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Talk on Corners
Christopher Wheelahan

Chris first caught the F1 flu back in 2003 but lost track due to the snooze-fest that was the 2004 season. In 2010 Chris rediscovered the sport and has become enthralled since. He makes no claims to be a superb writer or journalist but only an obsessive follower of motorsport, particularly F1. Nowadays Chris spends his spare time experimenting with cocktails and wasting time with Musical Theatre types. He does not enjoy long walks on the beach… sorry.

No Di Resta for the weary // Where does Paul fit into the 2014 puzzle?

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Paul di Resta has been a tremendous, mid-pack driver for several years now. He has outdriven his car, been candid but not inflammatory with reporters, and perhaps most importantly, been a steady rock in a turbulent Sahara Force India team. But what’s in it for the noble steed? Clearly he has the potential to move on to bigger and better things (read: teams) but where can he go?

Mallya hedges his bets

Mallya and Di Resta
Credit: Sahara Force India Formula One Team

The Sahara Force India team signing James Calado as a third driver could be seen as a threat to Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil. He is certainly a strong, young driver with potential for a full time race seat. That being said, it seems more like Vijay Mallya is protecting himself against the possibility that either Paul or Adrian will move on from the team in 2014. Having someone familiar with the team and how it works on a race weekend rather than a completely fresh acquisition is a very valuable asset – talent being equal. Additionally, getting seat-time for a backup driver who may have to be rushed into a race seat is never a bad thing.

Another, ulterior motive for the team boss signing the young virtuoso is that it could push Sutil and di Resta harder to achieve better results. If they feel the fire from under their feet, it’s possible they will improve their results so as to not be pushed out of the team.

Calado was a good acquisition for Force India. He is young, reasonably inexpensive to retain and talented. He is a good backup, a good replacement and a good incentive for the current drivers to do well. That all being said, I don’t think Mallya will have to promote Calado to a race seat. Sutil and di Resta have both performed extremely well so Mallya will want to keep them and as we will examine below, neither of them has much opportunity to move to a better team so they will likely stick around.

The bits falling in place

With all the bits falling into place around the front of the pack, there is very little room for Paul di Resta to manoeuvre. Red Bull have confirmed their driver line-up for 2014, as have Mercedes. Ferrari’s contract with Fernando Alonso lasts for another few years so that half of the two Ferrari rides, a team which di Resta has been tied to in the past, is at least a year or two off. With Ricciardo’s seat at Red Bull confirmed, it is all but certain that Kimi Räikkönen will stay with the Lotus outfit. So where could the Scot make a move to?

Taking Grosjean’s seat at Lotus is a possibility, but with the new regulation changes in 2014, a smart team boss (which Éric Boullier is) would be imprudent to switch up drivers without a good reason. If the Frenchman gets all crashy in the second half of the season, it could be a possibility but seeing as how Romain has greatly improved in the last year or so, it is unlikely.

Massa contented at Ferrari
Credit: Pirelli S.p.A.

Felipe Massa’s Sunday drive is also unlikely given Ferrari’s dedication to the Brazilian in the past. As long as Felipe is willing to drive (i.e. not retire) and still scoring in the mid-to-low points paying positions consistently, Ferrari is likely willing to keep him on to support Fernando Alonso. He is a terrific supporting cast-member and knows the game (both athletically and politically) arguably better than anyone else in the sport.

A move to McLaren would debatably be a step up for the Scot given the team’s history of resiliency and likelihood that they will be able to recover next season from this year’s woes. But how? Pérez was locked into a “Multi-Year deal” with the team last year.

Granted, a contract is often only the beginning of a negotiation – so let’s even assume that contracts mean nothing and every 2014 race seat is available. Is there anyone who would pick up Paul di Resta? Does it make logical sense for any of the 4-5 leading teams? Has anyone proved inconsistent enough for teams to let him go and pick up the noble Scot instead?

Red Bull might have done, I suppose, but would they really shun their young-driver development program two years in a row? Taking di Resta over Ricciardo or Vergne would make the program look like absolute purgatory for young drivers. Up-or-out turns into "up most of the way then out if we find someone better". Mercedes debatably has the best line-up on the grid so no dice for di Resta there. And Lotus and Ferrari would probably have stuck with their drivers for the same reasons outlined above regardless of contract dates. So not a lot of luck for poor Paul.

Playing the long game

Ok, so Paul di Resta will almost certainly have to stay with Sahara Force India for at least one more season. While it’s impossible to predict what will happen to contracts next year, it’s also not looking particularly bright for 2015 either. Most of the big name drivers (Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, Rosberg) end their commitments to their current teams after the 2015 season, so for Di Resta to get promoted to a better team, it would take significant luck and a number-two driver going off badly during the next season or two.

Di Resta at work
Credit: Sahara Force India Formula One Team

It’s a shame, really. Di Resta has a tremendous amount of promise and he is in the prime of his racing career. If he makes it to a Red Bull or a Ferrari by 2016, he will be 29 years of age which isn’t old by any stretch but it’s certainly not young enough to have a truly historical career in F1. Truly, his chances lie in luck, and the 2014 regulation changes. If Force India can somehow make good on the engine reductions and aero package for 2014, di Resta may have a chance to win races and maybe even compete for a championship. That will take a tremendous amount of money, planning and luck.

In all likelihood, the cream will rise to the top once again and we’ll see the Red Bulls, Ferraris and McLarens of the world at the top of the charts. With such talent and race-savvy, di Resta could be a truly memorable F1 racing driver. At the very least, he could be another Mark Webber – a stalwart, incredibly competent and experienced number-two driver. Unfortunately, things will have to wait for Paul. As one of the most popular drivers on the grid, I feel comfortable saying that the fans are willing to wait patiently along with him.