On the night of April 17, 2011, just a few hours after the Chinese Grand Prix, Adrian Sutil joined many others at a celebratory party in a Shanghai nightclub.
His friend Briton Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, had won the race for McLaren. The celebrants ordered champagne and the mood was festive.
Festive, that is, until an incident in which the German-born racing driver was subsequently ruled to have used a champagne glass to inflict grievous bodily harm on Luxembourg entrepreneur Eric Lux, the chief executive of Genii Capital.
It turned into a disastrous night for Sutil who, despite fighting the charges against him, was later fined 200,000 Euros by a court in Munich, Germany, and given a suspended prison sentence.
Though he raced on for Force India throughout 2011, he was out for 2012 – a sporting pariah, even if many felt he was treated unfairly and over-harshly. His prospects for re-employment looked bleak.
But this weekend, he is back and preparing to line up on the grid in a Force India car again to start his 91st Formula One race in Sunday’s Rolex Australian Grand Prix.
For Sutil, it will be an emotional day of confirmation that he has completed an extraordinary comeback, a feat that seemed unlikely only a few weeks ago when the team seemed poised to offer their reserve driver Frenchman Jules Bianchi a race seat alongside Briton Paul Di Resta.
In the end, they chose Sutil and Bianchi landed a seat with Marussia. Sutil, older and wiser, was delighted, but remained calm. He is relishing the opportunity, as he confirmed when he met reporters in the Albert Park paddock on Friday.
“I don't know why Force India took that long to arrive at the decision. It probably shows that you are never there in F1 until you are there,” he explained.
The question was answered easily by Force India’s team chief Vijay Mallya. “We thought long and hard about the decision, “ he said.
“And I'm sure we have made the right choice. Adrian is very quick and has a great history with the team - he has been with us from the very start and is truly part of the family.”
Sutil said his year’s absence from the sport had given him time to reflect on his life and do different things.
"It was good to be away,” he said. “I got to spend time with my family and my girlfriend. Working on TV was a lot of fun too -- but nothing compared to racing.”
Now 30, he said this week that he has moved on from that incident and its repercussions. He has eyes only for his job and his future in Formula One.
His speed in testing in Spain impressed most observers and left the team convinced that he, in tandem with Di Resta, can repeat or improve on their sixth place finish in the constructors’ championship in 2011.
“There is no reason why we can't have a similar result to that one this year," said Mallya who stressed that it was Sutil’s speed, and not a sense of loyalty, that had earned him his second chance.