The traditional season-opening grand prix in Australia is just days away, and one person who can't wait to get back behind the wheel is Paul di Resta.
The 26-year-old from Bathgate heads into his third season as a Sahara Force India racer not only as team leader, but eyeing the first podium of his F1 career and, hopefully, catching the eye of one of the leading teams for 2014.
Di Resta's first two seasons in grand prix racing have delivered a solid, if unspectacular, series of results. A regular top 10 qualifier through the second half of 2012, the Scot's end-of-season performances were ultimately handicapped by a long-term, mis-diagnosed problem with his car's chassis. In Singapore he came close to delivering his first podium finish, his charge towards third wrecked only by the late appearance of the safety car. He had to settle for fourth, the best result of his F1 career.
Di Resta had hoped last season was to provide the springboard to a coveted drive at one of the top teams. An expected move to Mercedes – for whom he excelled in touring cars, winning the DTM Championship in 2010 – was denied him when former world champion Lewis Hamilton opted to take the seat.
Di Resta was then assumed, even by his own pit crew at Sahara Force India, to be a shoo-in for the vacant seat at McLaren. The Scot was left numbed when the Mercedes-powered team opted to sign Sergio Perez, and pocket the significant amount of sponsorship cash the Mexican brought with him from business magnate Carlos Slim.
The final door was slammed when Ferrari, equally surprisingly, opted to retain Felipe Massa. So, does Di Resta feel he has a point to prove and is it a make-or-break season for him?
"You're kidding, right? Make or break? I've heard that question before, and I'm never too sure what the foundation is for it to be asked," he said as he finished packing his bags in Monaco ahead of catching the first of four flights to Australia, via Silverstone and India.
"I've always said the big thing is to build my reputation in Formula One, develop and continue the success I've always wanted. Obviously I'm a Sahara Force India racer this year, and my principal target is to deliver the very best for the team. I always want to achieve the best I can, where I am. I can't do any more than that.
"But it's always nice to keep your image under the nose of the other team principals, because ultimately they're the guys who make the decisions about drivers. But I'm heading to Melbourne definitely up for the fight right through this season."
One of the drivers Di Resta is looking forward to sparring with is former team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, who switched from Sahara Force India to rival Sauber.
"Definitely, it will be nice to race Nico without having team orders," Di Resta said. "Sauber took sixth place in the Constructors' Championship from us last year, and they'll again be our main competitors, along with Williams."
This year, nothing less than fifth place, a climb of two places, will do, according to Sahara Force India deputy team principal Rob Fearnley. Is that achievable?
"I don't see why not," said Di Resta, who will be re-united with his 2011 team-mate, German Adrian Sutil, this season. "From what we've seen at the pre-season tests in Spain, at Jerez and Barcelona, I don't think any of the teams closest to us in terms of competition have made any great leaps forward. The only standout improvement seems to have come at Mercedes, but I think we'll definitely have the pace and reliability advantage over Sauber and Williams."
Di Resta, who stopped off in India on Friday for a series of PR events for the team, arrives in Melbourne today to acclimatise to conditions before Friday's first free practice. The Scot says he is in the best condition of his life, having raised the bar yet further from 12 months ago.
"I took a month off after the final race in Brazil, and popped home to Scotland to spend important time with my family and friends," he said, "but all the time I was still training. Working with my trainer, Gerry Convy, I've really pushed my boundaries a bit further over the winter months. I trained on 27 of the 31 days of January, which isn't bad. I'm even taking my cycling gear to Australia because we'll get some training done there too."
The first challenge, as is the case with any racing driver, is to beat his team-mate, and Sutil – back in the sport after sitting out last year following a GBH conviction for assaulting Lotus executive Eric Lux in a Shanghai nightclub – further fuelled the rivalry by stating he has nothing to be worried about in the battle with the Scot.
Di Resta, while privately feeling the German would have been better to have kept quiet, was more diplomatic with his response.
"Yeh, you always want to beat your team-mate, first and foremost. Adrian's a good guy and we get on well together, but once we're in our cars, he's just another racing driver I need to beat," the Scot said.
Finishing ahead of Sutil at the end of the season will be crucial. While this is definitely not a make-or-break season for Di Resta, there is no denying 2013 could well be a pivotal year in his F1 career. There are a number of vacant seats liable to appear in leading teams for 2014, when a whole new raft of regulations come into play. Massa will be out of contract at Ferrari and at Red Bull, Mark Webber's contract ends; there are questions over the long-term future of Nico Rosberg at Mercedes (though it is unlikely the German team would put two Brits in their cars) and there is the possibility of retirement for Jenson Button at McLaren.
For now though, Di Resta is focused totally on his role at Sahara Force India.
"People keep trying to link me with other teams, but I'm fully committed, heading to Australia, on achieving the best I can for Sahara Force India," he said. "Hopefully we can achieve podiums this year, and like any racing driver, I want wins and championships. Those might well come with Force India: after all, winning teams have to grow into their success. Why shouldn't that happen here?"
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