Paul di Resta has been tipped to make his Formula 1 debut with Force India in 2009, as part of an intriguing scenario where Force India switch from Ferrari to Mercedes engines.
Di Resta’s background
Di Resta races for Mercedes in the DTM (German Touring Car Championship) but has an excellent record in single-seaters. He beat Sebastian Vettel to the F3 Euroseries crown in 2006 ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ the title Lewis Hamilton won the year before.
While Vettel sped off to F1 via the World Series by Renault, di Resta found himself in the DTM in a two-year-old car. But he stunned series regulars by winning with the car and running with the championship leaders in the early part of the season.
This year, equipped with an up-to-date model, he is heading into the title-deciding final round two points behind Audi?óÔé¼Ôäós Timo Scheider.
I met Paul at a DTM promotional day at Mercedes-Benz World at Brooklands two months ago. He took me on a few quick laps of the short circuit in a C-Class AMG which gave me a fascinating close-up view of his driving style.
Some racing drivers give you the impression they work as part of the car ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£coaxing and manipulating it through the bends in the smooth style we associate with the likes of Jenson Button. Di Resta struck me as more of a Fernando Alonso or Lewis Hamilton ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ completely on top of the car, with solid jabs at the brake pedal and strong, aggressive turn-in movements.
And out of the car he was pure Kimi Raikkonen. Perfectly polite but keen not to give anything away: besides a burning desire to become an F1 driver.
The McLaren and Force India link
Since then di Resta has done two days?óÔé¼Ôäó testing for McLaren (last week) and is expected to do more in the run-up to the F1 finale at Interlagos (see the F1 Fanatic calendar for details of dates).
A cynical take on this might be that McLaren are merely using him to get extra development work done they couldn?óÔé¼Ôäót ordinarily do. F1 teams get a dispensation from restrictions on their testing mileage for evaluating new drivers.
However a rumour last week suggested Mercedes were to take over from Ferrari as engine supplier to Force India. This in itself is a surprising development as Mercedes have only ever supplied one team during a season while in F1: Sauber from 1993-4 and McLaren since 1995.
It is possible that the changes in engine regulations have prompted a change of mind at Mercedes. Engine specifications are now largely fixed because of the development freeze and engine performance may be harmonised by new rules in 2009.
Will it happen?
Why put di Resta in a Force India and not a McLaren? Lewis Hamilton is contracted to the team until 2012 and it is unlikely another British driver would be put alongside him as it would squander the marketing value of having drivers of two different nationalities.
It?óÔé¼Ôäós rare for F1 teams to have two drivers of the same nationality, and when they do it?óÔé¼Ôäós usually for some specific marketing reason. Consider Super Aguri?óÔé¼Ôäós all-Japanese line-up in 2006 as they went for sponsors?óÔé¼Ôäó Yen (and how poorly it worked out for them in the end).
If the di Resta to Force India rumours are true it indicates McLaren have gone cool on Gary Paffett?óÔé¼Ôäós chances of reaching F1. Paffett, DTM champion in 2005, has been a McLaren test driver since 2006 but returned to the DTM in 2007 after a year away once it became apparent he was not going to land a McLaren race seat.