Adrian Sutil has scored points for Force India in the last six races and this weekend the team head to Hockenheim, Germany – Sutil’s home race – sitting sixth in the Constructor’s standings.
The last race, at Silverstone, saw the team narrowly miss out on a double points finish, with Tonio Liuzzi picking up a penalty in qualifying which meant he could only finish the race in eleventh, just out of the points.
Vijay Mallya, the Force India team principal, is taking a lot of positives from the British Grand Prix, a believes the team are in a good positive to challenge for a healthy points haul both at Hockenheim this weekend, and in Hungary a week later.
“I think Adrian did an outstanding job and also Tonio as well, given the circumstances,” said Mallya. “Adrian drove superbly, and to keep Vettel at bay for 10 laps when he was so much quicker, was a great achievement. Unfortunately Vettel squeezed past right at the end and we were knocked down a position, but to be racing the pace-setting car is very encouraging and a sign of how mature both Adrian and the engineering team have become.”
“Similarly, Tonio started 20th and drove brilliantly as well, particularly after his change to the soft tyres. Even Alonso, who is a pretty aggressive driver, couldn’t get past him. I think if he had not got held up in the early stages, we could have had a double points finish.”
“We started 11th and 20th on the grid, so to finish up eighth and 11th is a pretty credible achievement and one that sets us up for this next double header of Germany and Hungary.”
Undoubtedly the team have competitive race pace, but does Mallya think that their Saturday performances are letting them down?
“We have struggled a little in qualifying for various reasons, but we are improving and learning all the time and I hope that we’ll see a qualifying performance in Hockenheim that is more representative of the actual pace of the car.”
“We need to put the whole package together now from the start of the weekend to the finish. We’re going well but the other teams are also giving us a good run for our money so we need to optimise every single area of performance.”
The track here in Germany does not top the list of those most suited to the VJM03, but Mallya says that both car in the top ten on Sunday is still a realistic target.
“If you look at what we presume to be the strengths and weaknesses of the car, Hockenheim is not as ideal as Spa or Monza. Having said that, it’s Adrian’s home race, and we are going to give it everything that we have.”
“There are no dramatic updates, some tweaks to the rear wing and the rear suspension but I hope we’ll hold position relative to where we were in Silverstone.”
“If we can get both cars in the top ten in qualifying that will set us up very well for the race and I hope get another double points finish.”
Adrian Sutil has fond memories of both visiting and driving around the circuit at Hockenheim, and is looking forward to tackling it in a competitive F1 car this weekend.
“[Hockenheim] was actually the first track I ever saw; I visited it on the way to see some family and just sat there, dreaming of what it could be like when I got to F1. To come back now, having achieved that aim, is just magic.”
“I’ve raced at Hockenheim a lot of times with many different cars: in Formula Ford, Formula BMW and now F1 and I’ve had some of my strongest races there. I had a few wins and always when I finished I was on the podium.”
“Now it will be a great feeling to go there with a really competitive F1 car and try to get the same success I achieved in my junior career.”
The track has changed a bit since Sutil first visited it – gone are the high speed straights on which the cars blast through the forest – but the German likes the relatively new layout.
“It’s a great track,” said Sutil. “I never drove on the old version, although I did do the short track in 2002. The new version is a really nice circuit.”
“The first corner is a challenging and quick one and then you have the long straight down to the tight hairpin, which is really slow, but good for overtaking. Then you come into the best sector on the track, right into the stadium.”
“It’s a nice right hander and you can feel the atmosphere, you can feel the people sitting there. The double right hander onto the start/finish line is a special corner, very difficult.”
“I think if you have lots of experience on this track you can gain a little bit at this corner. I’m hoping for that home advantage!”
A quarter of the drivers making up the F1 grid are German, so Sutil will not be the sole receiver of the spectators’ support this weekend. He insists that his focus will be on scoring big points.
“Ever since I’ve been in F1 there has always been a large German contingent in F1 and now with six, and one of them being Michael Schumacher, I hope we’ll get an even bigger crowd and more atmosphere.”
“For me personally, I just concentrate on my own game, getting the most out of the car and the team and scoring points. To get some points on my home ground – for the first time in F1 – would be a great feeling.”
“Last year at the Nurburgring I started seventh but finished out of the points so I really want to try and finish the job now. We have a car that can do it and some small developments that should help. Yet again I’m feeling confident and comfortable and when I feel like that it normally shows out on track.”
Sutil’s teammate, Tonio Liuzzi, was disappointed to leave Silverstone without any points to show for a decent race performance but, like his boss Vijay Mallya, also draws positives from his British Grand Prix experience.
“It was a tough weekend (in Great Britain) and I do feel it was like another missed opportunity, not only to score points but to have a good event overall,” said the Italian.
“Things went badly in qualifying and then it was made several times worse by the penalty I was given for blocking Nico Hulkenberg. We then lost a lot of time in the first part of the race with massive amounts of understeer, which is something we need to get to the bottom of.”
“Looking at how the rest of the race panned out, if I hadn’t had this delay at the start of the race we could have aimed for the points. Fortunately when we pitted for soft tyres we had a really competitive pace and were really strong in the final laps.”
“I had a good battle with Fernando Alonso so it was very encouraging for a Force India to be genuinely keeping a Ferrari behind on pace. All the same I just missed out on the points despite the good performance. It can’t happen again in Hockenheim as our rivals are getting stronger all the time.”
Liuzzi thinks that the key to a good result in Germany will be qualifying on Saturday: “We’ve really got to concentrate on getting into Q3 this race. We can easily get into Q2 but then we struggle a little to get the soft tyres to warm up.”
“Adrian’s had a similar issue in that on Saturday morning we are really confident after final practice, but in the afternoon it can go a bit wrong. If we can get the qualifying right – as we saw in Canada – then the race will come to us.”
Liuzzi, like Sutil, is also familiar with Hockenheim, as enjoys racing here. “I really enjoy racing at Hockenheim as I feel I grew up there. I raced in German F3 in 2002 and also won the 2004 F3000 race there.”
“It’s a great track, very flowing with some very fast curves and the Motodrom section is really like a stadium – you can hear the crowd over your helmet sometimes so it’s an extra thrill.”
“I’ve not raced there since 2006, when I finished 10th, so it’s been a relatively good track for me. I’m looking forward to it.”
“We also have some smaller new developments and if we can get the whole weekend together from start to finish we should be able to pick up some more points.”
One Force India driver who will not behind the wheel this weekend is Paul di Resta, who is not participating in Friday practice at this event. The Scot, who also knows this track fairly well, explains that the unusual tyre allocations for this weekend mean that Sutil and Liuzzi need more time in the car.
“It’s a shame [I am not driving] but I completely understand the decision,” said di Resta. “In Hockenheim Bridgestone are bringing two tyre compounds that are two steps apart – the supersoft and the hard – rather than just the one step as usual, so the drivers and the engineers need to understand the performance fully.”
“It’s a decision that’s been taken relatively late but it’s better to err on the side of caution at such a crucial stage in the season. The team is performing well but other teams are also making steps forward so we need to have as much information as possible to get every performance advantage we can.”
“Hockenheim is a track I know well from the DTM and I was looking forward to getting out there in the F1 car, but it’s a team effort and I am sure I can put some of the knowledge I have back into the overall weekend.”
“I’ll be back in the car in Hungary, replacing Tonio for FP1, so I’ll resume my running there. In the meantime I’ll join in the programme as usual – help out with meetings, on the pitwall and pick up as much information as I can. At this stage everything is part of the learning process.”