Scot Paul di Resta back in F1 action 29 | 07 | 2017

    BATHGATE’S PAUL DI RESTA made a shock return to Formula 1 today when he replaced Brazilian Felipe Massa in the Williams for qualifying ahead of tomorrow’s Hungarian Grand Prix. (Related: Paul di Resta storms to DTM win at Hungaroring)

    Just 90 minutes before the start of this afternoon’s qualifying session on the 2.7-mile Hungaroring circuit near Budapest, the 31-year-old Scot got the call after Massa withdrew from the event due to dizziness caused by an ear infection.

    Di Resta, who has been the Williams F1 reserve driver for the past 18 months, immediately ditched his Sky Sports F1 analyst duties and prepared himself for the session. (Related: Paul di Resta sets new DTM lap record)

    It was the first time the Scot had driven an F1 car since his final race with Force India in Brazil at the end of the 2013 season, and his first time driving this latest hi-tech generation of hybrid engineering.


    Yet, Di Resta — who won on the Hungarian track last month racing for Mercedes in the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) — finished the session just 0.766secs behind his Williams team-mate, Canadian Lance Stroll.

    Understandably, the Scot was delighted, and admitted there’s much more to come in the race.

    “It’s weird,” Di Resta, who tomorrow will start his 59th F1 grand prix from 19th on the 20-car grid, and just two places behind Stroll, laughed.


    “At 11 o’clock this morning I was ironing my shirt preparing to do my pre-qualifying duties with Sky. Then I got the call from Williams that Felipe was out, and I was suddenly preparing for qualifying.

    “I’m not going to lie: I was scared; nervous; anxious. Everything. I haven’t driven one of these cars for three-and-a-half years, and suddenly I was being thrown into qualifying, which is the deepest of all deep. It’s like diving off a cliff and seeing how you survive.

    “Honestly? I felt quite comfortable very quickly. When I let go of the pit-limiter, I was right there. Then I just built myself up quite slowly and was improving by half-a-second per lap.


    “There’s still plenty of potential there. But remember, I’m driving the car with all Felipe’s brake setting, steering wheel settings, set-up. In fact everything you try to work through a weekend to achieve  to ensure the car is best-suited for you. In my case, it’s a car suited for Felipe. It’s difficult, but hugely challenging and rewarding.”

    Di Resta’s first lap was a 1min 22.289secs, and he improved through the 20min session to finish with a best time of 1:19.868. During the three free practice sessions, both Massa and Stroll had been lapping in the 1min 20secs. Bolstered by his return to on-track action in F1, Di Resta is eagerly looking forward to the race.

    “I know for sure there’s definitely more that will come from me as I get more from the car,” he continued. “I was very safe in the high speed corners, and I was a bit safe on exits; I didn’t really use the rear tyres as I should on exit.


    “At times I could have stood on the loud pedal a bit quicker — the pedal stroke is so much longer than I’m used to — and I’ve got an extra two gears to downshift than I’m used to in DTM.

    “It’s all about getting my bearings again and knowing how much I can use on the exit kerb. Into the high speed corners I know there’s still plenty of margin there because the car isn’t taking me to the outside of the track.

    “I went into qualifying with no pressure, so I think the race will be about gaining as much experience of the car and situation as I can.

    “It’s no secret, as a driver you want to be going forward, and doing the best you can. I have a rate of development in my head, but also it’ll be interesting to see how my levels of fitness are in relation to dealing with a 72-lap race in the heat.


    “The race is a very different story. Regarding the tyres, I don’t know them: I’ve never even driven the car with a full tank of fuel, so that’ll be another shock into Turn 1. But it’s a case of me bringing myself into the situation.

    “Even pitstops: I’ve stopped in the box at the end of that session, and stopped on my marks. Perfect. But in race mode there’s going to be 16 people lined up waiting to work on the car when I make my pitstop. And the Williams crew are generally very good at getting the tyres off and on in around two-seconds.

    “I’ve also got to get my head round the steering wheel: that’s the main thing ahead of the start. And obviously there’s the formation lap, because the team can’t speak to me during that pre-race phase. It’s probably a list about the length of my two arms that I now need to learn.


    “I did a lot of work pre-Australia with the guys, and thankfully most of that is still in my head, but it’s going to be a different story tomorrow with all the noise and watching the five reds lights come on before the start of the race, because your mind tends to go blank.

    “But it’s really all about running through the process and trying to make as few mistakes as possible. That’s what will make the difference between whether I enjoy it or not.”

    World championship leader Sebastian Vettel starts today’s race from pole position alongside Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen. Lewis Hamilton, currently one point behind Vettel, could only manage fourth, outqualified again by his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

    Related: Lewis Hamilton surges to British GP win

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    Jim McGill


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