Barcelona takes centre stage for round 5 of the 2010 F1 World Championship this season, and Force India are expecting a step forward in performance as their development programme begins to bear fruit.
The team failed to score points for the first time this season in China, but hope that upgrades will return them more top-ten finishes.
Team principal, Dr. Vijay Mallya, has praised his team’s hard work so far this season and expects the new updates to give them ‘an edge’ over their rivals as racing resumes in Barcelona.
Last time out in China, Adrian Sutil narrowly missed out on points, finishing eleventh. During the wet race, the German had some battles with Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, and Sebastian Vettel, but teammate Tonio Liuzzi had a weekend to forget, failing to make it out of Q1 on the Saturday and crashing out on the first lap of the race.
Reflecting on the team’s efforts in Shanghai, Vijay Mallya isn’t overly disappointed: “Ultimately we didn’t achieve all our aims, but I don’t think we should be so critical with ourselves, there were lots of good points as well.” Referring to Liuzzi’s disastrous weekend, Mallya thinks the Italian will bounce back this weekend. “[He had a] frustrating weekend but he has drawn a line under it, and is now very positive about Spain. All his bad luck came in one weekend – let’s move onto the next round, a track we know well from winter testing. I know what we have coming for the next few races and how determined everyone is to get points at each and every race.”
Every team on the grid will be bringing major performance upgrades with them to the next race, but Mallya thinks that the rate of Force India’s development will be greater than their rivals. “The simulations we’ve been doing back in the factory are very positive and I’m sure we will be able to maintain the form we have shown before and maybe even move further up the field. The other teams are not sleeping I am sure, and we’ll see how much everyone has moved forward in Barcelona, but based on the way the team is working together at the factory and wind tunnel and then the superb implementation we see at the track I think we’ll have an edge.”
May will be a busy month for the F1 teams, Barcelona is followed a week later by Monaco, and the Turkish Grand Prix is on the last weekend of the month. Adrian Sutil, however, is pleased to be returning to his home continent after the opening four fly-away races. “It’s always a nice feeling to get back to Europe. It’s been a hard start to the year with the four flyaway races … but Spain is always a great place to open the European season. We know it well from the winter testing programme but it’s still a challenge with the mix of high speed and technical corners. I quite like it and am looking forward to scoring points there for the first time in my career.”
Sutil shares his boss’ optimism for the upgrades he will have on his car in Barcelona. “We have some aerodynamic improvements all over the car, with refinements to the front wing and bargeboard area, plus some mechanical changes aimed at improving lower speed corner performance.
“I think this will put us in quite good shape for Spain and see us maintaining our position. Of course you don’t know what the others are doing but the development race is so tight now, everybody is at a point where it’s hard to find every single tenth.”
It is a measure of how far the team have progressed that they were disappointed to leave China empty-handed. “We’ve looked very competitive in the first four races and I don’t see why that should change,” says Sutil. “The feeling in the team is positive, we’ve got a good plan, I feel very confident and comfortable in where we are and where we are going. Q3 and points is now the normal aim for us and we’re disappointed if we don’t get them.”
Liuzzi had nothing much to shout about after his weekend in China. “It was frustrating,” he says, “the worst weekend we have had since the beginning of the season. But you always hope that the bad luck comes in one go and then it doesn’t come again.”
The Italian blamed traffic for his failure to make it out of Q1 on the Saturday, and was always facing a difficult race starting from 18th. “During the formation lap I couldn’t get much heat into [the brakes], then on the damp track I made a mistake in corner six. When I touched the brakes it just locked the rear and basically we lost the car. That was the end of it, which was a real shame as we had a really good start, overtaking about three cars and everything was going to plan, but I underestimated that the brakes were not exactly at temperature. So it was the end of a really difficult weekend, but we haven’t lost faith in our potential: we know from the first rounds we have a good pace.”
Liuzzi is looking forward to returning to the track where the team conducted their final pre-season test in February. “Every race has its own story and in China everything went wrong, but we always thought we could be very strong for the Barcelona race. In the final winter test we had a good pace, I like the track and the car seems to fit the track characteristics well now. For me personally, I have turned the page after China and am really looking forward to the European season where I want to get back into the points at each round.”
“All the other teams are bringing their own updates so we need to keep pushing to maintain our position. Our aero department is doing a great job as at every race we have more and more developments, which keeps our heads high and makes us positive. Each step is a good update that helps to rebalance our car in the few weaker areas we have. I think we are in good shape now and we need to get the most out of it and continue scoring points.”
Hovering on the sidelines, hoping one day to challenge the established race drivers for their seats, is Scottish rookie Paul di Resta, who has been replacing one of main drivers for the first practice session at each of the last three events. “It’s getting easier when I get back into the car for a second time as you already know the characteristics and also how to work with that particular set of mechanics and engineers. Having that good baseline and continuity has really helped me understand what needs to happen with tyres and set up.
“We had difficult conditions in China, it was very cold and with the very hard compound of tyre it was difficult to get any sort of temperatures into them. It really opened my eyes about how this warm up process is critical. It’s all part of the learning curve, which is exactly what I am here to do.”
Di Resta will be in Adrian Sutil’s car this Friday morning, and unlike every other driver on the grid, he isn’t familiar with the Circuit de Catalunya. “Barcelona isn’t a track I know,” explains the Scot, “in fact the only European track I know well is Hockenheim, but I have been in the simulator and will do the usual preparations on Thursday and before the session so it should not be a problem to get up to speed. Again I’ll be trying to focus on learning, getting into the environment and hopefully with the past three sessions under my belt, giving some genuinely useful feedback to the programme.”
The Force India reserve driver is also taking part in the DTM series this season, and flew straight from China to Germany for the opening round in Hockenheim. “It’s starting to get very busy now for me with races just about every weekend!” remarks di Resta. “It was an OK weekend, I got fourth in the first race, which is a good start to the year. But it’s all good, positive stress and I don’t think too much ahead, I just try to focus on what I am doing at the time and get the most out of that particular car. I didn’t find it too difficult to switch when I got back in the DTM car for the first time, but let’s see how it goes when I get back into Spain! As they are so different I don’t anticipate any problems, it’s just a really good opportunity to drive two cars that are so competitive.“