When Adrian Sutil got into a brawl with Genii Capital CEO Eric Lux at a Shanghai nightclub in 2011 and was given an 18-month suspended jail sentence, it seemed like the German’s career was done and dusted.
The chances of the then 28-year-old returning grew bleaker given how quickly Formula One had evolved in his absence. On February 28, when Sahara Force India -- a team the 30-year-old is very familiar with -- gave him a seat, it seemed like Vijay Mallya was taking a chance in leaving out Jules Bianchi.
During one of the pre-season testing sessions in Barcelona, Sutil dispelled all fears by clocking one of the fastest times. But the seasoned pro knows it will take him a lot more than one quick lap to once again be called a contender in the fast and furious world of Formule One. In a chat with Deccan Herald, Sutil dwelled on his time away from game and future plans among other things.
Take us through how your time away from the sport affected you and your perception of things as a driver and as a human being?
I was leading my normal life and doing those things which I couldn’t do in the last five years. I have been in racing since I was 13 or 14 years old (so I never had the time to be ‘normal’). I feel more relaxed now and full of energy after spending time with my family and girlfriend. To live a normal life is very nice. I was watching it (Formula One) on TV.
I tried to take a step back from the sport but by the middle of the season I felt so much stronger and found my, let's say, new goal in life which is to be a world champion. I am not in Formula One to just race. I would rather stay at home. I am here to race against the world's best and if anyone is there not to win then it is not the right place for him.
Do you think the 14-month break helped you or has it been detrimental?
I had time to think about my career. We will see if I am a better driver but mentally, I would say yes (stronger). I have seen a life without Formula One and a life with it. In this professional sport you never actually have the time to learn. I wouldn't have chosen a year off but it was probably for the good. Once I was back in the car, the engineers were very impressed. I showed that I hadn’t lose any speed but probably gained a bit mentally.
What are your goals for the comeback season?
My aims are quite high. My personal goal is to be better than in 2011 when I finished ninth. My mind is set for some good performance and I am ready for the podium and I want to achieve that. In the first few races, there are always chances. We have to be prepared to take them. It’s important to be consistent from the beginning to the end of the season.
Do you think it is hard for a Formula One driver to make comeback?
It’s difficult to come back if you are at the end of your career. It depends on how young you are. I am still young and I think I have eight or ten more years left.
I would cite Kimi Raikkonen as an example. He was off for two years and he returned last year and was the most consistent driver. Everything is possible if you have prepared well and are mentally strong.”
When you began making plans of a comeback, was Force India the obvious choice given your history with the team?
I was trying to get into several teams and had my priorities but when you are out of it for a while, it’s always difficult to come back and get a chance somewhere. Force India was the last team I was thinking of. It became interesting in October though, when Nico Hulkenberg moved to Sauber. That’s when I thought ‘why not? I don’t have hard feelings towards anyone in the team and they have always been nice and generous’. I don’t know why they took that long to arrive at the decision though. It probably shows that you are never there in F1 until you are there. It’s very nice and happy to be back at Force India. I have to thank Vijay (Mallya) to thank for giving me a second chance.
Did it, or does it still, worry you when Mallya was going through his financial problems?
I just read what came in the newspapers but I had no idea what was the truth. No one really knew what is going to happen at Force India. (But) I was sure he would manage the situation. You hear some bad news, (though) I know the team is not linked to these problems. It is independent and is a different structure. Vijay is behind it all the way. He likes the sport and won’t give up too early. We are on the right path.
You’ve driven with Paul (di Resta) before, so how does that bode for you in your comeback?
I know Paul quite well. I did two seasons with him -- one with him as test driver and the other as race driver. He is a strong driver. We don’t have any issues. Of course, everyone wants to beat each other, which is a good thing. If we push each other in the right direction it would be nice.
You impressed everyone with some stunning laps during testing. Are you happy with the car?
It’s a better car (than the one I drove before). I am quite pleased with the balance. I felt really good about the car right after I did the first lap.
The car probably needs a bit more downforce but it surely has the potential to do better than last year. I expect us (he and Paul di Resta) to be quite strong in the first two races. I have a big target. Everything has to be stepped up again. Sixth place in Constructors Championship is not good enough. Everyone is keyed up and hoping to make it work.
Would it be any different when you return to China following ‘the incident’?
I would say, everything happens for a reason. You can't change it, it just happens in life. You have to just learn from it, you have to understand that downside is another side. It just makes you stronger. I have to go there.
It's not that I don't like the country because something bad happened there. It could have happened anywhere else. I think it was a lesson and in a way I have learnt a lot of things from that. So, it’s not all bad.