Formula One’s shrinking grid has squeezed more than one experienced driver off it during the winter.
Unfortunately for Sutil it leaves him with the unwanted record of having started more races than any driver without scoring a podium finish. However there were several memorable moments in Sutil’s 128 starts – almost all of which he made with the same team.
Sutil graduated to F1 as the reigning Japanese Formula Three champion. He endured a difficult first year with Spyker, the team originally known as Jordan which had been taken over by Russian company Midland before being sold to the Dutch car manufacturer.
Sutil mainly toiled away in an under-developed chassis, but at the rain-hit Japanese Grand Prix he achieved the distinction of scoring the team’s only point, for eighth place.
The team had another new owner the following year: Vijay Mallya took over and rebranded Spyker as Force India. Sutil was joined by a new team mate, Giancarlo Fisichella.
It was an unsuccessful, point-less year for the team. But it could have been very different. Having started 20th on the grid in Monaco, Sutil was running an impressive fourth with less than ten laps to go. But he was rammed by Kimi Raikkonen’s out-of-control Ferrari at the chicane and forced into retirement.
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The following year Force India replaced their Ferrari engines with Mercedes and the VJM02 chassis proved a major step forward. Fisichella took pole position and almost won at Spa-Francorchamps.
Sutil enjoyed his best weekend at Monza: he put the car on the front row and finished in fourth place. He qualified in the top three in Brazil as well, but his race ended on the first lap when he tangled with a furious Jarno Trulli.
Sutil outscored new team mate Vitantonio Liuzzi by more than two to one in 2010. His season which didn’t peak as high as the year before but was notable for some more consistently impressive performances.
Another year, another new team mate – but rookie Paul di Resta pushed Sutil harder, particularly in the second half of the year.
Nonetheless Sutil was replaced by Nico Hulkenberg at the team for 2012. It was a difficult time for Sutil, who was given a suspended jail sentence following an incident with Lotus co-owner Eric Lux in a Shanghai bar.
When Hulkenberg switched to Sauber for 2013, Sutil was recalled to Force India where he was paired with Di Resta again. He enjoyed something of a dream comeback, briefly leading a race for the first time in Australia.
But the best drive of his season – perhaps his entire career – came in Monaco where he performed audacious passes on both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button to take an excellent fifth.
It was a case of deja vu at the end of the year, however, as Hulkenberg returned from Sauber and Sutil found himself out of Force India again. He ended up taking the very seat Hulkenberg had just vacated.
Sutil’s last season proved a trying affair. The Sauber C33 was overweight at the beginning of the season – so much so that Sutil drove without a water bottle at times – and though the team made progress it rarely looked like a points contender.
The United States Grand Prix promised to be an exception. Sutil achieved the team’s best qualifying performance of the year with ninth. But he was taken out on the first lap by Sergio Perez.
When Sauber decided to bring an all-new driver pairing in for the following year, and no places available elsewhere, it spelled an end for Sutil’s time in F1.
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