On the same weekend that Fernando Alonso clinched the World Championship the Spyker team had an eye on the finale of the Japanese F3 series in Suzuka, where the man who had dominated the season was confirmed as champion -- Spyker test driver Adrian Sutil.
Adrian has been the pacesetter in the tough Japanese series all year, and has a string of wins, podiums, poles and fastest laps to his name. Clinching the crown was further evidence -- if any was necessary -- that the German youngster is a star of the future.
In a year that saw a number of newcomers make their mark in F1, Adrian made a good impression with his three Friday outings in the M16. At the Nurburgring he finished the afternoon session in 10th place, and did even better in Magny-Cours, where he was seventh. The team was looking forward to seeing what he could do at Suzuka, a track he knew from F3, but rain and then an afternoon engine failure ruined his day.
"In the rain I was doing very well," he recalls. "I felt very good in the car, and I like the rain, I'm fast normally in the rain. I was improving lap-by-lap, and in the end I was really pushing. Then in the second free practice the engine blew up. I had just gone out with new tyres, and it would have been nice to see the track in the dry."
Nevertheless, he had already made his mark, and he's keen for more. Both Adrian and Spyker are working hard to ensure that he continues with the team into 2007, as he's regarded as a great prospect.
"F1 is the best place to be as a racing driver. I love to be in the F1 paddock, and to be able to drive those cars. It was a great year, and I really want to stay in this business. I hope I can at least get a real test driver's job where I can do all the Fridays and all the test work, and after that for sure I want to race."
He's well aware that it's not easy to land a race seat, especially when there are a lot of talented drivers who are supported by major manufacturers.
"All the F1 teams look, but you can't just go to any team and say please give me a seat. It's such a big business, and it's really hard to enter in a factory team. I talked to some teams and they know about my potential, but they have so many drivers already on their lists, and they have to take them first. It's quite hard for everybody."
Adrian has come along at a time when there is a bumper crop of youngsters from his home country, notably Sebastian Vettel and Michael Ammermueller, prot?g?s of BMW and Red Bull respectively.
"It's true, there are a lot of German drivers at the moment, especially young drivers. They are all very talented, and it will be fun to see who will be the first to make it in F1."
Of course, the focus on all of them has become even more intense in the light of Michael Schumacher's retirement. Who will replace Schumi as Germany's star? All these guys grew up watching Michael, and this year enjoyed the chance to share the track with him, albeit only on Fridays.
"When I started in karting I watched my first F1 races on TV, in 1994 or 1995. So all in the F1 years I've watched, it was always Michael Schumacher who was the hero, he was winning all the time. Only for a few years, with Ferrari at the beginning, he was maybe not so successful."
"We saw him doing F1, and now we are here. Maybe not racing against him, but at least we were on the track with him! I'm a little bit sad that he's stopped, because everyone wants to race against him. For sure there will be a little hole now, but there will be another big star, another Schumacher, another great racing driver. For my part I want to race and beat everybody..."
Of course Germany isn't the only country producing new stars. The man everyone is talking about is Lewis Hamilton -- will he get the second McLaren drive or not? Last year he and Adrian were team mates in the F3 Euroseries, and Lewis was a good benchmark for the less experienced Sutil.
"It was not so easy for me because I didn't have so much experience last year. I was very fast, we were usually about the same speed, but he did really great races and I made a lot of mistakes. This year in Japan I feel I was the same as Lewis was last year, I did very good races and was very consistent. Now it would be nice to race against him again in the same car! I respect him a lot, and to beat him is still very hard. He's a nice guy, and that's why I like him so much."
"He showed everyone his potential, and I think now everybody knows what level he has. I think he's one of the best at the moment, and if he gets a seat with McLaren for sure he will do a really good job and will be very fast, so the life of Alonso won't be easy!"
Will Adrian get the chance to race against Lewis again, even if it's not in the same car? Let's hope so...