The recent announcements confirming Renault re-signing Vitaly Petrov and Virgin Racing acquiring the services (and sponsorship) of Jérôme d’Ambrosio has meant that just four race seats remain unconfirmed: the two at Force India, and the two at Hispania Racing.
While the pair of seats at HRT will no doubt be made available to the highest bidders, the seats at Force India look set to be confirmed shortly, with the hot rumour being that the team’s test driver (and newly-crowned DTM champion) Paul di Resta will come in to replace Vitantonio Liuzzi, while exiled Williams driver Nico Hülkenberg will come in as the squad’s Friday test driver.
Liuzzi was put in the shade by Sutil in 2010, and his departure will come as no surprise – except, perhaps, to Liuzzi himself… [Image via LAT]
The world has long been doing the rounds that team owner Vijay Mallya was looking to offload Liuzzi, who ironically should have been the more secure as he apparently had a valid contract for 2011.
How the Contract Recognition Board sees the matter might be another point in entirely, but Liuzzi has – by dint of some mistakes from the team (to be fair) in conjunction with some particularly poor drives on his part – not impressed in 2010.
And while Force India look for avenues to pay him out, it is effectively a nail in the coffin of the Italian’s F1 career, and he joins the graveyard of former F3000 champions who’ve failed to cut the mustard in F1.
Di Resta’s appointment is of little surprise to many, having long been on the books at Mercedes-Benz, and placed at Force India (who use Mercedes0Benz customer engines) at the beginning of 2010 as the squad’s test driver. Promoting him to the race seat might help reduce Force India’s engine bill to Mercedes, while it in turn can keep its hooks in di Resta with a view to promoting him to Mercedes GP if a seat becomes vacant there. Give him some time in an F1 cockpit to gain experience, and it’s a logical move.
However, di Resta has largely been in touring cars since 2007, working his way up the DTM ranks. But before this, he was a successful open-wheeler driver, and even beat his Formula 3 Euroseries team-mate – no less than Sebastian Vettel, mind you (pictured) – to the championship crown in 2006. No wonder he is being touted as Britain’s next great F1 hope…
Hülkenberg’s rumoured appointment – with his being cast aside by Williams in favour of the sponsor-laden Pastor Maldonado – seems to also suggest a tie-in with Mercedes-Benz. Another up-and-coming German driver will suit the board at Stuttgart quite nicely, and he will be very marketable in the future. Sadly for him, Force India (like every other squad) isn’t a three-car team and he’ll find himself pounding the circuits on Friday mornings and having to bide his time until a better opportunity comes up.
And now to Adrian Sutil, who has sensibly been re-signed and will continue with the same outfit (despite its various name changes) into a sixth season after his most successful championship campaign in 2010. Sutil – on many occasions – drove with much improved consistency in many races last season, but his form seemingly deserted him as Force India’s competitiveness tailed off, and the Sutil of old (the one that had a near-magnetic attraction to accidents) returned.
As late as the Singapore Grand Prix, Sutil sat ninth in the Drivers’ Championship standings ahead of Schumacher, but failed to pick up a single point for the rest of the season (when in contrast Schumacher managed to get 26) to drop to eleventh in the results behind Rubens Barrichello, after count-back.
But as part of the general theme of this article, it’s largely the commercial considerations that will take greater sway over considerations of talent and motivation, which is why one could argue that there are more deserving candidates – Hülkenberg, Nick Heidfeld, Christian Klien, Karun Chandhok, et al – who could well find themselves without a drive in 2011.
Sutil – while we would never question his immense talent – is also part of the sponsored brigade of drivers now in the sport, bringing in much-needed millions from the German computer company Medion.
Much of the rest of Force India’s sponsorship is – as usual – sourced from companies owned by Vijay Mallya himself, and it again seems that corporate India is strangely reluctant to invest in a sport that will be knocking on its door in just ten months’ time.
Strange times indeed…