Interview: Paul di Resta
"YOU'RE on the Sky ticker tape, you've made it!" exclaims Paul di Resta's mother in the elated aftermath of her son's confirmation as a Formula 1 driver for the coming season. It means that the journey from Bathgate to Bahrain where the first Grand Prix of the season will be staged has been completed. But there is, Di Resta acknowledges, many, many more miles - and laps - to go.
It isn't, however, a bad start. Aged 24, some fear that Di Resta is already playing catch-up. But the sight of the Scot appearing in the rear view mirror will give many, including Sebastian Vettel, some pause for thought, and, perhaps, initiate a sense of deja vu. Di Resta defeated the world champion in the Formula Three Euroseries circuit, when they were Mercedes team-mates.
"Everyone has their own path," says Di Resta, as he contemplates the different routes taken. Vettel is now the one to beat, but supplying Di Resta with some confidence is the thought that he already has defeated the German - on more than one occasion. His father Louis - his parents are now divorced, but they remain friends - has already graphically asserted Di Resta's right to live in such exalted company. "He's proved he can kick Sebastian's arse," he enthused two years ago.
He was an irrepressible presence again on Wednesday as Di Resta was presented to the media, alongside Force India team-mate Adrian Sutil. Reserve/Practice driver Niko Hulkenberg was a rather more awkward-looking participant at the unveiling and was a reminder that the world of F1 is a cut-throat one. When he could not agree a new contract extension with Williams, for whom he raced last year, he was discarded in favour of Pastor Maldonado. On Wednesday, at the Glasgow headquarters of sponsors Whyte & Mackay, he had to put on a brave face as Di Resta was the understandable focus of attention, having been promoted from the No 3 spot in the Force India team.
• The Scots who made it into F1
"It's always been a case of when I could do racing," says the forthright Di Resta. "I am ambitious about it, and have put a lot of effort into it. Equally, my dad put a lot of effort into it - my family gave me so much support. Financially it was breaking sometimes. But it has all paid off. And we can enjoy this experience because we have all set our sights on it, and there's not many people get to achieve it."
Indeed, only 13 other Scots have been able to introduce himself as a F1 driver. Di Resta has bided his time, but got what could prove a valuable taste for this rarefied level last year as a practice driver. Sitting on the pit wall on the day of the main race, he vowed to make the most of it if given the chance.The rumours of his impending promotion circulated for much of last year, although he was only guaranteed a driver's seat as recently as Christmas, when Force India handed him a contract.
"I have my drive for this year," he replies firmly, when asked whether it is just for a single campaign. "I am not going to go into any details."
Nevertheless, all the work, all the sacrifices have now been worth something. Di Resta has his chance to shine. His father put his own life on hold for his eldest son, juggling Di Resta's karting commitments with his own duties as owner of a nightclub in Bathgate.
Di Resta admits to having once enjoyed nights out there, but the playboy lifestyle is now restricted to being billeted in Monaco.
He has swapped the glitter ball for the glamour of paddock and, ideally, podium, while his father - who himself once lifted four Scottish Formula Ford titles - looks proudly on. "He could have done a lot more with his life but you ask him now and he says he would do it all again, given the experiences he's had. Hopefully I can give him a bit of a better lifestyle with what I can achieve now. We should all enjoy the journey."
Di Resta is self-deprecating when rating his prowess when it comes to other sports. He says he couldn't kick a football and was interested only in activities which required the input of fuel. He even turned up for Wednesday's photo call in a pair of Diesel jeans
But it's the other kind of genes which demand inspection. His brother, John, has just been signed up by Celtic at Under 12 level, as a goalkeeper. "It looks like he might be a star of the future," smiles Di Resta. Another brother, Stefan, has made a name for himself on the karting circuit, while the success of cousin Dario Franchitti, three times an IndyCar champion, underlines the fact a budding footballer is very much the exception in a family whose crest should incorporate a couple of go-faster stripes.
"He (Dario] has had his own career," says Di Resta. "He has achieved what he has had to achieve in America. We are very close and always have been as a family. It's great to have that support but at the same time this is my dream. I am taking a different route. I have to learn from my mistakes. I am my own person."
Indeed, Di Resta has earlier projected an almost chilling illustration of how single minded - and often ruthless - a sports person has to be if he or she wishes to excel in a chosen field. "If I don't like spending time with people I won't spent time with them," he had shrugged, when, in a briefing with journalists, there had been a discussion about life beyond the race track.
"I did a bit of everything as a kid, as you normally do," he recalls. "But I never really dedicated the time and I was never really around at weekends to do it. I never used to go out with friends because I was always in the garage preparing the go-karts, and then I was away all weekend racing.I built up friendships more at the trackside than I did at school. I did what I had to do at school, got it out the way, and then concentrated on what I wanted to do.
"I have some close friends. I must say I don't have too many (from school]. I have not kept in contact with too many people because I have not been there. But obviously people are very happy with what is going on. They can now see why I was so serious in what I was doing. They thought I was mad at the time."
A note of congratulation appeared in midweek on the website of Bathgate Academy, where Di Resta cut short his studies to concentrate on motorsport. It didn't put an end to his desire to learn, but his tutors were those such as Jackie Stewart, the Scottish motor great whose support Di Resta has cherished.
"He's always been on the other end of the phone," says Di Resta. "His book, Winning is not Enough, is by far the best read I have had. It makes you understand how dangerous (motor racing] was and how it has developed through the years." Di Resta is a keen student of F1, and knows the sad fate of Jim Clark, perhaps Scotland's greatest ever motor sport talent.
Indeed, he only needs to visit his cousin Dario's Scottish base in Dumfriesshire. He has dedicated a room in his mansion to Clark, which is full of memorabilia. Di Resta makes the point that Clark's star has not dimmed in the 42 years since his death. "The older I get the more I get to know about him," he says. "It's quite special to have someone who everyone speaks about from your own country.
"For Scotland being such a small place there is a lot of racing history. Probably the best driver and most respected in the motor sport industry is Jim Clark. He was a tremendous credit to himself and Scotland. Anyone you ever speak to knows all about him. He was the one who was going to hit all the records for us. Hopefully one day I can be part of that."
He won't admit it, but is has surely been galling for Di Resta to observe the progress made by the likes of Vittel and also Lewis Hamilton, who he has jousted with since he was eight years old. This is when he got to know Anthony Hamilton, another father who devoted all his energies into helping his son progress in the world of motor sport.
Di Resta has benefited from the cooling in relations between Lewis and Anthony in that he is now the main focus for Hamilton senior. Lewis called time on his father's control of his career last year, explaining that they both wanted to focus on their respective career and business interests.
Hamilton helped seal Di Resta's reserve spot last season. "He knows the business," says Di Resta. "I've known Anthony for over 15 years. It feels like he's part of the family. He does his work in the background and I do it in the car. That's why I've got him doing that.He does the bits I don't want to do."
It leaves Di Resta free to concentrate on the very serious job of negotiating the 20 Grand Prix challenges ahead, at the same time re-attaching Scotland's proud link to the sport.
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