After seven years behind the wheels of a Formula 1 car, Adrian Sutil is out of drive for next season, with cash strapped Sauber team ditching the German for this year’s GP2 runner up Felipe Nasr and Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson.
The 31 year old arrived in F1 after a successful career in juniour categories. In 2005, he finished runners up to future double F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton in Euroseries F3, in a field comprising of Paul di Resta, Sebastian Vettel and Loic Duval(Audi factory driver in WEC). The following year, he won the Japanese F3 series, earning himself a drive with Spyker.
While his old friend Lewis Hamilton made his Formula 1 debut at the sharp end of the grid with McLaren and was straight away fighting for the championship, Sutil was subsided from the title fight on the other end of the grid. He outdrove the slowest car on the grid to a eighth place result at Fuji - earning his team’s only point in the process.
In 2008, Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya bought Spyker and renamed it as Force India, injecting millions into the teams and turning it into a midfielder. As the team improved year after year, so did Sutil’s results with the German now managing regular points finishes.
There were some missed opportunities too, particularly during the second half of the 2009 season when the VJM02 excelled at low-downforce tracks. At Monza, he took fourth at the chequered flag, half-a-second away from the final podium spot, despite starting from second on the grid.
Later that year, he qualified his Force India in third place at the penultimate round of the season in Brazil, only for Jarno Trulli to end his chances of scoring his maiden podium.
At this year’s US Grand Prix, Sutil was hoping to pull Sauber ahead of Marussia in the constructors standings having taken the C33 to Q3 for the first time. However, such hopes were dashed after a first lap collision with Sergio Perez in which the German was completely blameless.
While the above career highlights may be indicative of a driver with plenty of potential, one must look at his downsides - both on and off the track.
At a Chinese bar in 2012, Sutil was involved in an infamous incident with Lotus owner Eric Lux, for which the latter subsequently filed a case for ‘grievous bodily harm’. The court deemed the German guilty of the incident and handed him an eighteen months suspended ban on top of a €200,000 fine.
After a one year sabbatical, he returned to Formula 1 in 2013 and saw himself outraced by teammate Paul di Resta, 29-48 points. On Saturdays too, the Scotsman had the edge over him.
But what did the damage was his current season with Sauber where he failed to overshadow Esteban Gutierrez who was just in his second season in Formula 1. Instead of leading the team through a difficult time, he was mostly neck and neck with the Mexican.
While it is clear that he was driving one of the worst cars in the field, there were still a handful of opportunities to score points and beat Marussia in the constructors table. He may well rue his Monaco outing where he was running in the top 10 before crashing spectacularly at the Nouvelle chicane.
One has to ponder why this talented driver faded, particularly in the last two years. What is clear is that he had the speed, but he couldn’t deliver the results on a consistent basis. Consequently, plans to race for a top team(he was rumoured with a Ferrari seat) never materialised. With only under-administration teams Caterham and Marussia yet to reveal their driver line up - whose presence on the Melbourne grid is very much in doubt - Sutil might well not be seen in an F1 paddock in the future.
However, it would be interesting to see how he fares in other categories. Can he emulate Sebastien Buemi who recently won the WEC title after being ousted by Red Bull for not being a championship material? Or will he be forgotten from the motorsport scene with more average results? Only time will tell.