After a successful start to the season, Force India this weekend head to Malaysia. Tonio Liuzzi has scored points for the team in the first two races, and Adrian Sutil will be hoping to get his first top ten finish of the season at Sepang.
Looking back at the Australian Grand Prix, Dr. Vijay Mallya felt the team could have done even better, and hopes that the reliability problem that ended Sutil’s race has been resolved. “I’ve always maintained that the car was competitive, particularly in race pace, and now we expect our cars to be finishing in the top 10 and in the points. Tonio drove exceptionally well and scored points but it was very disappointing about Adrian. Hopefully we’ll get to the bottom of it and make sure it doesn’t happen in the future. I’m pleased with what we got, although you always think it could have been better. So I’m looking forward to the next race where I’d dearly like to see both cars coming home in the points.”
Mallya is optimistic for Force India’s prospects in Kuala Lumpa. “I think we have every reason to be confident. The cars are clearly capable of being in the top 10. I just hope we don’t have any bad luck in terms of extraordinary events or incidents. If both cars get a good, clean race I think both should be in the points. We’re on target.”
Sutil agrees that the cars performance was good in the last race before the electrical problem ended his race. “It was obviously disappointing to retire so early on in the race [lap nine]. I started to lose power and under the circumstances retiring the car was really the only thing we could do. It was a bit frustrating as I think it could have been a good race; we were in a good position, I was keeping pace with the leaders and normally in these changeable conditions the car and the team perform well. Until that point the weekend had been quite good. Yet again we got into Q3 and I felt I could even have qualified higher, so that’s very positive. It’s showing that we’re pretty competitive across different tracks and not that far behind the big four so at this point it’s very encouraging.”
Looking ahead to Malaysia, Sutil is hoping his luck will finally change. “Malaysia is always a good event, very tough physically, but there’s a variety of corners and also some overtaking spots so it’s an event I look forward to. The weather, as we saw last year, always throws up some interesting challenges. This year we don’t have to pray for rain as we have done in the past, we can deal with the conditions whatever they are. I really want to get some points on board in this race, I’ve had two races where I should have scored, so I want to finish the job now.”
The tropical climate in Malaysia means that the drivers need special preparation. Sutil explains what he has been up to, and why. “Malaysia is such a tough event with the heat and the humidity. You can lose up to four kilos over the race so fitness and concentration is absolutely key. The night after the Australian Grand Prix I flew straight to Malaysia to acclimatise and I’ve also spent three days in Langkawi training, doing a lot of running, swimming, sea kayaking and so on, really just getting used to exercise in these type of conditions. I feel really good, very relaxed, and confident in the team and the car now so I can’t wait to get back out there.”
Teammate Tonio Liuzzi explains how his second successive points finish in Australia unfolded:” The car was getting better and better the more the track was drying up. We suffered a lot of understeer at the beginning, but the front wing adjuster was working well, and we were able to tune it a little bit more and get closer to optimum set-up during the race. The final 15 laps were quite hard because Barrichello did a two-stop strategy, and was closing the gap really fast, but I was trying to manage the rear tyres and trying to control the car behind me, and it worked out.
“I’m obviously really happy as it confirms what I said from the beginning of the year, that I am back and I am ready for big results as long as the car stays together and gives me the possibility. I had a really strong race when I came back in Monza last year, and we are scoring points now. I just want to give back as much as I can to the team because they believed in me.”
Liuzzi thinks that the big-four teams are a bit too fast for Force India to compete with at the moment, but has other teams in his sights in Sepang. “Unfortunately to match Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren’s speed is difficult for us, but the team is working really hard. For us the main competitor at the beginning seemed to be Renault, but now they’ve made a big step forward. I think it will be our main target to try to catch them in Malaysia to beat them in the championship. For sure it won’t be easy because they are a great team and they will develop. But we are working hard back at Silverstone, and working well.”
The Italian has high hopes of adding to his points tally this weekend.” I think it will be a very interesting race for us, although it will be really hot and really difficult! But the track should suit more the characteristics of our car, so I think we’ll be in an interesting position. I’ve got to work on my qualifying performance and try and get into Q3 for the first time and then, of course, keep those points coming.”
Test driver Paul di Resta made his debut in an F1 practice session last weekend, and will feature again in Malaysia. The Scotsman is the only test driver taking part in race weekends at the moment. “For sure, it’s a very unique experience to get this sort of opportunity as a test and reserve driver in F1. It was a very productive session, my first time in the dry in this car and also a new track, and there was a lot of positive and valuable running. I was nervous of course – Albert Park is a pretty fearsome circuit with the walls and bumps – but I was also looking forward to getting out there and learning the car again and helping the team. With each lap my confidence in the car grew and now, after looking through the data and speaking with the engineers, I feel I can give a bit more in Malaysia so the team can learn even more.”
Di Resta reveals how the team have been making him welcome since his arrival, and is looking forward to hitting the track again in Malaysia. “I can’t wait. The team has been very welcoming to me and has encouraged me to ask as many questions as I can and learn so they can themselves meet their own targets. The goals they have set for themselves are quite high but they are realistic and at the moment everything seems to be on schedule. It’s great for me to be part of that and I’ll be looking to give them what they need when I get in the car in FP1 in Sepang. This time I’ll be replacing Tonio so I’ll be working with him to understand what information he and the team needs. As per last time that’s more important at this stage than going for the times.”