Di Resta: By far probably the strongest Grand Prix we’ve had
"I’ll take the positives from that"
Paul Di Resta and Sahara Force India have not always enjoyed the best of luck in 2013, but in Bahrain everything came together. Paul rewarded a superb team performance with fourth place, after being in contention for a podium for much of the afternoon.
The weekend started well when Paul was fifth in both FP1 and FP2, and while it clearly wasn’t going to be easy to repeat that form in qualifying, there was cause for optimism.
On Saturday the team received a bonus as Lewis Hamilton picked up a grid penalty to add to the one already earned by Mark Webber in China, so Paul went into qualifying knowing that he might benefit. He did a great job to earn seventh and sure enough gained from both penalties, moving up to fifth on the final grid, with Adrian Sutil alongside.
A good and safe first lap was essential. Unfortunately, Adrian didn’t have one as he received a puncture after contact from Felipe Massa, which dropped him to the rear of the field.
Paul, meanwhile, got ahead of the Ferrari driver to run a solid fourth in the early laps, behind only Vettel, Alonso and Rosberg. Paul was committed to a two-stop strategy and did a great job to keep up a good pace while also keeping his medium tyres alive, allowing him, as planned, to make a later first stop than those ahead.
He moved up to third when Alonso came in on lap seven, and then demoted Rosberg to claim second. When leader Vettel pitted on lap 10, Paul moved on to lead, staying in front for four laps before coming in himself on lap 14.
That dropped him down to as low as ninth, but Paul was playing the long game, and he moved up the order again as others made their second stops. By lap 22 he was into third, behind Vettel and Romain Grosjean. When the Frenchman made his second stop on lap 27 Paul moved back into second place behind Vettel.
He remained there until his own second – and final – stop on lap 36. That put him down to eighth, but now Paul could run to the flag, while most of those ahead still had to pit.
One of the few on the same two-stop strategy was Kimi Raikkonen, and by this stage of the race the Finn’s pace had allowed him to jump Paul. But by the time everyone else made their final stops Paul had moved up to third, behind only Vettel and Raikkonen, two 2013 race winners.
For the last part of the race, Paul found himself in a straight fight with Grosjean. Benefiting from having more sets of fresh tyres after not making Q3, the Lotus driver also had younger tyres for that closing stint after his later final stop. He thus had the pace to catch Paul and ease him out of the final podium position.
“It’s obviously a bit disappointing so late in the race, but the strategy we were on, you were always going to be vulnerable at the end,” says Paul. “Unfortunately him [Grosjean] not doing so well in qualifying cost us, because he had two new sets of medium tyres, and when you’re on a three stop, that was the key.”
Nevertheless, after a typically canny drive Paul remained in a solid fourth well ahead of the rest of the field, led by Lewis Hamilton.
“I’ll take the positives from that, it was by far probably the strongest Grand Prix we’ve had. We had a good opening stint, and showed a lot of strength at some points. You have to maximise what you can. We got fourth, and at the end of the day that’s all that was out there for us.
“There’s definitely a lot to be optimistic about. We got fourth in Singapore last year, it took a long time to match that. I’ve got to
say thank to the guys, because over the weekend we got 100% out of that car.”
Paul is pleased with progress so far in 2013, and is looking forward to the next race.
“We should be happy with what we achieved in Bahrain – qualifying in the top seven and then running very strongly in parts of the race.
“Had we scored a lot of points in Malaysia, which we were on course to do, this would have been a very successful first four races. I’m looking forward to Barcelona.”
“You can definitely see that the heat helps us, so I would certainly like it to be very hot in Barcelona. But whatever it is, it will be the same for everybody.”
Spare a thought too for Adrian Sutil, who set the second fastest lap of the race, his time beaten only by a one-off surge from winner Vettel in the closing laps. Intriguingly, after his early pit stop with a rear puncture Adrian completed the final 55 laps from lap 2-57 some 5s faster than Vettel managed, confirming that he too would have been fighting for a podium...