Force India are in a ‘buoyant mood’ as they prepare for this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, after Tonio Liuzzi collected two points in Bahrain and Adrian Sutil set the second fastest lap of the race.
The team are introducing new aero developments in Melbourne and are optimistic for a strong showing. Reserve driver Paul di Resta will replace Adrian Sutil in Free Practice 1 on Friday as he aims to get more track time in the VJ03.
Dr Vijay Mallya, the team owner, was pleased that Force India were ‘best of the rest’ in Bahrain, finishing just behind the four pacesetting teams in the race. “It’s what our objective was over the winter. We set ourselves an internal objective of finishing fifth in the World Championship. I know there’s a long way to go, but it’s a right start. We’ve got a solid car to start with, and we’ve got a good base, and now it’s about the development rate for the rest of the year.
“It was fantastic for Tonio to have scored points for the first time since 2007. Adrian’s second fastest lap means there’s also some good for him to take out of the race too. I think we all acknowledge that last year our progress was sporadic – on some tracks we were very quick, on others not so good – so to come out this strongly is a really good step forward. With the new upgrades we have in the pipeline for Australia I can say with every faith that we can carry the momentum forward.”
The team principal also had praise for his reserve driver. “Paul is a very good driver and has a lot of potential. But as a third driver the question is how he can use this potential if there’s no testing in-season. This is a good solution all round, he can learn the car and the tracks in real time and therefore spend his simulator time helping to develop the car, which will be of real benefit to us. The race drivers are very supportive of the move – they’ve all been young drivers one time!”
Mallya said that interest in Formula 1 was growing in his home country. “Formula One is growing by leaps and bounds in India. Firstly they have an Indian team and now, in the form of Karun Chandhok, they have an Indian driver. The fans now have genuine interest to hold on to. Sure, people were aware of the big legends of the sport – Ferrari, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton – but for them to have tangible, identifiable properties is the difference between a minority sport and national interest.
“With the Indian Grand Prix now looking very promising it’s really building – you’ve got these heroes and now you can go and watch them too. You can see the interest growing day by day, on our social networking site we’ve got more than one million followers.”
Despite not scoring points in Bahrain, Adrian Sutil is still pleased with his performance in the Gulf earlier this month. “I think it was a very good start to the season. We were very competitive in free practice, I was quickest in FP1, and then again in qualifying where both Tonio and myself were in the top 12. Last year we didn’t get through to Q2 in Bahrain so to come out and be in the top 12 is really positive. Everything went well until the start of the race for me and then I dropped back down the field but from the team perspective at least one car got into the points. But now we want to go even higher in Australia. I think there is still potential to improve everything and get close to the top five or six.”
Sutil said that Albert Park was a great circuit, and is looking forward to this weekend’s race. “It’s one of my favourites. It’s quite a nice street circuit with a few run off areas through a park so it’s very beautiful. But it’s also very challenging with a lot of quick corners and a few slow speed corners so altogether it’s a great circuit to race on. I also have a lot of history there – I made my race debut for Spyker at the track in 2007, it was where Force India made their race debut the next year and then last year I was ninth. If we can get that position again this year that’s two points! We’ve got to aim for this or higher – I’m pretty happy with where we were in qualifying and how we performed in the Bahrain race so we’ve got a lot of reasons to look forward to Australia now.”
Tonio Liuzzi said that ninth place in Bahrain was a great result, and thinks there is more to come from the team in Australia. “Overall the whole weekend was positive. We learned a lot about the tyres and how they perform in the warm temperatures and also how far we can push the fuel in the race. I was a bit disappointed with qualifying in that we never got a clear lap, but the race was encouraging and was a great result for the team and myself. The team has worked so hard over the winter to find improvements and never gave up pushing so to get two points in the first race is fantastic. They are a team that is focussed, knows what they are doing and how to get there so they really deserve it to have good results on a regular basis. This is just the start.”
The Italian is hopeful that new upgrades the team will be using this weekend will bring Force India closer to the front-running teams. “We have some new developments on the front and rear wing. I’m pretty hopeful it will be a step forward as every upgrade we made last year was positive, so the correlation from the wind tunnel seems to be working well. Of course you never know what the others are bringing but I would hope this would move us a little closer to the teams in front. My target would be to get into Q3 this time out and then, of course, get into the points again.”
Paul di Resta is also looking forward to Australia, and in particular his first chance to participate in an F1 practice session. “I am excited, for sure. Given the pace of the car in Bahrain it’s a great opportunity for me at this stage. I’ve never been to Melbourne but I’ll walk the track with the engineers on the Wednesday ahead of the race and work with them to be able to do some useful work during the session. At the end of the day I’m not going to come out and try and set fastest times – it’s about feeding my information back into the race schedule, helping the team and learning as much as I can. If I set a good time, great, but we need to approach this as a team as well and work through our programme.”
The latest addition to Force India’s driver line-up said that his time in Bahrain had been very interesting. “Bahrain was a genuinely interesting experience. I’ve been to F1 races before but always as an observer, I’ve never been so involved in a team. A lot of the time was spent attending meetings, speaking with the engineers and learning how the team functions over a race meeting.
“It’s a professional team and I’ve learnt a lot about how to approach the car, deal with the systems and the procedures and also what the team needs from me in terms of feedback and support. They’ve made me very welcome and I’m looking forward to putting it all into practice when I get my chance in Australia.”