x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Teammate challenge is one Paul di Resta must conquer in F1

All you can do in these instances is push to the limit and beat your teammate, the one thing Di Resta has yet to do.

Paul di Resta's run to eighth place in China was an encouraging effort.
Paul di Resta's run to eighth place in China was an encouraging effort.

Amid the rows over team orders that have dominated the start of the season, one largely slipped by unnoticed where the driver told to hold station had every reason to be aggrieved.

Paul di Resta found himself gaining rapidly on his Force India teammate Adrian Sutil in the closing laps of last month's opening race of the season, in Australia.

Sutil, who had led earlier in the race, was struggling on soft tyres, in seventh spot, and Di Resta was gaining by up to two seconds a lap in eighth.

But then the call came through on the pit radio: slow down and stay in eighth and do not try to overtake Sutil. The Force India team clearly wanted to do nothing to risk the 10 points on offer by finishing seventh and eighth.

Unlike Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel, Di Resta played the team game and did as he was told.

As with Nico Rosberg in Malaysia, where he was told to sit behind Lewis Hamilton's ailing Mercedes-GP, the decision was unfair as Di Resta and his engineers had run a better race tactically and were denied their reward by over-cautious team bosses.

But the move was even tougher on Di Resta, the Scot who turns 27 today, as this is a big season for him, one that could define his Formula One career.

This is Di Resta's third year in the top echelon of motorsport and it would be fair to say that at present the jury is out on just how good he actually is.

There have been flashes of brilliance: beating Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton on his way to sixth place in Bahrain last year; finishing fourth in Singapore last September. Impressive feats, each.

The issue is they have been just glimpses of his capabilities. His issue has been performing consistently and being overshadowed by the man in the other Force India.

No one is saying Di Resta should be winning races or fighting at the front. He drives for a mid-field team and more often than not the equipment at his disposal is average, at best.

All you can do in these instances is push to the limit and beat your teammate, the one thing Di Resta has yet to do.

He was beaten by Sutil on points scored in 2011 and it was the same story last year when he was up against Nico Hulkenberg.

He is up against Sutil again this year and it is crucial that he out-races, out-qualifies, and scores more points than the German.

Di Resta was reportedly frustrated he was not linked with the vacant McLaren-Mercedes drive for this season, which went to Sergio Perez, who had been at Sauber, while Hulkenberg was strongly linked with Ferrari before the Italian team chose to stick with what they knew, in Felipe Massa.

There is talent in Di Resta, no question, but teams do weigh up performance compared to teammates when judging drivers, hence the fanfare of Jules Bianchi at Marussia, who has blown away Max Chilton in the opening three races.

Di Resta has to get the better of Sutil this year.

Great drivers do not get beaten by the man sharing their equipment. Alonso and Vettel are yet to have a teammate out-score them over a full year and it has happened only once to Hamilton in six years.

The signs thus far are encouraging this year for Di Resta.

He should have been allowed to overtake Sutil in Australia, both Force India cars were hit by mechanical troubles in Malaysia, and he was quicker than Sutil in qualifying and recovered from early contact with his teammate to finish an impressive eighth in Sunday's race in China.

He needs to keep it up now and a repeat of last year's strong showing at the Bahrain International Circuit will be the target this weekend.


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