BATHGATE’S Paul di Resta will return to top-flight racing this year after confirming he will contest the DTM Championship in Germany with Mercedes. But, more significantly, the Scot is poised to also be confirmed as test and reserve driver with the Mercedes Formula 1 team.
Di Resta, who was controversially and unceremoniously dumped by Force India at the end of last season after it opted to accept the multi-million pound sponsorship package brought by Mexican Sergio Perez, has always been highly rated by Mercedes.
Now he is being lined up to partner Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as the Brackley-based team mounts its 2014 F1 challenge.
The team heads into the new season – one which includes the introduction of new powerplants, and the widest set of new rules for decades – currently without a test driver.
The 27-year-old Scot has long been on Mercedes’ radar. Di Resta’s relationship with Mercedes goes back to 2000 when he won the McLaren Mercedes Champions of the Future Kart series. Four years later, he was a Mercedes-Benz junior.
In 2005, he moved to the Formula 3 Euro Series, and won in a Mercedes-Benz Formula 3 engine in his second season, outdoing four-time F1 world championship title holder, Sebastian Vettel.
He moved to DTM with Mercedes in 2007 and, during his four years, completed 42 races, notching six race wins, six poles, seven fastest laps and stood on the podium on 21 occasions. In his final race in Shanghai before switching full-time to F1, Di Resta clinched the 2010 DTM Championship. Since then, Mercedes has failed to lift the title.
The Scot’s relationship with Mercedes continued during his four years with Force India. The Silverstone-based team not only used Mercedes engines, but also worked closely with the McLaren F1 team, which also used the German powerplants.
Indeed, so close is the relationship between Di Resta and Mercedes, and so highly is he thought of, that the F1 team was poised to sign him for the 2013 season. Only the decision midway through 2012 by former world champ Hamilton, to jump ships from McLaren to Mercedes, scuppered that move.
Now, though, the talented Scot is close to becoming an integral part of one of the top three teams in F1.
Naturally, none of the parties would comment officially on the imminent move, but Di Resta made it clear he has unfinished business in F1.
“Everyone knows I didn’t leave F1 because I didn’t perform,” said the Scot who, last year, enjoyed his best-ever year in F1, outscoring his team-mate Adrian Sutil 48-29. “There were other issues.
“If the opportunity comes up, I’m still young enough that I can get back in there. Racing in the DTM makes sense and it lets me combine something with F1 and keep my foot in the door should something come up.
“Naturally I’m keen to stay involved in F1, and I think I can bring things to a team because I’ve got the experience of being there.
“First, though, I need to concentrate on DTM. Once we get this rolling the way we want, then we’ll explore whatever other opportunities are on the table.”
Such a dual role wouldn’t be anything new for Di Resta. In 2010, the year he powered his Mercedes to the DTM Championship, he dovetailed a full season as test/reserve driver with Force India.
Significantly, none of the ten DTM races this season clashes with the 19 F1 dates so, although it would create a seriously hectic schedule for the Monaco-based racer, logistically it is doable.
After completing his first full day’s testing in his new Mercedes DTM car at the Autodromo Internacional Circuit at Portimao in the Algarve, Di Resta emphasised he believed his F1 career wasn’t over.
“Do I feel my F1 career is over? No, definitely not,” he smiled. “As is the case with any championship, I am now fully committed to winning the DTM title again with Mercedes. But Mercedes also knows I want to remain in the F1 paddock. They are well aware of the fact that’s where I want to be, and I know I have their full support. That’s hugely important for me.”
It is too early to say whether Di Resta will attend the first four-day official F1 pre-season test at Jerez in Spain, starting next Tuesday.
The fact it is a two-hour drive from the Portuguese circuit, where he is putting his Mercedes DTM through its paces this week, certainly opens up the possibility.
Di Resta’s entry in F1 with Force India proved troublesome and at times fraught, with behind-the-scenes politics and budget issues unsettling the Scot. Now, the possibility of his talent being recognised and rewarded by one of the sport’s largest and well-funded teams, looks likely to rekindle his desire to become F1 world champion.