Force India are gearing up for a battle with Williams over the final four races of this season to claim sixth place in the constructors championship.
As F1 heads to Japan this weekend, the team sit just four points above Williams – a minute margin with this year’s point system – and need to bounce back from a disappointing showing in Singapore, where Adrian Sutil‘s two points for finishing ninth place compare unfavourably to the nine collected by Rubens Barrichello and Nico Hulkenberg.
Despite loosing ground to their nearest rivals under the lights of Singapore, Force India team principal Vijay Mallya has drawn some positives from the weekend.
“Singapore was a so-so event for us as we saw: qualifying was disappointing, but we were happy with the way things went eventually in the race in that we scored points and demonstrated a good race pace,” says Mallya. “Adrian finished eighth on the road [but was later given a penalty, dropping him down to ninth], which was a credible achievement after starting 15th. It was unfortunate for Tonio but it was a racing incident that can, and does, happen.
“The next race is Suzuka and I’m looking forward to it as I feel we have a chance to be a bit more competitive – I would hope we could show a level of performance similar to Spa this year. Our car favours the low downforce tracks slightly more than the high such as Singapore, and whether it’s wet or dry, both drivers love it, which gives extra confidence.
“I’m not going to repeat our objective as everyone knows what we want and need to achieve in terms of points to maintain position. We are giving ourselves every tool we have available – we have another aero development package to put on the car with a couple of bodywork tweaks to eke out every possible performance advantage. The drivers are fully motivated as well – we all know what’s at stake.”
Adrian Sutil knows what is at stake with regards to the constructors championship this season, and is looking forward to visiting the figure-of-eight Suzuka circuit, despite a mixed weekend there last year.
“Suzuka one of my favourite circuits, so I always look forward to going there,” says the German. “Plus going back to Japan always feels a little like going home as I lived there for a year in 2006 when I was competing in Japanese F3. I have really good memories of my time in the country. I raced at Suzuka four times that year and then also went out in free practice with Midland so along with Silverstone and Hockenheim, it’s my ‘home’ race as there’s so much history there.
“The track itself is a real driver’s circuit. There is just about every corner you could imagine and each one presents its own challenges. The 130R is just awesome. You’re just flat out in seventh and it bends so you are completely on the limit. It really rewards you if you get it right – I can remember last year taking it in the wet at almost dry level of speed, just the best feeling.
“Last year we had a pretty promising event in Suzuka. I was fourth on the grid, which was really good, but then we had all the penalties for the yellow flag incident so I started eighth and the race didn’t turn out really well. But all the same the pace was there and we could again show everyone that we were serious racers. I believe it should be possible to have a decent result there this year. Although the car is more competitive on all types of tracks now, we do still have more of an advantage on the low downforce configurations so I would hope we’d be as competitive as we were at Spa and Monza this year. Top ten in qualifying and then in the race are possible and we’ve got to do it as the pressure is really on to keep sixth in the constructors’ championship.
Tonio Liuzzi finished just behind Sutil in Japan last year and, like his teammate, is a big fan of Suzuka. The Italian completed just one lap of the Singapore street circuit before being forced to retire with accident damage, and he is eager to get back onto the scoreboard this weekend in a bid to help the team in the constructors’ championship (and secure a drive for himself next year as well no doubt).
“I know Suzuka well as I raced there in 2006 and then again last year,” says Liuzzi. “It’s one of the old-school circuits still left in the championship like Spa and Monza – it’s a real man’s circuit and one of the toughest of the year. We saw last year that the wet conditions can also really upset the balance so it takes every bit of concentration you have and you must be on the top of your game. I really enjoy the high-speed technical corners, especially the first sequence where you have to be very accurate.
“Based on our performance since the summer break I would say our car is better suited to this kind of circuit than the high downforce tracks, so I believe this will be one of our big chances to increase the gap to Williams. I was disappointed to go out so early in Singapore and not be able to help the team, but it was a racing incident that we just have to accept and hope won’t happen again at this really important stage in the season.
“We’ve got a couple of new aero tweaks to improve our performance this race so that will be a big help in this battle, but most importantly it will be pulling together as a team and really focussing on what we have to do this race.”
Test and reserve driver Paul di Resta reveals that he will not be in the car at Suzuka, but he is looking forward to his first visit to Japan, and his first glimpse at the almost legendary circuit.
“Unfortunately I won’t be out in FP1 in Japan, for similar reasons to Singapore – it’s such an important time in the year that we need to play the team game and give ourselves every advantage we can,” explains the Scot. “Plus the team will have some new aero tweaks to try out so Adrian and Tonio need the time to get used to them and give some feedback for the race.
“As I’ve not seen the track before and in fact never been to Japan it will still be another new experience for me. Suzuka is one of those places you hear so much about – all the drivers love it and talk about the challenges of each corner so I can’t wait to see it for myself. Plus there’s so much history about it, with world championships decided there some years, so I’m sure it will be a very special place to be at, particularly when there’s so much at stake this year as well.”