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Di Resta to the fore // Driver of the day discussion for the Bahrain GP

Published by Adam Barton

Di Resta crosses the finish line in Bahrain
Credit: Sahara Force India Formula One Team

This season there have been many good drives. Sergio Pérez and Fernando Alonso at Malaysia spring to mind, not to mention Nico Rosberg last time out in China.

In Bahrain it was just as unpredictable, as this F1 season continues to amaze and astound with surprise results. The field is so open, after four races, eight drivers have stood on the podium and 18 have scored points: Felipe Massa finally adding himself to this list, but not reducing the pressure on him going into the European season.

But in Bahrain, one man stood out for an impressive drive that, for me, staking his claim in what may well be a season long interview for Michael Schumacher's Mercedes seat next year.

Mind the gap

Di Resta has always been a man that I have been weary of. I see him as a good driver, however, I am unsure how good he is, and how much is due to the hype of a new British driver in F1. Is he a better driver than Sergio Pérez for instance? Only time will tell. But last weekend, Di Resta came to the fore and did it in extremely difficult circumstances. Surely the strongest indicator to Di Resta's impressive pace was the gap to his teammate, Nico Hülkenberg, who is expected to have very similar pace. But in Bahrain, Di Resta had a three tenth gap to 'the Hulk' in Q2, where six tenths covered the first 14 cars, which led to Kimi Räikkönen dropping out, although this ultimately helped him in the race.

In the race, there were 19 seconds between them, although running in slower traffic throughout the race may have hampered Hülkenberg's pace. With all the distractions that surrounded Force India last weekend, Di Resta showed great maturity to run up at the top, albeit a minute behind race winner Sebastian Vettel. He did what he needed to and was the only man to cash in on a two stop strategy, made all the more impressive by the fact Force India were unable to do a high fuel run before the race as they skipped Free Practice 2 to avoid any more trouble on the streets of Bahrain. To finish sixth in the eighth or ninth fastest car on the grid is an achievement not to be over looked.

If Di Resta can continue this standard of performance and attitude, there is no doubt he will fulfill his potential and move on to a stronger team, assuming Force India's glass ceiling is the sixth fastest car over the next couple of years.

Change at the back

Qualifying also showed the ability of a few drivers who needed a big performance to prove their worth. Heikki Kovalainen has been seen as the leader of the Caterham née Lotus team and finally got their first Q2 result on merit. Granted he benefited from the advantage of the soft tyres as well as remarkable track evolution, but credit where it’s due, Caterham have gradually been chipping away at the back of the midfield teams and look to be closer than they have ever been.

Hopefully this form will continue because the longer the slower teams go without improvement, the harder it will be for them to find the necessary investment. In the race, we were unable to see Kovalainen’s pace as he suffered a puncture after contact with another man who proved himself in qualifying: Daniel Ricciardo, who qualified sixth in his Toro Rosso.

It appeared to be a coming of age performance after maturing in the second half of last season as he pushed the HRT to its limit with little praise. His pace on Saturday was outstanding, as he qualified 13 places ahead of highly rated teammate Jean-Éric Vergne, over a second faster in Q1. Ricciardo dropped like a lead balloon on lap one and his misery was confounded when he was forced to pit early for a new front wing, destroying all of his Saturday promise.

Return to form

The final word has to go to Sebastian Vettel, who looked thoroughly rattled through the first few races as he was beaten by teammate Mark Webber twice and out-qualified three times. But he regrouped and showed the commanding pace he had throughout 2011. It was a repeat performance of most of his wins in 2011, as he took pole, showing the pace people doubted that the RB8 had, broke the DRS and controlled the race from there, only being seriously challenged once, by Räikkönen late in the third stint.

With the gap between the cars getting smaller and smaller, the ability of the drivers is being tested to the maximum. Who will prove the difference in Barcelona in three weeks time?