to replace Grosjean for 2012’s Italian Grand Prix, it gave the Belgian a chance to prove his mettle and land a decent drive for 2013. It didn’t materialise though, and he only managed an unlucky 13th place, and was dropped by Lotus for 2013.
Hopefully this is not a bad omen for Heikki Kovalainen who has also replaced one of the Lotus chaps this year, racing to a disappointing but ultimately out-of-his-hands 14th; he may yet come good in Brazil. Though Paul’s role as a third driver would afford the opportunity to make the irresistable pun of “di Resta the Tester”, it might not be best for his career.
di Resta’s links with IndyCar are interesting, but I feel that that series would be too much of a step down for him. He’s still young and talented. I would have thought that the FIA World Endurance Championships would be a much better place for him to end up. Looking at the 2013 season, there are no less that SIXTEEN ex-F1 drivers in the current season alone. Bonus points for anyone who can name them all. He’d be in good company, and if a seat does not materialise for 2014, I would argue that WEC would be a much better place for him.
Before I elaborate I must make clear that I do not view Paul di Resta as an arrogant man. It strikes me as familiar though, that after being linked with Felipe Massa’s seat in the summer, his form has taken a noticeable dip. He had car-related retirements in Hungary and was clattered into by Maldonado in Belgium, but in the following three races in Italy, Singapore and Korea he made very immature mistakes you would not usually associate with him. The familiarity is that I’ve seen this before, when a driver gets the impression that he is sought after and doing well, he loses his composure and makes many mistakes.
It happened last year with Sergio Perez – once his contract with McLaren was signed he didn’t score a single point for the rest of the season, including very silly errors in Japan and India. You might know my opinion of Maldonado already but I think his Spanish GP victory went to his head. It stands head, shoulders knees and toes above anything else he’s accomplished, and this remarkable spike in form probably arrived too early for him to grow properly as a driver. It’s the equivalent of training for the 100m final at the Olympics by walking to the Post Office. I choose these three drivers in particular because they all joined the sport in 2011 and make for good comparisons.
I could go on but the point I am making is that these drivers have all experienced success (Leading and in Pastor’s case winning races) and media hype for the first times in their careers recently, and it could be that this first time in the limelight blinds a driver and causes an arrogant streak. Paul’s link to Ferrari may well have been the downfall of his entire career in the sport should he not return in 2014, a sad fact considering his steady and impressive growth. Maybe the link was made too early; I personally like to see a driver squeeze out a podium or two before being considered for the top teams.
If it were my decision, I would take di Resta and Hulkenberg for 2014 and keep Sutil around as a reserve, as I think both drivers show enormous potential. One more year in a decent midfield runner would do the world of good for Paul and if he can focus himself and try to avoid media hype and speculation (very difficult for drivers who have Twitter) his head may be in the right place to truly succeed. For now though, we must wait to see (cliche alert) where the chips fall and if they push him into what is surely a lesser competition in IndyCar.