Bathgate’s Paul Di Resta was left contemplating what might have been after his bid to win the German Touring Car Championship was wrecked in the run-up to the first corner at the season finale at Hockenheim.
The 22-year-old Scot, who started the 37-lap race from second on the grid, immediately found himself back in third after the Audi of pole-sitter Mattias Ekstrom and championship leader Timo Scheider — who started third — choreographed a brilliant orchestrated start.
But as Ekstrom moved aside to block Di Resta and allow Scheider to take the lead, the Swede then brake-tested the Scot as the cars lunged into the first corner. Unable to stop, Di Resta’s car suffered damage to the front grille just below the radiator.
The blocking tactics continued as Ekstrom then ran wide through Turns 2 and 3 to further delay Di Resta’s progress, but by then the main damage had already been done.
“The contact basically stuffed me there and then,” Di Resta, tipped to switch to F1 next season, said afterwards. “I sensed almost immediately that the car wasn’t delivering its power the way it should.
“The damage wasn’t much, but these cars are so finely tuned to maximise the flow of air around the car and into the engine that the slightest bend to anything at the front of the car impacted on the car’s performance.
“I pushed the car as hard as I could to get the best out of it, but in the end it just wasn’t enough. Believe me, I couldn’t have got any more out of the car.”
Though race stewards hit Ekstrom — who had pledged after qualifying on Saturday to make life as difficult as possible for Di Resta — with a three-second stop ‘n’ go penalty, the damage to the Scot’s championship bid was terminal.
Frustratingly, an indication of what might have been had Di Resta’s car not suffered damage was illustrated by the fact the Scot was still able to set the fastest lap of the race, with a best time of 1min 33.576secs.
“The car was fast, in the middle of the race, but towards the end when I really needed the speed to be able to close the gap and put pressure on Timo, the pace just wasn’t there,” continued Di Resta, who eventually finished the race second, 3.2s behind the Austrian-based German, Scheider.
And such was the drop-off in Di Resta’s pace towards the end of the race that he took the chequered flag with a queue of cars behind him, as fellow Mercedes driver Jamie Green and Bruno Spengler finished third and fourth respectively.
Di Resta though, who was also held up by Audi’s Martin Tomczyk for around three seconds after the second round of pitstops, was typically gracious in defeat.
“Timo though drove a brilliant race and he deserves everything he’s achieved this season,” he said. “Of course I’m disappointed; who wouldn’t be? But I’ve got to be very, very happy with everything I’ve achieved this season.
“It’s my first year in a competitive car and I’m the fastest Mercedes driver, the leading Mercedes driver in the championship, I’ve won two races, finished second a handful of times and finished second in the championship. So it’s not been a bad year.”
And the Scot’s performance brought praise from Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug, the man who has helped guide Lewis Hamilton to the brink of the Formula One world Championship.
“It’s impossible to praise Paul’s performance throughout this season enough,” Haug admitted. “He’s led the team like a veteran, yet it’s only his first season in the top Mercedes team.
“I know he will be disappointed, but he has to take a lot of positives from everything he’s achieved this year. He came very close to winning the championship this season, but in the end Audi made sure he wasn’t going to win.”