A home Grand Prix is a big weekend for any F1 driver, and when it’s your first, there’s an extra buzz. For Paul Di Resta this weekend’s race at Silverstone will be a huge experience as the Force India star races in front of an expectant British crowd for the first time.
Obviously Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button will hold much of their attention, but British fans are always ready to cheer on a new local hero, just as they did for Jenson on his debut in 2000, or Lewis in 2007.
The irony is that Paul has very little personal experience of Silverstone. Although he ran in FP1 on Friday last year for Force India, he has never actually raced on the full Grand Prix circuit, in any of its configurations. His last race there, on the National track, was in Formula Renault. That makes this weekend even more challenging for him.
“It’s probably the biggest race of my career,” he says. “Yes, getting to F1 is a massive achievement, and doing your first Grands Prix is a big thing. But to arrive at your first British Grand Prix as a race driver, and at the start of a new generation of Silverstone, is something special as well. Having not raced on the old layout, I haven’t raced on the new one either. It’s going to be different!
“I suppose the other thing is the support that home drivers enjoy, like Lewis and Jenson. A lot of friends and family will be there who haven’t been able to travel to the events I’ve taken part in so far. And it’s where our team’s based, so it’s a week of spending time with them.”
Many of Paul’s early memories of Silverstone involve watching cousin Dario Franchitti, although his first visit was to see his own father compete.
“I think I watched Dario in DTM, or ITC, in 1996. But the first time I went to Silverstone was actually for the 125cc Superkart GP with my dad, when he was racing there.
“It was the first place I drove an F1 car – that was on the National track as part of the BRDC/McLaren Young Driver award. I won that judgement round there as well, and that was a big turning point in my career.”
Having family and friends around this weekend will be a big boost for Paul, although on the other hand there could be extra pressure not to disappoint them. He says that he’s relaxed about that aspect.
“You’ve got to be going forward regardless. It doesn’t bother me. I just enjoy the support that they give me when they come along. I think they should enjoy it and be part of the journey. It’s nice for them to get close and see it, because you can only talk about it so much! My mum and my brothers have not been to any events, so it will be good to see them around. It will probably be the only one that they get to.”
Even last year there were some Scottish flags in the crowd for Paul, and we’re expecting to see a few more this year.
“Hopefully!,” he smiles. “Last year was incredible. Thankfully I was the first one out on the track on Friday in practice, and the grandstands were full. What an atmosphere it is – I know it’s hard to believe but you can still see what’s happening in the grandstand on an installation lap. And the place was just alive through the whole weekend.
“I understand this year there’s a bit more added pressure. I won’t be enjoying the atmosphere as much as I have done in the past. It will be working weekend for me, and very much so, on the driving side.”
Despite everything Paul is still intending to treat the race like any other.
“It shouldn’t be any different, just like the preparation shouldn’t be any different. I try and put 100% into each race, and treat them all the same.
“They all give the same number of points at the end of it! OK, it would be great to get a good result and be celebrating after on the Sunday afternoon when everybody’s there, but we’ll reserve judgement until the chequered flag goes down.”