x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Small teams prove they can be a Force in Formula 1

Paul Di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg of Force India were strong in practice, but had disappointing results in qualifying.

Force India's driver Paul di Resta will start the Grand Prix in ninth.
Force India's driver Paul di Resta will start the Grand Prix in ninth.

MONZA, ITALY // First it was Sauber, now it is Force India. It seems just when a traditionally smaller team appears to be finding the ability to battle for podiums, problems arise.

Last week in Belgium, Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez, Sauber's two young drivers, found the pace to fight for a place at the front of the field.

In qualifying, Kobayashi secured the team's first front-row start since 1999, but saw his race ruined before the first corner had even been negotiated.

Yesterday, ahead of today's Italian Grand Prix at Monza, it was the turn of Force India to indicate they have taken a step forward, with Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta both looking strong in practice and the latter recording his career best qualifying result.

Di Resta, the Scottish driver with Italian heritage, clocked the fourth quickest lap of the afternoon but will start from ninth after being handed a five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox mid-weekend.

Hulkenberg, meanwhile, will start dead last after his car lost power as he was about to start his first timed lap.

"Unfortunately I start ninth, but if there was any day you need a result like that to influence your race and put you in a points position, then it was today," Di Resta said, shortly after the session ended.

"We're still in the top 10, we're starting in the points, so we really just need to look ahead."

The 26 year old, who also revealed he has appointed Jenson Button's manager to handle his affairs, said he enjoyed the experience of fighting with the likes of McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari at the front of the grid.

"What was nice about it was that each time we went out on track we were able to keep improving and improving and do something," Di Resta said.

"Third in final practice, I was little hesitant as to whether we would be able to repeat that, but we ran in the top four throughout all of qualifying, and that shows the speed was there throughout the whole day."

Vijay Mallya, Di Resta's team principal at Force India, rued his marque's fortune, but remained upbeat ahead of the final European race of the season.

"The big disappointment of the session was the technical fault on Nico's car, which we believe to be related to fuel pressure," the Indian said.

"Without this issue I'm confident we would have had both cars well inside the top 10. The task now is to come away from here with points to strengthen our position in the championship."

Di Resta's best finish since making his F1 debut in Australia last year, is sixth, which he managed in Singapore last year and emulated in Bahrain this season.

"The challenge now is to make sure we have the race pace and use the strategy to come away with the points," he said.

"The speed is there, we just have to hope we can do it on high fuel because we have been at a disadvantage to people around us at that point in the race."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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