They are former team-mates and title rivals. In the same way that Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were engaged in a close-fought contest for this year's Formula One championship, back in 2006, Vettel and his then team-mate Paul di Resta were slugging it out for the Formula 3 Euro Series title. On that occasion, it was the Scotsman who came out on top.
Four years later, Vettel has become the youngest ever Formula One champion and di Resta is the new DTM title holder. As freshly crowned DTM champion, di Resta now has another target in sight – entry into Formula One where he relishes the idea of resuming his rivalry with Vettel.
There is currently no shortage of vacant cockpits – according to the official FIA starter list for the 2011 season, there are still ten seats up for grabs. Di Resta's best prospects are probably with Force India where he has already had an impressive season as test and reserve driver. Autoblog UK buttonholed the Scottish driver after his DTM title win in Shanghai and asked him about his career to date plus his plans for the future.
Our congratulations on winning the DTM title, Mr di Resta. Have you already got used to being addressed as World Champion?
What was your week like after winning the title in Shanghai? And were you celebrating on the long flight home or catching up on your sleep?
Paul di Resta: We certainly had a big party in Shanghai. And in the plane, we divided our time between celebrating and getting a bit of shut-eye. So on this occasion, it was quite good to have a long flight back.
How would you sum up your season?
Paul di Resta: It was good, though obviously a bit long. It was exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. The key thing was to stay motivated and focused on my objective – winning the DTM title. It was a great year for Mercedes. The work that went into preparing the car was phenomenal, and we won nine out of the eleven races on the calendar. I'm very grateful for having been given such a competitive car to drive.
What would you say was the turning point – your first win of the season at Brands Hatch?
Paul di Resta: No, I think that my second-place finish at the Nürburgring was the real turning point on the way to the title.
In the German Touring Car Masters, consistency is crucial. In two races, you finished completely outside the points, but then, from the race at the EuroSpeedway onwards, you never finished lower than first or second. So in fact, it's not just about being consistent but consistently being at the front, isn't it?
Paul di Resta: Absolutely. It was very important to be consistently up with the front-runners. And please bear in mind that the only two non-scoring races this season were not my fault – at the Norisring, I was hit by Alexandre Premat, and at Adria, by Mike Rockenfeller. Otherwise, I feel I would have been up on the podium those two times as well.
In the 2006 season, you were battling it out with Sebastian Vettel for the Formula 3 Euro Series title. Four years later, you are DTM champion and he is Formula One World Champion. How important has Formula 3 been for you in your career?
Paul di Resta: My time at ASM Mercedes in the Formula 3 Euro Series was a very important phase in my career. The team applied the finishing touch to my driving skills, and they worked hard to ensure that we achieved our shared goals. We were already working on a highly professional basis together, which gave me an idea of what I could expect in the coming years. Sebastian and I have had some ding-dong encounters, and I hope and feel sure that we can continue this in the Formula One arena.
What is the most important lesson that a young racing driver learns in the Formula 3 Euro Series?
Paul di Resta: Everything is important – driving a formula racing car, working with the engineers... You can't just pick out a single aspect; you have to look at the whole picture.
By winning the DTM title, you've made a dream come true. So would you say that Formula One is your next dream?
Paul di Resta: Absolutely, yes. As a young racing driver you always have the top stars as your role models. In my childhood, Ayrton Senna was one of my heroes, but there were also other big names such as Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso. I've always tried to learn from their successes and achievements, and to put what I've learnt into practice so that I could maybe even beat some of them on the track one day.
What is the better route for an ambitious young driver – entering Formula One via a midfield team, like Sebastian Vettel who started out at Toro Rosso, or launching your career with a top team, which is what Lewis Hamilton did at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes?
Paul di Resta: It depends on your career to date and it's different for every driver. A lot depends on the opportunities that present themselves over time; in this situation, you can't afford to be too picky.
As the official test and reserve driver for Force India Mercedes this year, you must have learnt a lot. Do you feel ready to compete in races?
Paul di Resta: Absolutely. I've become more mature over time and have learnt a lot about F1. Together with Mercedes and Force India, I feel that I've done my job well. That's why I'm confident that I will master the challenges ahead.
How much does being a successful DTM driver help in driving a Formula One car?
Paul di Resta: Of course there are similarities. It's difficult to express in words, though, because Formula One and DTM confront you with two different sets of tasks. But the technology that goes into the car is similar in both cases. DTM is often referred to as 'Formula One with a roof'. Obviously, it's not that straightforward, but both series are the best of their kind: a DTM car is the best touring car in the world, and a Formula One car is the best single-seater racer on the planet. It's fun to drive both, but of course, Formula One is special, because we all ultimately aspire to drive in that series.
What are your plans for winter?
Paul di Resta: I'll recharge my batteries, work on my fitness and savour the success of this past season. Because I did so much travelling, I have some catching up to do – and of course, I'm aiming to get a contract signed to drive in next year's Formula One.