After a year away from F1, getting back in can be a tough task. Adrian Sutil did, and in Hungary week reached the 100 GP mark. He spoke to Abhishek Takle
GP Week: It's your 100th race. How time flies, wouldn't you say? Did you expect 100 races to go by so fast?
ADRIAN SUTIL: No, I was never counting my grands prix, so I just realized a few races ago that this is going to be my 100th GP, which is a good number. But again, with a lot of work and when you're busy and you have your dream, you're working every day to achieve it, then time flies by.
But does it feel special?
It doesn't feel special but I'm proud of being here. But still I haven't reached my goals so now I have to push on even harder because I don't want to wait another 100 grands prix to achieve those.
You're probably sitting in the most competitive car you've had all career.
Exactly yeah, that is a nice point. Also, 100 grands prix in the same team and not many drivers can say that. I know where I came from. We started at the back of the grid, we are now fifth in the championship in front of McLaren within six years. So this is a big step, a very, very good performance and still I think we can improve and we become better every year.
You came back this year; you had the opportunity to come back. It was a strong start. How would you assess your performance at the halfway stage of the season?
It was a good start, I think. I lost out a few races - some problems, pit-stops two times and a cut tyre; they could have been all really good points scoring positions … but that's racing. I think at the end of the season it will be balanced anyway. At the moment I'm 11th in the championship. I want to be probably ninth or eighth at the end of the season so still some things to improve.
But you're reasonably satisfied with the way things have gone?…
Yes. The car was really competitive and sometimes I think we even had the chance of a podium. Bahrain was probably the race where it could have happened and my race pace was the fastest over-all. Paul was very close to it. In Silverstone I was very close again. I think it's just a matter of time now. If you come close so many times it will finally happen. We shouldn't give up, and just try to push on a bit more.
Especially if it happens at Spa - that would be magical, a repeat of what Giancarlo did in 2009.
Yes, he took the right time absolutely because that was a car which was only fast on certain circuits. After that we changed our philosophy and wanted to have a more consistent car where it was more difficult to reach the podium, but overall we had more points at the end of the year. So if you look for podiums, yes Giancarlo did an amazing job in Spa, one-off pole position, he could have won the race. That was amazing. We're now close and of course much better than at that time because at that time we had only straight circuits suiting our car; now we have the whole calendar suiting us and some even better. Spa I think is still a circuit where I can probably do a bit better than others, but also our car is competitive and it will come, hopefully soon.
With your comeback this year, do you feel you came back refreshed? Because I remember when Gerhard Berger was driving for Benetton he missed two races and he said something along the lines of 'it's only when you take some time off do you realize how tiring it is, but then you come back refreshed'. Do you think that's the case with you?
Yes exactly, I thought the same. I was very refreshed after one year, and it took a long time to realize how stressed I was. So after the winter you think 'okay after one week I've had enough recovery, I'm ready to go.' But then I was out of the car three, four, five months and I could see how much energy I had and how different I was feeling. I was so relaxed and my brain was working much better. So yeah, you need some time off to really recharge your batteries - it's a tiring job. It's very stressful: a lot of travelling, so just staying at home was really the biggest refreshment of the whole season.
But still it was obviously a very tough time for you because of the situation. At that time, during that year off what sorts of things went through your mind, did you ever think 'my career might be over'?
I took it easy because there was nothing I could change at that moment. I tried to find a seat, I couldn't get one, and life goes on. I always know to help me, I never give up, I'm a fighting person and that's why after maybe a few months when I was down I got myself up and said 'come on now, what is your target, what do you want to do? Make your plans and try to achieve it. 'I was trying to get back into Formula One, but I also knew I can also live without it to be honest - I can also be a successful person somewhere else if I really wanted.
Like the music?
Music? Maybe. But that was not the thing I was thinking about so much, as I have different interests and there's so much you can do in life. There's not only racing. You have to realize this is a very small world in here, it's a small sport, and so many things … you just have to experience those things to know about them. The season was not tough, it was actually very good. I enjoyed it and I had to think twice about what I wanted to do - if I wanted to go back to Formula One or actually stay out of it because I had a good year. But then I felt I had still something to do here. I still hadn't reached my goals, and I didn't want it to end like it ended in 2011. I want to end this job so that it's my decision. I want to say 'that's enough now, I've reached my goals, now make a break'. I got back. I had a very good comeback and I was so much happier in the car than I was before, so it was a good way to do it.
Were you surprised that you were immediately on the pace? Did you expect to take more time to get back up to speed?
I was maybe a little bit surprised but already in Spain in testing after three laps I was already absolutely on the pace and the team was very surprised when they saw the lap times I did. So it just showed me, okay, I can do it. I'm fast. Just because my attitude was very different. I was more relaxed when I was in the car and I was happy in the car. And that's normally when you perform best: when you smile, when you enjoy it. And the whole weekend in Australia was - I took it as another test day, because I wasn't prepared so well - but it just went perfectly. Step by step I improved, and I was leading the race after 10 laps or so, and it was incredible.
After the situation in China in 2011, there was a bit of a fall-out in relations between you and Lewis. Have you had a chance to talk about that, to sit down and put it behind you?
No, no. For some reason he never contacted me again after that. He always said he is my friend but he wishes to suddenly disappear - he changed his number. I saw him here in the paddock and he always said 'yeah, we can sit down and talk about it', but he never arrived. So these kinds of people I don't really respect. I respect him as a sportsman, but I think in private he's not on my level and I don't need to waste time with those people. I'm happy that I realized what kind of a person he is. I have good friends, people I can learn from, and this is the most important. I'm happy that I found out earlier rather than later. Here on the circuit, this is business, he's a great racing driver but we haven't really spoken about it.
Like you said, you're still here, you still have to achieve your dreams. Your team-mate has been linked to some of the big teams. Does it play on your mind that your name hasn't been mentioned, especially given that the results are maybe different in the overall picture not because of your driving but because of other factors like pit stops and tyre cuts that you mentioned?
No, not at all. I do the best job I can and it's the decision of the other teams if they want to take me. But I am also happy here. There aren't so many teams that are better than Force India. Of course he is a bit younger than me and probably wants to get out of Force India.I have no problem staying here. I'm happy to stay here. I have a great team boss - Vijay Mallya, he's pushing the team, he wants it. Many drivers jump from one team to the other. I know what I have here and I need to have a good offer from a really good team to change that. So it's normal. I'm already six years in Formula One. He is just in his third year in Formula One, so he is a bit more fresh, trying more to get into a top team. But let's see. For me it's more important to have clear offers than just rumours that I will go somewhere because that means nothing. At the moment nothing is decided. I wish him luck in his future career of course but it doesn't affect me.