Bathgate’s Paul di Resta admitted he felt “robbed” after he was ordered not to overtake his struggling Sahara Force India team-mate Adrian Sutil in the closing few laps of the Australian Grand Prix.
The 26-year-old Scot, who started the opening race of the season from ninth on the grid, three places ahead of his German team-mate, ultimately had to settle for eighth place, immediately behind Sutil.
“I feel a bit robbed of a seventh place, given the way our strategy panned out,” said Di Resta before dashing to catch a flight to Kuala Lumpar to begin preparations for this weekend’s race in Malaysia.
“Given the pace I had at the end of the race, and the difficulties Adrian was having with his tyres, I definitely had the pace for seventh.”
While Di Resta started the 58-lap race on the Albert Park circuit on the super-soft Pirelli tyres, Sutil opted for the longer-lasting medium compound.
And, as the top qualifiers were forced to pit in the opening ten laps due to the short life of the super-soft compounds tyres, Sutil found himself leading the race.
Despite being held up for 14 laps of the 3.3-mile circuit behind the ailing McLaren of former world champion Jenson Button, Di Resta maintained a top-ten pace.
With 11 laps remaining, Sutil was forced to pit to fit the compulsory super-soft tyres, while Di Resta’s car was now on the longer-lasting mediums.
Instantly, Sutil’s pace dropped off and he soon fell back into the clutches of the fast- charging Scot.
With seven laps remaining, Di Resta was 18 seconds behind the struggling German. Five laps later, the gap was around one-second.
Suddenly, it was clear the Scot had backed off after receiving team orders, and he held his position until the chequered flag. Immediately afterwards, though, Di Resta’s taut facial expressions betrayed his diplomatically-correct words.
“It’s a terrific result for the team,” he said. “Getting two cars in the points is a great way to start the season.
“Of course, I’m disappointed with not getting seventh but, in the bigger picture for the team, it was a very important result in relation to the whole of the year.”
And while Di Resta, understandably, would not comment specifically on the issue of team orders, it was left to Robert Fernley, Sahara Force India deputy team principal, to address the matter. “Paul was on the opposite strategy to Adrian and finished just a fraction behind Adrian in the end,” he explained.
“He probably could have passed Adrian in the closing laps, but he held station to ensure we brought home the strong team result.”
Finn Kimi Raikkonen dominated the race in his Lotus, winning in Melbourne for the first time since he was a Ferrari driver in 2007.
“It was one of the easiest races I have won,” admitted Raikkonen, who started from seventh on the grid. “Hopefully, we can have many more of these races.
“Our plan was to do two stops and though it’s always difficult in the first races to know when to stop and not go too early, we got it exactly right.
“We followed the plan and it worked out perfectly for us. I could save the tyres and go fast if I needed.”
Raikkonen controlled the race ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who finished 12.451 seconds back in second. Defending world champ Sebastian Vettel blamed tyre problems and the low ambient temperature for the Red Bull’s lack of pace. The German finished third, a further ten seconds behind Alonso.
And, while Felipe Massa brought his Ferrari home in fourth, Lewis Hamilton was boosted by the performance of his Mercedes in fifth.
“I think it’s great, I’m really happy,” Hamilton said.
“I think it’s way better than we probably ever expected in the first race of the season so it’s a good place to start.
“We’re going to have to go back and try and figure out why we were losing time to other people but I think the guys have done a fantastic job for us to have the pace that we did.”