Force India have launched the car that they hope will build on the successes of their 2010 season – the best-ever in the team’s short history.
Speaking after the unveiling of the VJM04, team principal Vijay Mallya said that Force India has many reasons to be optimistic in 2011, and an exciting event to look forward to in October.
“This year there is even more to be optimistic about,” he said. “We’ve got three race drivers that are hungry to take the next steps in their careers, whether that be points, podiums or wins. We have an experienced technical team that have the ingenuity, flexibility and drive to adapt to the new wave of rule changes, and we also have the tools and resources in our partnerships with McLaren Applied Technologies and Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines to aim even higher.
“Not to mention the very special event, and one that I personally can’t wait for, the inaugural Indian Grand Prix. What better place would there be to reach some of those aims than on our home soil?”
Adrian Sutil shares his boss’ excitement for the season ahead, and his positive outlook. “I’m genuinely excited about the 2011 season,” said the German. “I just missed out on the top 10 last year in the drivers’ standings – I’m pretty hopeful I can get in there this season!
“The progress the team has shown over the past two years has been very impressive and what I’ve seen in the factory and at the wind tunnel over the past weeks indicates that the rate will continue this year. I feel very good and confident; the team and I know each other very well and we know how to get the most from each other.”
New driver Paul di Resta steps up from his test and reserve role with Force India and, understandably, doesn’t want to bring any extra pressure on himself by voicing his aims for his debut season.
“I don’t want to say exact targets on record as there are so many factors that can come into play,” said the Scot. “What I do want to do is to have a positive approach, finish, be consistent and contribute strongly to the team’s overall performance. We’ve got high aims of finishing in a good constructors’ championship position and I know that I’ve got to play my part in this.”
Nico Hulkenberg was also present at the launch. He steps in to the role vacated by di Resta. “I’m really looking forward to this season and working with the team,” said the ex-Williams driver. “We still need some time to fit together perfectly, but the start was very promising and finding each other will not take too long. I can’t wait to sit in the car and work with the team again.”
As for the real start of the show – the VJM04 – it will make its track debut at the pre-season test session in Jerez, which begins on Thursday. This car is the first created under new technical director Andrew Green, who 20 years ago was one of the men behind the original Jordan 191.
Green rejoined the team in July last year and, in overseeing the design of the VJM04, has had to contend with major changes in technical regulations. These include reductions in downforce (caused mainly by the ban on the double diffuser), moveable rear-wings, the re-introduction of KERS, and the welcoming of Pirelli as the new tyre supplier.
All of these regulation changes have had a profound effect on the design of the car which, as Green explained at the launch, varies greatly from its predecessor.
“Everything is different, but visually a lot of it is subtle,” says Green. “The most obvious visual change is that we’ve gone away from a conventional roll-hoop to a blade. This gives us a small packaging improvement compared to a more conventional style. The engine cover is different, in-line with the abolition of the F-duct system. But there are a lot of differences under the skin that people won’t necessarily notice.
“We’ve recovered a lot of the aerodynamic performance, we believe. We still have a little bit to go, but we are still in the process of the realignment after the end of last season, because it does take a long time to move aerodynamically from one position to another. The movable wing is a whole new game, and we’ll be trying to exploit its performance to the max.
“We’ve also put in a lot of work trying to maximise the potential performance of the new Pirelli tyre compounds. To this end we’ve recruited a new senior tyre engineer, Jun Matsusaki, to guide us through the development process. The test we recently conducted in Valencia was a good learning exercise.
“Exhaust management will also be a big area of development this year. There will be an upgrade for the first race, so there are some changes that will come into effect at the Bahrain test. Further down the line there are some big updates for the front of the car coming in for the first European race.”
One criticism of Force India last season was the fall in performance and competitiveness they showed in the second-half of the campaign. This meant that they were beaten to sixth place in the Constructors’ championship by Williams. However, the team hope to address this with their 2011 challenger.
“Towards the end of last season there was a drop-off in our relative performance,” says Green. “In theory we were adding performance to the car, but it wasn’t getting translated to the track. We decided to have a very close look at what was happening on the car, and what could be causing this. The bottom line is we didn’t extract the most from the blown diffuser, thus over the winter we’ve taken a reasonable philosophy chance on the aerodynamics of the car in order to try and prevent the sort of drop-off in performance that we saw at the end of last year.”
Another problem in recent years for the team has been poor performance at tracks like Monaco and Hungary. Again, it is one that Force India hope to address with the VJM04, as Green explains:
“Looking back over the years the cars we have produced here have always struggled at the high downforce tracks – they always been ‘slippery’ cars. We’ve identified a problem, and now we have to fix it, and it means that potentially there’s another strategic aero change coming as well.”
As for the re-introduction of KERS, the 2009 car was designed to accommodate the Mercedes system and the team ran it in testing, although it never raced. This time round though, the power-boost should be on from the start.
“The Mercedes KERS system looks very strong, and we’re really happy with it,” says Green. “We’ve done a lot of running in the simulator, so the drivers are well up to speed with how to use it. We’re well developed with what we have to do for harvesting and deployment. It’s smaller and lighter than in 2009, and packaging required very few vehicle compromises.”
In summary then, with the new car, Force India are hoping to improve on a successful 2010, sustain performance throughout the entire 2011 campaign, and impress at the inaugural Indian Grand Prix at the end of October. The owner and drivers are all optimistic of a good season and, summing up, the technical director clearly is as well.
“There are some big developments in the pipeline, probably bigger than this team has seen for quite a while,” concludes Green. “I think we’re looking for a much stronger finish to the season, and we do recognise the fact that there’s an Indian GP on the calendar, and we are an Indian team. The plan is to be putting stronger performance on the car through the year that will lift us up the ranks.”