2011 Season: Force India preview

(L to R): Paul di Resta (GBR) Force India F1 with Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India F1. Formula One Testing, Day 1, Jerez, Spain,  Thursday 10 February 2011.

Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil

What they say: 

Mar.19 (Force India) 2011 marks the fourth year of competition in the FIA Formula 1T World Championship for Force India. After its strongest Constructors’ Championship finish to date, the team is hoping to better the 68 points it achieved to secure seventh place in the series last year. The team’s solid 2010 performance saw it secure 15 points scoring finishes, nine Q3 slots and three double top ten finishes – establishing Force India as a consistently competitive outfit, regularly challenging for points and podiums.

With over 5,500km covered during the pre-season testing, the squad is now looking forward to the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Albert Park, Melbourne, next week.

Team Q&A
Dr Vijay Mallya, chairman and team principal
2010 was a remarkable year for Force India, how did you feel after the season?
2010 was an exceptional year for the team, 68 points overall, seventh in the championship with only teams who had previously won world titles ahead of us, which demonstrated we are still on target to achieve our goals. And this year there is even more to be optimistic about.

What are your thoughts looking forward to 2011?
We have an experienced technical team that have the ingenuity, flexibility and drive to adapt to the new wave of rule changes, and we also have the tools and resources in our partnerships with McLaren Applied Technologies and Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines to aim even higher. Andrew Green, our new technical director, is responsible for the VJM04 and it has shown some promising signs during pre-season testing.
Are you confident that you have a strong driver line-up in Adrian, Paul and Nico?
We have race drivers who are hungry to take the next steps in their careers, whether that be points, podiums or wins. Paul proved his mettle in DTM and for the team last year, making valuable contribution to the development of the VJM04 with his simulation work. Nico (Hülkenberg) joins as test and reserve driver having taken pole position in Brazil in his rookie season in 2010 and we are glad to start our long-term relationship together. Adrian scored 47 points for the team last year and finished just outside the top ten. He is one of the most consistent young drivers and we are very pleased that he is with us for a fifth consecutive race season.

Driver Q&A
Adrian Sutil (car 14, VJM04/04)
Adrian, how was the VJM04 during winter testing?
We did a lot of testing in general and a good deal of tyre work as this is the most important element for us to understand. We have a reliable car, which is positive, and this will help us during the first few races. But we still need to look for more speed and we require a little more time to understand the developments and aero side of the car. The first few races may be a little tough in that respect, but for sure we shall pick up our race pace soon.

How do you think the new regulations will affect the racing this year?
I think the new rules are quite interesting. They are challenging for a driver as you have to concentrate even more to press quite a few buttons during qualifying and the race. I like it though, and have been able to handle the changes quite well. The new regulations make more power available so that the car can go faster, especially on the straights, which is always a good thing. Overtaking should be easier and there will probably be more pitstops, so we are in for some exciting races.
Looking forward to Australia, what are your expectations?
I hope that I will be able to finish the race as last year the gearbox let us down. It is always a good feeling to finish the first race, as you then know that the season has really started. It was a crazy race in Australia last year when the rain came in; I think only ten cars made it to finish. This is also why I think it is so important to finish the race in Melbourne – there are usually points to be won if you see the chequered flag.

Paul Di Resta (car 15, VJM04/02)
Paul, what are your feelings ahead of Australia?
I am very excited obviously, but it is a strange feeling as the first race was cancelled and everything was prepared for that. But the last few weeks have been pretty seamless and I am fully prepared for the race in Australia. I enjoyed the track last year and Melbourne is a great city.

How have you prepared?
The winter was a continuation of last year; I have been fully focussed on fitness and working with the team. I started working on this year’s car on the simulator last year and this prepped me in the best way possible for the coming races. I have also been getting some personal things in my life in order too. With so much time taken up by travelling this year and all my concentration being focussed on the races, it was important to spend as much time with family and friends as possible over the winter.

