F1: Will Force India shake-up give di Resta his chance?

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarFriday, November 7th, 2008

 
 

A major shake-up at Force India has seen the departure of its engine supplier, team principal and technical director – and could the drivers be next?

If so it would bring to an end weeks of rumour and speculation surrounding the possible entrance into F1 of an up-and-coming Scottish driver who is widely tipped to have what it takes to challenge Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

22-year-old Paul di Resta, cousin of the former Indy 500 winner and IRL champion Dario Franchitti, has just come second in this year’s DTM touring car championship.

His strong performance in only his first year using the most competitive DTM machinery, combined with a successful test at McLaren, gave a major boost to his standing within the motorsports heirarchy at his Mercedes team – the likely new partners of Force India – who are now said to be considering how best to introduce him into Formula One.

The rumoured upcoming technical deal with Force India was thought to be just the thing – especially as di Resta has signalled that he will be quite happy to start out at the back of the grid.

Some fairly major changes would be necessary at Force India for his hopes to be realised – but now those changes have begun. Of the two significant events the Silverstone-based team announced over the last couple of days, one was the termination of its engine supply deal with Ferrari.

The Italian outfit had team owner Vijay Mallya’s name on a contract until 2009, but now faces the early end of that agreement.

The billionaire Force India owner is believed to have bought his team out of the contract in order to receive a complete engine, gearbox and KERS from McLaren Mercedes for 2009. He thanked Ferrari for what he characterised as “an excellent relationship”.

It was also revealed that Force India has parted company with two high-profile staff members. Team principal Colin Kolles and technical supremo Mike Gascoyne have both fallen by the wayside in a painful-sounding process that Mallya referred to as “management streamlining.”

In an acknowledgement that this year has been far from straightforward, he said: “Force India is my most difficult project and requires more direct input from my side and greater performance accountability. We have come a long way this season but we need more and that requires a radical reorganisation.

“I would like to thank Colin Kolles for his tireless efforts in keeping such a small team alive and to Mike Gascoyne for bringing his wealth of technical experience. But on Monday [November 10] I will announce the new technical direction of the team.”

On October 17 Force India confirmed it would retain the services of its two existing drivers, veteran Giancarlo Fisichella and Hamilton contemporary Adrian Sutil, for another year. But di Resta’s name keeps getting mentioned nonetheless.

He tested the McLaren car before the Brazilian Grand Prix under rules that won the team extra track time as long as it used a rookie driver. And he certainly has his hopes up, as quotes posted on his website on November 5 show.

He says: “What I want to do now is be on the Formula One grid in 2009 to race head-to-head against Lewis. I know we’re mates and we’ve raced against each other in numerous formulas in the past, but this would be the big one; racing against each other in Formula One.

“Lewis has made it, and so too has Vettel, who I beat comfortably to the F3 Euroseries championship in 2006. If they can do it, I certainly know I can too and the recent tests I’ve had in the McLaren Mercedes have certainly shown everyone what I am capable of in a F1 car.

“Now we just have to see what happens for next season.”

It’s more than possible that Mallya has completed his clearout and is now beginning the task of rebuilding with the surviving personnel, including Sutil and Fisichella. Certainly, Mercedes’ Norbert Haug has said in the past he expects di Resta to stay in DTM or go to GP2.

But even if it doesn’t happen this year, di Resta certainly looks like he’s one step closer to getting that important foot in the door, and the chance to try his luck racing head-to-head with Lewis Hamilton in a Force India.

Good luck with that, Paul.

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