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Formula One is music to Sutil's ears
Alan Baldwin | February 09, 2007 14:59 IST
Fate dictated that Adrian Sutil should become a Formula One driver rather than a concert pianist.
The 24-year-old German, who makes his Grand Prix debut with Ferrari-powered Spyker in Australia next month, seemed destined for a musical career until he discovered go-karts as a teenager.
The youngster was hooked. The genius of Beethoven and Bach proved no match for the roar of engines and the rasping of exhausts.
Sutil, one of a crop of rookies whose arrival in Formula One has accelerated a generational change after the retirement of Ferrari's seven-times champion Michael Schumacher, grew up in a very different world to that of his racing peers.
His Uruguayan-born father Jorge was a violinist in the celebrated Munich Philharmonic, his German mother Monika a pianist.
"I started piano when I was four years old," the driver said at Silverstone this week. "I was very good at it. When I was 12 I had big, big concerts and I was on stage in front of a big crowd. This was my life.
"Then when I was 13, I got into karting. My brother took me to a karting circuit and I drove there and it was fate. I had the feeling that it was something I could do."
While Schumacher's talents were honed on the karting track in his boyhood home of Kerpen, Sutil sharpened his skills in Munich. And, like his illustrious compatriot, he had bags of talent but precious little money.
"Every day I went to the karting circuit, every day for more and more," he recalled.
"My parents were not so happy. At first they were really shocked. They didn't give me any money so I had to find it myself.
"I started to work and it was good. It's always better to have no support at the beginning, to fight and get what you want," added Sutil.
"I did everything. I was always completely dirty. I cleaned the karts, I cleaned the track, everything. Whatever work you can do at 13 years old to get some free tickets and just sit in those karts."
Like the young Schumacher, Sutil impressed enough people to secure the financial backing to help him move up the career ladder in a sport that has seen plenty of talents wither for lack of funding.
In 2002, in his first season in single-seater racing, he won the Formula Ford Swiss championship with 12 pole positions and 12 wins from 12 races.
By 2004 he was in the Formula Three Euroseries, driving for a team run by Colin Kolles, now his boss at Spyker.
"I think he's one of the strongest young drivers," Kolles said. "And I think that he will surprise a lot of people. He's very dedicated, very professional, very calm and he has a lot of speed."
The following year Sutil moved to ASM in the same Euroseries and finished runner-up to British team mate Lewis Hamilton, who will be making his Formula One debut with McLaren in Melbourne on March 18.
Last year, Sutil added the Japanese F3 title to his resume while also appearing as a Friday tester for Spyker at three Formula One races.
Hamilton has already said that he expects Sutil to give Dutch driver Christijan Albers, who was partnered by Portugal's Tiago Monteiro at Spyker last year, a wake-up call.
"In fact, I expect him to be quicker," he said. "He's a really good driver who taught me a lot when we were together."
Sutil also looks back on his time alongside the well-funded McLaren protege with fond memories.
"It was a great season," he recalled. "I was doing my second year in Formula Three, the first year in a really professional team and so I had to learn a lot and I could learn a lot from him [Hamilton].
"I learned so much in 2005. Now I am ready for Formula One.
"For sure he [Hamilton] had it a little bit more easy with all the McLaren support but in the end he always showed his performance. Without that he would never have achieved his goal in Formula One. He is there because he is fast.
"It's really nice to do my debut with him," added Sutil, who will be the fourth German lining up on the starting grid after Ralf Schumacher [Toyota], Nick Heidfeld [BMW Sauber] and Nico Rosberg [Williams].
While former champions McLaren wrote off last season as a failure after winning no races for the first time in a decade, Spyker finished bottom but one in the championship with no points.
Realistically, Sutil is unlikely to see much of his friend Hamilton on the track other than when his Spyker is being lapped.
"McLaren should fight for the wins I think, so I wouldn't say I will fight with Lewis in the first races," he said with a smile. "Maybe in future years."
Formula One: The Complete Coverage