Jan.7 (Force India) There might not be much happening on the track at the moment, but the Formula One world is anything but quiet in January. Along with all the other F1 teams, Sahara Force India is currently working flat out on readying its 2012 contender, the VJM05
After the Christmas and New Year break the factory in Silverstone is thus bursting with activity, and from the start of next week the focus will be on the build process of the first VJM05 – although technically the car being built is chassis 02, as 01 was involved in the FIA crash test programme in December.
“There’s always a buzz around when it’s happening,” says Technical Director Andrew Green of the new car. “I’ve been looking at the car in its model form for a while now. But for a lot of people when it comes together will be the first time they’ve seen it. It’s always an exciting time when the car fires up for the first time, and it’s been born!
“It is a busy time for us, and there’s a huge unknown as well. We don’t know how well we’ve done over the winter compared to our competitors, and thus there’s a bit of anxiety just waiting to see what everyone else comes up with. So there’s that side of it too.”
Creating a new car is not the work of the moment, and the first steps were taken in the middle of last season. Eventually the focus moved fully towards the new car, at least in terms of aerodynamic development.
“We started working on it back in June, and the first wind tunnel tests were around July. We took it out of the tunnel for one week after August just to do an upgrade for VJM04.”
Work on the new car continued through the autumn months while the VJM04 was still being raced, and the team was battling hard for sixth place in the World Championship.
Since the final race in Brazil on November 27, Andrew and everyone else in the team have been able to concentrate totally on VJM05.
“It was such a close 2011 season, fighting where we were fighting in those last few races,” he says. “We didn’t know which way it was going to go. We weren’t really anticipating such a strong response from Toro Rosso near the end of the season – they seemed to have a reasonable upgrade around Suzuka time. It’s quite unusual for a team to come up with such a huge change so late in the season. So the concentration was right until the last race in Brazil. You could say that, from that point on, it’s been 100% focus on the new car for us.”
A largely unheralded change to the rules this year is that teams have to pass all the FIA crash tests before they are allowed to go testing. In order to allow for a safety net, in case there were any issues that needed addressing, Sahara Force India ensured that all the tests were out of the way in December. That meant that items that in the past have been readied only in January had to be built and ready to test on time.
“We’re on schedule, that’s the good news! It’s been a little bit tougher this year, having to homologate the chassis prior to testing. So there was a little bit of extra planning involved to get that sorted. The chassis has been homologated since December.”
Fortunately all the tests were successfully passed: “There were a lot of fingers crossed! You’re hoping everything does what all the analysis says it should have done. It’s always nice when you reel off the tests one-by-one without any dramas at all. It’s a real credit to everybody.
“It was a different schedule, a different plan, compared to last year. Everything went to schedule, so we went into the holidays very relaxed that we’d got all that signed off. Everyone could go away and have a good break over the New Year knowing that we were ready to go!”
The good news is that by getting the tests out of the way early, the team now has time to do things that might usually be squeezed out of the January schedule, such as extensive rig testing. There will also be a more detailed approach to the initial car build than time would normally allow.
So from now on it’s all systems go until the start of the season. The good news is that everyone has been refreshed by that time off – although some have had less of a break than others.
“Most people managed to get a few days off over Christmas to recharge their batteries,” says Andrew. “It was a long season, and it’s a long season this year. The guys need time off, they need time with their families.
“But we try not to let the guys down the wind tunnel take much of a break! They keep working, as that’s where the performance of the car comes from, so we’re very conscious of not turning that tap off. We’ll do what we can to give them a break at another point in the year…”