It’s fast approaching that time of year again. As another fantastic season of motor racing reaches its climax, Autosport magazine are beginning to collate votes for their annual awards ceremony, held this year on December 4 at the glitzy Grosvenor House Hotel in London.
As always there are eight categories from which you can choose your motorsport heroes from. Only one of these, however, does not require you to massacre your copy of Autosport and become an origami master to be able to cast a vote in, and that’s the category in which I will be trying to sway your decision: Rookie of the Year.
There are ten candidates who are in the running for this year’s honour as best emerging talent, and you can select your favourite by voting on the Autosport website (here). But before you do, allow me to make your decision making process that little bit easier by suggesting you chose Paul di Resta as best newcomer.
What the Scot has achieved in his first full season in Formula 1 has been mightily impressive and, in comparison to the other nominees, he is easily the most polished, consistently brilliant, rookie to emerge this year.
I was, admittedly, somewhat suspicious of how he would fare in the top echelon of motor racing. This despite finishing in the top three standings of DTM over the past three years, culminating in the 2010 championship, and clinching the 2006 F3 Euro Series title against the likes of Sebastian Vettel.
I had my reasons: five years out of competitive single-seater racing can make a driver rusty, and the rather cautious approach to Friday testing for Force India last year meant we never really saw his true potential, with the “don’t crash it” policy leading to a lack of headline grabbing times.
But any doubts I may have had about the 26-year-old racer quickly disappeared as he immediately asserted himself over his more experienced team-mate this year. Within the first few handful of grands prix he showed us that he was capable of scoring points and, at worst, finishing on the fringes of the top ten.
As the season has progressed di Resta has produced some fantastic performances, but these have also been tainted by several incidents – some of his making, some at the hands of others.
There was the exceptional drive at Canada where he was running as high as fourth, until he botched an attempt to pass Nick Heidfeld, resulting in a drive-through penalty after he clipped the rear of the German’s Renault.
Qualifying sixth in his first home grand prix at Silverstone showcased his natural pace and he would have bagged some serious points were his race not ruined by a disastrous pitstop, before coming into contact with Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi.
Thankfully, di Resta quickly managed to kick the front-wing damage habit that threatened to blot his mid-season copy book, and he went on to produce two stunning performances at Hungary and Singapore.
He drove a blinder at the Hungaroring to finish seventh, an excellent result given his team sent him out on the wrong tyre in his final stint. But, great as that was, his defining moment of 2011 occured during the Singapore Grand Prix.
Reaching the final stage of qualifying having only seven timed laps under his belt on Friday was impressive enough, but finishing sixth – having started on the harder tyre with no high-fuel running – was simply outstanding, and proved beyond all doubt that not only is he the best rookie in Formula 1 this year, he’s arguably the best newcomer in any racing series full stop.
Of course, trying to compare drivers from different racing categories is always going to be a difficult task – there are far too many variables to make precise comparisons. It would also be incredibly easy just to settle for whoever happens to be the highest up the motorsport career ladder, ignoring the achievements by those in more junior formulae, or across the pond.
But that’s not the case with di Resta. Compared to the other nominees he has managed to show solid consistency and natural ability throughout the entire year, and he fully deserves to join an illustrious roll of honour that includes the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.
So, don’t let me keep you any longer, click here and vote away.