AT THE end of what has proved to be a tough second year in Formula One, Paul di Resta could have been excused for singing along to Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas, as the Monaco-based boy from Bathgate headed back east from Glasgow along the M8.
“Typical man,” he laughed yesterday, minutes before heading to the Buchanan Galleries in Glasgow to sign bottles of 13-year-old Whyte & Mackay Whisky for one of the main sponsors of his Sahara Force India team. “I’ve been through here since the shops opened doing last-minute Christmas shopping. The shops are far better here than in Monaco – and significantly cheaper.”
Di Resta may live in the tiny, sun-drenched principality, but he’ll always be a Scot and, like his cousin, multiple Indy500 winner and IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti, he never misses the opportunity to return home to be with his family and friends.
And their support – especially that of his girlfriend, Laura, and his dad, Louis – has been crucial during a year that at one stage promised so much, but ended with him standing in the Brazilian rain, looking at his wrecked car jammed against the wall as the man he beat to the European F3 title in 2006, Sebastian Vettel, cruised past just yards away to seal his third successive F1 world title.
Life, as we all know, isn’t fair. Di Resta had also been widely and strongly tipped to move to one of the main teams for next year, with McLaren and Mercedes known to have spoken, at length, to the Scot.
The first blow came when Mercedes, the manufacturer for whom Di Resta won the German Touring Car Championship in 2010, snapped up former world champion Lewis Hamilton.
That, conveniently, left a vac-ant seat at McLaren. Di Resta, who tested with the team years ago and who was known to be highly rated by everyone at the team’s Woking HQ, was understood to be the automatic choice.
In fact, so strong was the belief, that even his own technicians at Sahara Force India assumed it was a rubber-stamp job: Di Resta would join Jenson Button at McLaren for 2013.
But in F1, like no other sport, money, especially big money, talks. To everyone’s surprise, especially Di Resta, McLaren announced out of the blue that it was signing Sergio Perez. The Mexican, bankrolled by the world’s wealthiest man, tele-coms giant Carlos Slim, heads to McLaren next year with a multi-million dollar sponsorship package which will swell the team’s coffers.
Di Resta doesn’t dwell on the negatives of the announcement, but to say he was stunned by the news is to establish new boundaries of understatement. Instead, he sees the positives. “Of course it was flattering to be linked to those seats,” Di Resta said, “but I won’t deny I was disappointed when both teams opted to go down another route.
“Obviously the seats were within touching distance, but for whatever reason the decisions went against me. But you have to stay positive: our paths may cross later in life.
“There’s no hard feelings, and hopefully I’ll be able to do something on-track next year which will catch their attention again, and give me another opportunity.”
While the Scot, acknowledged for his supreme professionalism, emphasises his 100 per cent commitment to his current employers, Sahara Force India, he would be excused for having an eye on two seats which will become vacant at the end of next season, at Red Bull, and Ferrari.
“Obviously there are other drives coming up at the end of next season,” he continued, “and I have always said I want to be in a car capable of regularly racing at the front, winning races, and ultimately world championships.
“Being completely honest, that’s the level at which I want to be racing.”
The prospect of Di Resta joining former Euro F3 team-mate Vettel at Red Bull is a mouth-watering one. But so, too, is the strong possibility of partnering double world champion Fernando Alonso at Ferrari.
The Italian team had opened discussions with the Scot towards the end of 2012, but again, surprisingly, opted to retain Brazilian Felipe Massa for next season. It is, though, just a one-year contract.
Di Resta, who will maintain his fitness regime throughout his Christmas stay in Scotland, will concentrate on what he can control for next year, and that means delivering results, and podiums.
“I certainly want a podium,” he continued, “and then I want to be on it again. That’s the target.
“But I don’t want to luck-in to a podium. For me it has to be a well-earned top-three finish, one which we can build on. We need to do it on merit, and I certainly believe it’s achievable.
“But to do it, we need a car capable of delivering fast, sustainable pace right through not only a race weekend, but also the whole season.”
Di Resta came close this year to a podium finish, only narrowly missing out when a safety car hindered his late-race charge and he had to content himself with a highly creditable fourth-place under the Singapore floodlights.
“That was definitely the highlight of my season,” he continued. “Everyone in the team delivered their maximum that weekend.
“But it’s that level of commitment, drive and performance with which we have to start the 2013 season, and we have to use that as the springboard from which to improve during the season.
“If we can do that, then we can push for podiums and, hopefully, move from seventh in the constructors’ championship to fifth. That’s the team goal, and it’s one I believe we can achieve together.”
And in achieving the team goal, Di Resta may just deliver the performance which will have Red Bull and Ferrari knocking at his door.