Lewis Hamilton arrives in Bahrain with a big weight off his shoulders. It’s not always easy for grand prix newcomers to establish themselves, but Hamilton has done so emphatically. After only two races at the highest level he has shown that he belongs in Formula One and can mix it with anyone who dares. After such brilliant performances nobody will begrudge him a few rookie errors from here on. McLaren’s gamble is paying off.
However, It would be a totally different story if he had crashed in both races and done little else to impress. He would be arriving in Bahrain under a mountain of pressure and he would be fighting to prove his worth. It would be a horror scenario for the rookie.
That is exactly why Adrian Sutil must be glad to be making his debut out of the spotlight. He is living that horror scenario. In two Grands Prix, Sutil has been involved in two accidents and has been given two drive through penalties. It isn’t the best way to start an F1 career, but since he is driving the slowest car at the back of the grid there is no pressure mounting on him.
If anything, Sutil arrives in Bahrain this weekend brimming with confidence. He may have had a tumultuous start to 2007 but Sutil has shown impressive speed behind the wheel. Once the rookie errors are out of the way he should develop into a quality grand prix driver.
Given that Sutil is driving the slowest car on the grid the only way to judge his raw speed to compare his performance to that of his teammate. Christijan Albers is not a good benchmark to measure someone against, but for outright pace Sutil has put him comfortably in the shade. At the first two races Sutil has been further ahead of Albers than Tiago Monteiro was throughout last year.
In Melbourne Sutil was quicker than Albers in every practice session and blitzed the Dutchman through all three sectors in qualifying. Especially impressive was Sutil’s performance in the first Friday session, where he was a full second clear of Albers. It was his first look at the Albert Park layout and he was forced to learn the circuit when it was wet. Not an easy thing to do.
Last year in Melbourne Albers was clearly faster than Tiago Monteiro. The fact that Sutil was the quicker driver this year is by no means insignificant.
Sutil could be forgiven for thinking he is an outsider at Spyker. It is a Dutch team and Albers is their favourite Dutch son. One of Spyker’s directors has shares in Christijan Albers’ Management, as does one of the team’s owners. Not only that but Albers’ Father-in-law (Roel Koorjman) has a stake in Spyker as well. Christijan is very well protected within the team and it would be understandable if Sutil found that a little daunting.
It’s no excuse for poor driving though, and unfortunately Sutil’s Grand Prix debut was punctuated by mistakes. He was given two drive through penalties for rookie errors and had a first lap collision with Anthony Davisdon. The Super Aguri driver was trying to overtake Sutil around the outside of the Clark chicane in a move that required a lot of co-operation from both drivers. Davidson left Sutil with nowhere to go on the inside and the two drivers touched as Sutil spun trying to avoid a clash. Although it was Davidson that squeezed Sutil into a collision, it was up to the Spyker driver to avoid him and he was unable to do so.
Any rookie can be excused for a few blunders at his first grand prix and it will give Sutil a lot to learn from. The notable thing about Sutil in Melbourne was his speed.
We didn’t get much of a comparison against his teammate during the race because Albers managed to drive himself into a wall 50 metres off the circuit. He missed his braking point by miles when he was distracted by the earplugs in his helmet, and couldn’t save the car before it stopped against the barrier. There is no doubt Sutil would have been quicker in the Grand Prix than Albers had they been on track together. Sutil’s pace was very good against the Super Aguris and Toro Rossos, and would have mixed it with them if he didn’t have so many problems during the race.
After his collision with Davidson, Sutil was slow to let the leaders through. Most notably Lewis Hamilton. As a result he was handed a drive through penalty and when he emerged from the pitlane he scored himself another one by driving across the white ‘blend’ line.
Both mistakes were rather silly but at least they are the sorts of things that won’t be repeated.
It was interesting that Sutil should hold up Hamilton because the two enjoy a strong friendship. They raced together for the ASM team in European Formula 3 and finished 1-2 in the championship. Although Hamilton had the better results they built up a genuine bond, and after the Australian Grand Prix even went holidaying together in Thailand. It must have been a special feeling to be making their F1 debuts together.
If Sutil continues to build on his raw pace he may one day be holding up Lewis for position.
The Australian Grand Prix was the first time his abilities have been displayed on a world stage. His career in the junior categories wasn’t stellar, although he still had some good results. He won the Japanese Formula 3 title last year and in 2005 finished second only to Hamilton in the F3 Euroseries. Back in 2000 he took pole position and victory at every race in the Swiss Formula Ford Championship, and although that isn’t the most competitive series around, a perfect score is commendable none the less.
Sutil got his big break last year when he acted as Friday test driver for Midland/Spyker at three Grands Prix. He was immediately quick and compared favourably to the team’s regular drivers. His laptimes didn’t show off his true potential though as he had the obvious advantage of being exempt from the two-race engine rule.
It’s a shame that Sutil’s Malaysian weekend shed any light on his potential talent either. He was faster than Albers throughout practice but both drivers were complaining of oversteer. Before qualifying Spyker decided to make a change to their cars in an effort to improve the handling, but the change didn’t help Sutil at all. He lost two tenths to Albers through sector two in qualifying and started the race from the very back.
Just like in Melbourne, Sutil made a great start and passed a car on the outside of turn one. As he approached turn four he was ahead of Albers and all over Button when the back end of the Spyker went BANG. The rear suspension failed on his car and it pushed him off into the gravel trap, brushing by the Honda on its way.
It was another disappointing result, but it would have been interesting to see his speed had he stayed in the race.
Adrian Sutil is capable of a good result and that is why he’ll be confident heading into Bahrain. It’s certainly worth smiling when things can only get better. There wont be any scrutiny on his previous mistakes and he will be able to focus on his driving, such are the luxuries of racing for a small team.
Now he just has to prove that he can finish the job.
Whilst he will never go close to winning at Bahrain, it might only be a few years before he does.