2013: A Make or Break Season for Paul di Resta?

19 Jan

The 2012/13 transition period between seasons has brought some fairly significant driver movement to the mid-field. Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg were the big winners with new signings, while others like Kamui Kobayashi have no seat for 2013. Those who are staying where they are can breathe a sigh of relief, but you can never sit comfortably for long. As we have seen with Kamui Kobayashi, F1 is a ruthless game where seats can be lost if you don’t light up the field (or have buckets of sponsorship money to compensate) after a season or two. Scotland’s Paul di Resta is staying at Force India for a third season, but not without having tried to get a seat further forward on the grid and his frustration is evident.

Paul di Resta

Paul di Resta

Di Resta has made a few F1 headlines in recent weeks due to a minor twitter dispute that he had with McLaren’s new signing, Sergio Perez. It has emerged that both drivers were in talks with McLaren to replace Lewis Hamilton, but di Resta missed out to the young Mexican. From di Resta’s perspective this was down to money, but at the time it was widely commented that McLaren didn’t want another British pairing or two horses both from the ‘Sports Partnership’ stable (which manages both Jenson Button and Paul di Resta).

To be in F1 you obviously have to be a top class driver, but has di Resta really got what it takes to get to the front? He arrived on the grid at the start of 2011 (after a season as Force India’s test driver), hailed as the DTM Champion and Formula 3 Euroseries Champion who famously beat his team-mate; some German driver called Sebastian Vettel. Di Resta hails from one of Scotland’s finest motor-racing families, the most famous among them being the multiple Indy Car Series/Indy 500 Champion Dario Franchitti. But is Paul living up to what was expected of him? In 2012 Paul ended the season 3 places and 17 points behind his team-mate, Nico Hulkenberg. The contrast between them could not have been more apparent at the final race in Brazil where Hulkenberg took on the McLarens and lead the race for a period (albeit later then taking Lewis Hamilton off). Unfortunately, Di Resta’s biggest contribution to the race was to skid off in to the wall and bring out the safety car for the final few laps. With his team-mate having spent the previous year not racing (Hulkenberg was FI’s reserve driver in 2011), it must have hurt di Resta all the more for him to have then come back on to the track and beaten him. It was also Hulkenberg who was being talked about as a potential replacement for Felipe Massa at Ferrari, or for vacancies at Mercedes or McLaren. It is safe to say that in 2012 Paul was upstaged by his team-mate both on and off the track.

2013 brings new challenges for Paul di Resta. He still doesn’t know who his team-mate will be (and at the time of writing this there are rumours swirling that Force India are in serious financial difficulties), but it is expected to be either his former team-mate Adrian Sutil or Ferrari Academy hotshot Jules Bianchi. Whichever it is, Paul needs to beat his team-mate in 2013 or his credibility is going to stall and he will be at serious risk of being eclipsed by those around and behind him.

Paul’s other big challenge (from my perspective), is that he needs the British public to get behind him more. To do this, he needs more publicity and he needs to give them a reason to really cheer for him. A higher public profile could also bring more sponsorship money. Publicity-wise, Paul reminds me of Andy Murray. Both nice Scottish guys, but both are quiet and a little grumpy, and Murray has struggled to break through in a way not dissimilar to di Resta. The press doesn’t bash Paul di Resta like it has bashed Andy Murray, but the British public only fully embraced Murray when he was making it to the finals of the big tournaments. A heroic podium place for Paul di Resta or period where he leads a race could bring him back in to the spotlight and get the fans behind him.

In 2013 Paul won’t be the new Brit on the block any more. Max Chilton is the new British rookie – young, talented, wealthy and likely to be a hit with young female F1 fans – who will be looking to turn heads as he competes at the back of the grid. Chilton won’t be a threat to di Resta on the track, but he could be a threat off it.

I like Paul di Resta. He seems like a genuine talented guy, but 2013 could be his make or break season. He is lucky to be signed with the Sports Partnership (even though it may have counted against him for the McLaren spot) who will do their best to seat him in a better car in 2014 (hopefully with increased sponsorship), but he needs to deliver on track for them to stand a chance of doing so.

British readers can watch Paul on A Question of Sport this Wednesday – BBC1 10.35pm.


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