F1: Paul Di Resta optimistic for second season

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Formula One roars back into action this weekend with the opening grand prix of the year in Australia, and Bathgate’s Paul di Resta can’t wait for the action to start.

Twelve months after he made his F1 racing debut at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, the 25-year-old Scot has been elevated to team leader at his Sahara Force India team.

But Di Resta, who finished 2011 with 27 world championship points and the coveted Rookie of the Year award, knows he faces a big challenge alongside his new team-mate, 24-year-old German, Nico Hulkenberg.

“People always say the second year is tougher,” Di Resta said as he took a break from overseeing the preparation of his Mercedes-powered racer. “Strangely, I’ve generally always performed better in my second season in any championship I’ve done, so hopefully it’ll be the same this season.”

Di Resta, whose performances through the three official pre-season tests — first at Jerez, followed by two at Barcelona — were impressive, is eager to see how his car performs alongside the more established teams this weekend. “There’s always a lot of cloak-and-dagger stuff going on at testing,” he continued. “No one really knows exactly what any of the other teams is doing, so it’s unfair to compare lap times with other teams.

“That said, we’re very happy with what we achieved within the team. We nailed all the programmes we’d set ourselves, and the car was ultra-reliable. We’re also definitely further ahead in our preparations compared to where we were this time last year, so fingers crossed we can come away from Melbourne with both cars scoring points.”

Last season Di Resta scored a point in each of his opening two grands prix, before hitting a long barren patch. Then, in the final nine races of the season, he scored another 25 points.

“We have the momentum from last year, and that’s what we want to continue,” said the Scot, a global ambassador for Glasgow-based whisky company Whyte & Mackay. “The team finished sixth in the constructors’ championship; this year we want fifth. But we know it’s going to be tough. All the teams around us in the midfield have improved as well, so it’s going to be a real scrap.”

Just as well then that the Scot has bulked-up for the fight, thanks to his new partnership with his personal trainer, fellow Scot Gerry Convy.

“I knew that to get to the next level I had to change my trainer,” Di Resta explained. “Gerry’s worked with DC (David Coulthard) in the past, so he came well recommended.

“The improvements he’s made to me are fantastic and I head into the new season knowing I’m the fittest I’ve ever been in my life.”

But while Di Resta and his Sahara Force India team bids to finish the year the ‘best of the rest’, out front Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes will fight for wins, podiums and, ultimately, the championship.

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel heads into the year looking for a hat-trick of successive world titles, but the 24-year-old German acknowledges he faces a stiffer challenge this year.

“The top four teams all look a lot closer this season, and I think we’re in for a very tough year,” said Vettel, who has named his 2012 race car ‘Abbey’.

“But I definitely start the year as favourite. Last year was nearly faultless — 11 wins and 15 pole positions — and when I see the steps the team has taken it’s incredible.”

The biggest challenge to Vettel’s domination is once again expected to come from the McLaren duo of former world champions Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.