Bathgate’s Formula One ace Paul di Resta heads into the new season confident his Sahara Force India team will deliver his first podium finish.
“From everything I’ve seen in pre-season testing, there’s no doubt we have a car capable of mixing it with the best at the front of the field,” the 26-year-old said. “Sure, we’re unlikely to be pushing for race wins, but by staying in touch with the leading teams we’ll be ready to take advantage of any problems they have.”
Di Resta, who finished fourth under the street lights in Singapore last year, heads into this weekend’s traditional season opener in Melbourne fitter than he’s ever been.
“Working with my trainer, Gerry Convy, I really pushed my boundaries a bit further over the winter months,” he continued. “I trained on 27 of the 31 days of January, which isn’t bad, and I’ve definitely never felt fitter, so I’m up for the fight this year.”
His first battle, and many would say most important, is to fight off the return of his team-mate Adrian Sutil.
The German returns after a 12 month sabbatical having been found guilty of grievous bodily harm by a court in Munich.
“You always want to beat your team-mate, first and foremost,” Di Resta admitted. “Adrian’s a good guy and we get on well together, but once we’re in our cars, he’s just another racing driver I need to beat.”
And that’s not all Di Resta has to contend with, as this year promises to be one of the most important of his life. After being overlooked by Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari last season for a 2013 seat, he is only too aware of similar vacancies coming up at the end of this term.
“Yeah, I know there are likely to be other seats coming up, but at the moment I’m concentrating fully on delivering for Sahara Force India,” he said. “But it’s always nice to keep your image under the nose of the other team principals, because ultimately they’re the guys who make the decisions about drivers. I’m definitely up for the fight right through this season.”
While Di Resta prepares to battle for his first podium, this year’s championship is again likely to be fought over by a posse of former world champs.
Favourite, again, will be Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel. With three successive world titles under his belt, and the fastest car in pre-season testing, the German already looks unbeatable.
He is though, perhaps understandably, playing down his title hopes. “It’s far too early to be talking about titles,” he stated. “Sure we were quick in pre-season testing, but so too were a number of other teams. We won’t know the pecking order until after Australia.”
Vettel’s closest rival, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, will again push the Red Bull racer all the way to the chequered flag and the end of the season, but perhaps the biggest surprise will come from Mercedes.
Many questioned the wisdom of Lewis Hamilton’s decision to switch from McLaren to the three-pointed star, but a series of blisteringly quick times in pre-season illustrated the Englishman knew exactly what he was doing.
“We had a good, reliable car during winter testing so that’s the positive we can take with us into the weekend, but we know that in terms of performance, everything begins again.
“But I’m definitely looking forward to going racing and seeing how things turn out.”
While Hamilton played down his chances, Vettel identified Mercedes as being a threat.
“I took the chance to watch some of the other teams for a bit in final testing,” Vettel said, “and Mercedes had a great final day and look dangerous.”
And while Kimi Raikkonen remains a title outsider in his Lotus, Jenson Button has been buoyed by impressive pace in the build-up to Melbourne.
The McLaren driver has won this race three times in the last four years, but insisted: “Points are what we want from Melbourne. I like driving the car. It’s a nice car to drive, and there is nothing that scares me about the car.
“There is still room for improvement and we are not at the end. I still feel we can do more with it.”