Paul Di Resta: “Otherwise, it would have been Game Over, and I would never have got where I am today”
Paul Di Resta really knows how to live life in the fast lane – first time in a kart at the age of three, DTM champion at 24, start in Formula 1 at 25. We present the man behind the racing driver in a three-part interview. Part 1: Paul talks about...
- ... his love of motor sport: “For me there was nothing nicer than to come home from school, go to the garage and play with my kart.”
- ... his time at school: “I hated school, to be honest. I didn’t like it one bit.”
- ... his father’s support: “Father-son relationships in sport sometimes never work out, but we managed it.”
Paul, how did you first come into contact with motor racing?
Paul Di Resta: My dad used to compete in kart and Formula Ford races when I was young, so you could say, I kind of grew up at the racetrack and there was never really any question about whether I wanted to race, just how quickly I would take it up. We’ve got some videos of me starting to drive a kart aged three. I contested my first race when I was eight. My dad stopped competing after my first race weekend. I think he saw my potential and had more fun watching me than driving himself. That’s why he focused all his attention on me. It was a family affair, and for me, there was nothing nicer than to come home from school, go to the garage and play with my kart. I’ve always been interested in things like remote-controlled cars, in anything with a motor. I had one or two crashes when I was young, because I did things I shouldn’t have done... (laughs)
What was it like, growing up in Scotland?
Paul Di Resta: It wasn’t easy, because I always had to travel long distances to get to races, but to be quite honest, the quality of life was very good. It was safe, and people were very friendly. Yes, it might rain a lot, but the air is clean and fresh. The countryside is beautiful and unspoilt. Life there was very good.
How did you get on at school?
Paul Di Resta: I hated school to be honest. I didn’t like it one bit. It was also quite tricky for me because I was always competing in races. Of course, I had mates at school, but I wouldn’t say they were really close friendships. I’ve not kept in touch with any of my school friends. I just wanted to go karting. Most of my buddies were at the racetrack. It’s where I spent most of my weekends. I was forever travelling all over the place and had to catch up with homework.
Your dad had a nightclub. That must have been really great. Did all your mates want to go there with you?
Paul Di Resta: That’s something else that I grew up with. It was a big part of our lives. My dad also used to sell cars when I was growing up, but the nightclub was his main occupation. As I got older, I perhaps found it a bit strange that everyone at school said that they couldn’t wait to be old enough to get into the local nightclub. Everyone wanted to go there. I never tried to get in through the backdoor or anything, but when I was old enough, sure, I used to go there with all the people from school.
Was it difficult to follow a career in motor racing?
Paul Di Resta: It was tough, but luckily, my dad could do everything himself. We couldn’t afford a racing team, so we were always a one-man band. When we arrived at the track, my dad was the mechanic and used to do everything himself. Well, yes, a specialist mechanic would set up the engine, but apart from that, my dad used to look after the technical side of things. It was a hard school. We didn’t simply pay a team a load of money to buy the best equipment. We had to make do with what we had. That’s how it was until I was 16 when, fortunately, we had some money to finance my first two years in Formula Renault. After that, I became a Mercedes Junior and that made all the difference. Otherwise it would have been ‘Game Over’ and I would never have got where I am today. Things just came together, but my dad gave me everything he possibly could, and luckily, I was discovered at the right moment. That was when I was on the Formula 3 programme and got a test drive after winning the McLaren Autosport Award. There were only seven laps, but they were the most crucial of my career. I was meant to go back out, but Gary (Paffett) had totalled the car. This test was very important. It’s how our journey together began. I competed in Formula 3 for two years after that and then switched directly to the DTM.
Would you say that your dad gave you the most support during your career?
Paul Di Resta: Absolutely. There’s no doubt about that. It’s unusual for a father to be able to take you so far. He’s helped me a lot in life as well as in motor sport. I was just lucky that he was able to do so, otherwise, we would never have got this far. Sometimes, father-son relationships don’t work in sport, but we managed it. I knew I could believe everything he told me, and vice versa, he had to believe what I told him. To be honest, my time in kart racing was one of the best in my life. It was nothing sophisticated, and yet, we were very successful. It was a lot of fun.