|© Force India
As Adrian Sutil found himself leading his higher-profile rivals for extended periods during the Australian Grand Prix, the Force India driver dared to picture himself on his first-ever Formula 1 podium.
"I was in P1 after quite a few laps into the race and I knew it was going to be difficult to be on the podium, but I was believing just to make the best of my situation," Sutil said Sunday after a season-opening race in which he worried several top drivers and provided a boost for a Force India team whose owners are facing financial concerns.
Starting outside the top ten on the grid gave Sutil the chance to start the race on medium-compound tyres while those ahead had supersofts. That meant he stayed out while they came into the pits, putting him in the lead on lap 14 and staying there for six laps.
He retook the lead in the same circumstances on lap 39 of 58 and held it for four laps before being overtaken by race winner Kimi Raikkonen.
After pitting on lap 46, he switched to the supersofts and struggled in the closing stages, fading to seventh. He finished a place ahead of teammate Paul di Resta, giving Force India ten points and a share of fourth place of the constructors' championship.
"To be in P1 for the first time is an unbelievable feeling," he said. "This car is not a Ferrari, it's not a Mercedes and it's not a Red Bull.
"We are a smaller team and that was our race. ... Of course we struggled a bit in the end with the supersoft, but nevertheless, a great day."
What made Sutil's performance all the more remarkable is that it was his first after a year out of F1. He lost his place with the team after being convicted of grievous bodily harm for an assault upon Lotus co-owner Eric Lux at a Shanghai nightclub following the 2011 Chinese Grand Prix.
"It was good for me to see I'm still fast," he said. "It's been three weeks that I'm a Formula 1 driver again. This is what I was hoping for, that's why I came back, but you never expect to be in first position after ten or 15 laps in your first race after a break."
While acknowledged as one of the quicker teams in winter testing, Force India's on-track achievements have been overshadowed by financial troubles for co-owners Vijay Mallya and co-owner Roy Sahara.
Sutil said the car's competitiveness at Albert Park on Sunday should return the focus of the team and its critics to racing.
"For everyone in the team it was good to see and important to see," he said of the car's pace and competitiveness. "And to wake up and let them know what we're here for.
"We want be in front and you never know what's going to happen and you never know if there's an opportunity, but you need to be ready for it."