Does Paul di Resta deserve to be in F1?

Let me start off by pointing out that I would really like to see Paul di Resta do well in F1. It is always good to see fresh blood and I am a big fan of his cousin, Dario Franchitti.

But I have found Paul di Resta’s route into F1 curious. Why does Paul di Resta deserve to have a race seat when, for instance, Daniel Ricciardo doesn’t? Why, indeed, should he get the nod for a Force India race drive over the team’s reserve driver, Nico Hülkenberg who secured a pole position last year?

Unconventional background

Paul di Resta is coming into F1 having been in DTM for the past four years. There is no doubt he is a great racer — fools don’t win the DTM championship. But DTM is not known for ushering stars of the future into F1.

It is more well-known as a home for former F1 racers whose career is on the wane (Ralf Schumacher, David Coulthard), former stars of the future who never quite made it into F1 (Gary Paffett) and drivers that specialise in racing touring cars.

One driver who has made the step from DTM to F1 is Christijan Albers. His F1 career lasted for two and a half years, largely without success. He was dropped by Spyker midway through 2007 after escaping from the pitlane with his fuel hose still attached proved to be a gaffe too far.

Euro Series success

Paul di Resta first attracted the attention of F1 bosses as a result of the success of another driver. Back in 2006, Paul di Resta competed for the Formula 3 Euroseries championship against Sebastian Vettel. Di Resta won.

But it was Vettel who managed to make the step up to Formula 1 the following season. Having already impressed as BMW’s third driver, and he stepped in for one race to deputise for Robert Kubica following the Pole’s huge crash in Canada. Later that year, he got a race drive for Toro Rosso, and it wasn’t long before he was being hailed as an “inevitable future world champion”.

As big wigs looked to Vettel’s route to F1, it was noticed by Mercedes bosses that he was beaten in F3 Euro Series by Paul di Resta. Mercedes resolved to line him up for a race seat, initially at McLaren. In the meantime, di Resta raced for Mercedes in DTM.

Attention switched to getting him a race seat at Force India in 2009. But progress was slow again as they opted to retain their existing lineup of Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella. Meanwhile, since buying the Brawn team, Mercedes focus has switched to having a German-only driver line-up.

In the run-up to 2010 the Paul di Resta hype was curiously quiet as Force India secured the services of Vitantonio Liuzzi instead. But as the season got going, it became increasingly clear that Force India wanted him to race in 2011.

But on what basis?

Protracted junior career

Paul di Resta’s protracted junior career may have set back his F1 career overall. Any comparisons with Sebastian Vettel based on F3 performances from five years ago are now irrelevant. Vettel now has a wealth of F1 experience that di Resta lacks.

At 24, Paul di Resta is relatively old for an F1 rookie these days. All of F1’s most successful drivers in recent years started their careers much earlier. Of the recent world champions, Sebastian Vettel’s first race was as a 19-year-old, as was Fernando Alonso’s. Jenson Button was 20, Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher were 22. Kimi Räikkönen was 21, having made the leap directly from Formula Renault UK!

Paul di Resta is by no means too old to become an F1 rookie. But having a long — or indeed a successful — career in junior categories has not been shown to help create a great F1 driver.

All of the champions of the last decade progressed rapidly through the junior ranks. Vettel and Button made the leap straight from Formula 3. Hamilton efficiently strode up the ladder virtually one season at a time. Alonso had one season the Euro Open by Nissan (which today is World Series by Renault), and one season of Formula 3000 to his name.

Perhaps encouragingly for di Resta, Michael Schumacher for one raced more than just single-seaters before entering F1. Schumacher joined F1 after competing in the World Sportscar Championship. But he did not hang around there for four seasons, as di Resta has done in the DTM.

Time will tell

It remains to be seen whether or not Paul di Resta’s relatively unconventional route into F1 will pay off. There is, of course, no right or wrong way to go about a racing career. But I don’t see a great deal of evidence to suggest that di Resta will succeed in F1. I hope I’m wrong.

4 comments

  1. While his route is rather unusual, in a way his Mercedes ties probably acted as a straitjacket. If you know that sticking with Mercedes will eventually land you a race seat, do you jump ship (as Schumacher did when Jordan’s Bertrand Gachot unexpectedly got into trouble with the London police) or do you wait and bide your time?

    If you opt for the safe route, it makes more sense to ply your trade at a high-calibre championship that is not seen as mainly a feeder series to F1. Because then you’d most definitely be outstaying your welcome — e.g. the question marks over Maldonado because, while he’s the reigning champion, he has vastly more experience than his main challengers.

    And hey, di Resta can claim some F1 scalps in addition to Vettel! (Coulthard, Ralfie…)

  2. The funny thing is that many of the people that were asking for Di Resta to get a seat, are the same that one year ago were saying that López didn’t deserve to be in F1. Yes, he was a bit older, but he had the same past experience than Di Resta: some good results in junior formulae, some F1 testing, and then a long stint in touring car championships (and López was far more successful than Di Resta in that area).
    I’m not saying that Di Resta won’t be any good, and I think that he probably deserves that place. Not as much as Hulkenberg, but certainly more than Karthikeyan or several of last year HRT drivers. But I do believe that Di Resta just highlights how important is the nationality, an its relation to economical and political support, to get to F1. He lost to Vettel not because the later looked particularly faster, but because the young German had more marketing potential for BMW than the young Scott. And once he got his chance, the reception he gets from the fans (and sponsors) differs from the one López was getting because the champion of DTM is more recognizable, for the main F1 markets, than the double champion of the equivalent championship, but that races in Argentina.
    At the end, the real yardstick is how good the driver is when he race in F1. Vettel proved to be the right bet, besides the marketing side. We’ll have to wait to the end of the year for Di Resta.

  3. Thanks for the interesting comments.

    Michel, you make a very good point. I guess the ‘safe’ route didn’t work out for Gary Paffett. In the end getting an offer of a race seat all depends on your talent, which I guess is reassuring.