What are your expectations for your first F1 race?
I am open minded and will be concentrating on performance, getting the best out of the car on the Friday and Saturday to see what areas we need to improve as a team for the race. As for my personal expectations I am going to be realistic and gauge how it goes over the weekend and focus on the job in hand.

Nico Hülkenberg, test and reserve driver
Nico, as the team’s test and reserve driver, how was winter testing for you overall?
It was a pleasure being back in a F1 car and it was a very special feeling when I was sitting in a Force India for the very first time. Although I was only driving on two days, it helped me a lot to get to know both the team and our car.

How have you been preparing for the task ahead at F1 races?
Physical fitness is important, so of course I did some training nearly every day to be in a good shape. Plus, I have joined many briefings with the engineers and the other drivers during the tests and tried to help as much as possible.

What are your feelings heading to Australia?
I am very excited like probably everyone in F1. It is nearly impossible to predict how competitive we are and as well how competitive our adversaries are. It’s very close, especially in the midfield. But I hope that the team will have a good start and I am especially looking forward to Free Practice 1, when I will be sitting in the car again.

vv What we say: 

Mar.19 (Daniel Chalmers)
Race Debut: Australia 2008
Base: Silverstone
Team Principal: Dr Vijay Mallya
Technical Director: Andrew Green
Team Director: Bob Fernley
Team Manager: Andy Stevenson
Race starts: 54
Championships: 0
Race victories: 0
Pole Positions: 1
Fastest laps: 1
Points: 81
Podiums: 1
Races led: 1

Strength: Two hungry and very quick drivers

Weakness: Team have lost some talent on the technical side in the last 12 months which could hold them back.

Force India has made great progress over the last few seasons, but the question is whether they can keep up this rate of progress.

Points wise 2010 was their best ever season scoring in 12 out of the 19 races. Agonizingly they finished just one point behind Williams in seventh position.

However it has to be said that the team scored the majority of their points in the first half of the season. In the second half of the season they slipped back, and appeared to be stalling.

A big problem for the team is that they have been changes in the technical department. The team have lost both Mark Smith and James Key, two very talented engineers who had a major impact on the team’s recent improvements.

The name in charge of the VJM04 is Andrew Green. Whether he can replicate the success enjoyed by his predecessors remains to be seen.

One positive at least, is that the team have retained their technical collaboration with the McLaren who supplies the team’s gearbox and hydraulics.

The team still have the pace setting Mercedes engine, and perhaps more importantly will be using the Mercedes KERs system. That could turn out to be golden nugget for them, and give them a key advantage on their rivals around them.

Despite this the pressure is really on Force India to produce a good car due to the progress of teams around them. Sauber now have investment from the world’s richest man. Williams are at the start of a new era and have built a very aggressive car. Toro Rosso is in their second year as a full works constructor and will be stronger as a result.

The risk Force India face is that they don’t keep up, and therefore fall to the back of the midfield and into the clutches of the likes of Team Lotus.

When you look at the car you certainly don’t sense a significant improvement. The VJM04 looks very much like last year’s car without many visible differences. It doesn’t look like the step forward we have seen from their nearest rivals.

Last season the team were quickest at high speed circuits. However these days there aren’t many high speed circuits on the calendar. The team would enjoy consistently better results if the VJM04 was more effective in slow corners than previous challengers.

You start to wonder if Force India has now started to reach their peak. It’s probable that major investment is needed to take the team to the next level.

Team ratings:

Engine: 10
Drivers: 6.5
Aerodynamics: 5
Mechanical grip: 5
Reliability: 7
Pit Wall: 7
Rating: 40.5/10

Verdict: Force India really want fifth place in the constructors championship. However I feel that they are more likely to slip back than move forward. Their main rivals have really upped their game over the winter, and made much bigger strides forward.

Constructor’s championship prediction: 9th

Compiled by Daniel Chalmers