F1: Paul Di Resta driven by a one track mind

MONACO has more glamour, Spa is faster and Monza has more history, but nowhere else can match Silverstone for the sheer, ebullient outpouring of Formula One fanaticism, even in the driving rain. But the British track is also seen as the sport’s shop window. Succeed here and you’re a man, my son.

So it was very handy, to put it mildly, that Scottish driver Paul Di Resta made such a startling impact at Silverstone last year. Granted, he finished 15th after his team made a crass error by getting team-mate Adrian Sutil’s tyres ready instead of the Scot’s and forcing their driver to wait while his were found, in the process dropping him right down the field. But in qualifying Di Resta was superb, finishing sixth fastest and ahead of home favourites Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. Perhaps equally importantly, he started five places higher up the grid than his veteran team-mate.

Although it didn’t yield any points, Silverstone was the turning point for Di Resta in his debut year, and the stage at which the bigger teams began to sit up and take notice. After leaving the Northamptonshire track with just two points from his first nine races, the Scot went on to score another 25 points in the remaining ten. By the summer, due in part to Di Resta’s long-time association with Mercedes Motorsport boss Norbert Haug, rumours were flying out of the German team to the effect that it was only a matter of time before 26-year-old Di Resta would replace 43-year-old Michael Schumacher.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

However, the Scot’s form this year has pushed him much further up the pecking order, and he has now been linked with virtually every one of the top teams, but consistently with Ferrari and Red Bull, both of whom will be looking for a new driver for 2013. Silverstone is the halfway point in the season and marks the beginning of the serious horse trading on new contracts for next year, so Di Resta’s decision to dispense with the services of manager Anthony Hamilton, Lewis’s father, last week has been widely interpreted as dissatisfaction on Di Resta’s part that a new drive has yet to be secured. Force India are privately said to be resigned to losing the Scot at the end of this season. The question now is just where he will end up.

It’s little wonder that Di Resta is in demand because his development has been exponential. Last year he arrived at Silverstone with just 

two points and ended the season with 27, but this time around, with less than half the season gone, he has already equalled his total for last year thanks to points finishes in five of the eight races to leave him lying 11th in the Formula One rankings.

He has racked up 29 points this season despite a car that has got markedly quicker but which didn’t start the season well – his average qualifying position is worse than 12th – and while racing against more experienced drivers in more consistent cars. Crucially, not only is he ahead of veteran drivers such as Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and Mercedes’ Schumacher, he is also ten points ahead of his own rookie team-mate Nico Hulkenburg.

Had his team been a little more efficient, it could easily have been so much better too. At his last two races, mistakes by the team cost the Scot several points, and certainly enough to see him overhaul Williams driver Pastor Maldonato’s 29 points to force his way into the top ten.

In Montreal he finished 11th and in Valencia he finished seventh, but both finishes mask serious shortcomings on the part of Force India. In Montreal he was in fifth place at his first pit stop but dropped back in the second half of the race. However, in Valencia it was mistakes in qualifying followed by an aggressive but costly one-stop strategy which really rankled the Scottish driver. Di Resta was second at one stage, but the safety car undermined his position and then the team failed to react to his badly deteriorating Pirelli tyres. Comfortably ahead of Schumacher and Red Bull’s Mark Webber, the Force India team decided to stay with their one-stop strategy when Di Resta could have pitted and still come out ahead of both men, only to see the plan unravel spectacularly. On the final laps Di Resta’s shredded tyres made him a sitting duck and both rival drivers, who had visted the pits with eight laps to go, passed him to finish third and fourth.

Afterwards, the Scot was in no mood for niceties and left his team in no doubt that he believed they had cost him a significant number of points over the two races, but particularly in Valencia. “We clearly missed a trick, but we were fairly aggressive with our strategy and stuck with it when we could have probably baled out,” he said. “I achieved what the team set out on paper, so from that point of view you have to be happy, but the race couldn’t finish soon enough. Unfortunately that’s two races now where I’ve been in a great position, but where things I can’t control have made a difference to the result. So you take the positives, the car was quick, but the finish did not reflect what we could have achieved.”

The errors by Force India are even more important this year than normal because the drivers’ championship is the most open it has been for years. That much was shown by the fact that last year’s easy-beats Williams registered a first win since 2004 when Pastor Maldonato won in Spain, while perennial also-rans Sauber have already registered two podiums this season through Sergio Perez. The eight races so far this season have had seven different winners, with only championship leader Fernando Alonso winning twice.

In such a championship, consistency can take you a long way, as Australian Mark Webber is finding out. The Red Bull driver has a win in Monaco under his belt, but it is his five fourth-place finishes that have propelled him into second place in the race for the drivers’ title, ahead of his more brilliant but more erratic team-mate, world champion Sebastian Vettel, who lies in fifth place 26 points adrift of leader Alonso.

None of that has been lost on Di Resta, although he refuses to be blown off course by the vagaries of racing and the inadequacies of his team. He has a car which seems to be getting faster with each race, and has been looking forward to Silverstone with barely concealed anticipation for months. He is also regularly beating highly-rated drivers and has finished ahead of Jenson Button, who has scored just six points in the past five races, in the last three grands prix. In the circumstances the Scot, who by nature has a glass-half-empty demeanour, is adopting a stoically upbeat approach to the weekend’s racing.

“It would be immature to let it frustrate you,” he said of the troubles in Montreal and Valencia. “You’ve got to stay positive. We’ve had great results like in Bahrain [where he finished sixth], so if we get luck on our side, who knows what could happen. We’ve just got to cut out the mistakes, especially as Silverstone is the one I want. It would be the icing on the cake. People talk about Monaco and Monza but I’m British and this is the one I want to conquer.”

Given his progress so far, few people would bet against that happening sooner rather than later.

Alonso slides to pole

Fernando Alonso slid and splashed through atrocious conditions to hand Ferrari their first F1 pole since 2010 in a rain-delayed British Grand Prix qualifying yesterday, writes Alan Bladwin.

The championship leader, last year’s winner at Silverstone, was joined on the front row by Red Bull’s Australian Mark Webber – also his closest rival in the standings.

“It was tricky conditions for everyone. You have to be calm in some difficult moments,” said the Spaniard, who leads Webber by 20 points overall, of his 21st career pole.

There was, however, a lingering question mark over whether the double champion had set his fastest lap in the second phase of qualifying under yellow warning flags after Frenchman Romain Grosjean slid his Lotus into the gravel. “I backed off in the area where they were taking away the car,” Alonso said of the incident.

Seven times world champion Michael Schumacher qualified third fastest for Mercedes with fellow German Sebastian Vettel, the reigning champion, alongside for Red Bull. The top four, separated by just four tenths of a second, are all former British Grand Prix winners.

Heavy rain had earlier forced qualifying to be halted for an hour and a half, with cars slipping and sliding on pools of standing water. Alonso had been among those calling for race control to abandon the session.

McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, the last Briton to win his home race in 2008, qualified eighth while team-mate Jenson Button had a nightmare afternoon and should start 16th after grid penalties are applied to others.

Paul Di Resta is in 11th place on the grid, two behind Force India team-mate Nico Hulkenberg.