One hour before qualifying Williams told their reserve driver Paul di Resta to suit up and boot up because he was substituting for unwell Felipe Massa.
The Scot, who also commentates for Sky, had not raced in Formula 1 since Brazil in 2013, he had also never driven the new generation Williams and the cockpit – built and equipped for Massa – would be foreign to him.
Nevertheless Di Resta seized the moment and impressed by not only qualifying 19th (not last!) in the 45 km or 15 minutes of track time at his disposal, but he was also well within the 107% qualifying rule and not far off his teammate Lance Stroll in the sister car.
Speaking after his unexpected return to Formula 1, Di Resta said, “It’s weird I was ironing my shirt at 10:55am, talking about what we were going to talk about in the [Sky F1] pre-show.
“I’m not going to lie, I was scared, nervous, anxious. I’ve not driven one of these cars for three-and-a-half years, apart from 10 laps I did in a 2014 car, and then you get thrown into qualifying which is the deepest of all deep ends – it’s like jumping off a cliff and seeing how you fight for survival.”
“Honestly I felt quite comfortable quite quickly. As soon as I let go of the pit limiter it was kind of there and I was improving by half a second a lap. There is still plenty of potential there.”
“These cars are top of their game and it’s like being back at home driving the best balanced car you’ve ever driven. The team prepared me as best as they could. It was absolutely unreal.”
“I was very safe in the high speed and a bit safe on exit. I could have stepped on the loud pedal a bit quicker but the pedal stroke is so much longer than I’m used to and there are an extra two gears to downshift. It’s about getting your bearings again.”
Notably Di Resta’s Q1 time was just seven tenths slower than Stroll’s best in the same session, but quicker than Massa had managed in the three free practice sessions.
Now the former Force India driver is thinking ahead to his 59th grand prix on Sunday, “I go in with no pressure. You want to be going forwards, I’ve got a rate of development and to see how my fitness is over 70 laps around here in the heat.”
“The 2017 car didn’t surprise me. I was expecting it to be a bit quicker than I was. The race is a different story. I don’t know where the tyres are and I’ve never driven the car on high fuel so that will be another shock into Turn One.”
“I would say Hungary is top of my list for the hardest grand prix I’ve done, one of them in 2012. I started my summer holiday a little earlier than I should have, expecting everything to be OK this weekend, but you prepare the best you can’t get the G force. You need to relax within your body so you’re not tense. It’s just about seat time.
“I got into a reasonable rhythm but I was a bit too early on the brakes. I’ve got to get my head around the steering wheel and the formation lap,” added di Resta.
Team chief Paddy Lowe summed up, “Paul has been our Reserve Driver for a year and a half, and he probably realistically never expected to get called up. However, he was ready to go the moment we took the decision.”
“It was very brave of him to go out for his first time in the 2017 generation of F1 cars, along with the new tyres and aero package, to be thrown straight into a competitive session. He’s got to be my driver of the day to achieve what he did today.”
“He only got to do four timed laps, so that’s a terrific job when unfortunately the car is not as competitive around this track as it really ought to be,” added Lowe.
Big Question: How do you rate Paul’s performance?