After only getting on track with their VJM08 on day two of the final pre-season test in Spain, the Sahara Force India team arrive in Australia firmly on the back foot, but with the hope to continue to fight for points and podium finishes.
The team have retained the strong driver line-up of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, with both hopeful of performing and securing a good result around the Albert Park circuit this weekend despite the distinct lack of testing.
Hulkenberg finished an Australian Grand Prix for the first time in four attempts in 2014 on his return to the Force India team, scoring a good haul of points with a sixth place finish. He feels the opening round of the year is always special after the lengthy off-season, and is looking forward to seeing where teams are in race trim this weekend.
“The first race of the season is always a special occasion: a race you really look forward to for a long time,” revealed Hulkenberg. “You have a new car to push to the limit in race conditions for the first time, you are often working with new people in the team and it’s the first occasion to spend a race weekend with them: there is always a lot to keep you excited in addition to the regular weekend activities.
“As a driver, the first race is very interesting – we are as curious as anybody to see where everyone really is compared to the others.
“I haven’t been very lucky in Melbourne in the past, but I have very good memories from last year’s race. We finished sixth in our first race with the VJM07 – and considering that I had never managed to finish more than one lap in Australia until then, that was a quite welcome development! It was a very good race and I hope we can have another one this year.”
Hulkenberg reveals the importance of good downforce at Albert Park with the layout of the circuit as it is. He also insists that how the Pirelli tyres behave will determine what kind of strategy would be most effective come race day.
“Albert Park is a pretty nice track and a great venue to start the season,” said Hulkenberg. “It’s a track with a few good overtaking spots – turn three and 13, the right-hander after the back straight, come to mind.
“A lot depends on how the tyres are degrading because being on different strategies can open up new opportunities. Having good downforce is essential and is the main priority when setting up the car.”
Team-mate Perez made his Formula 1 debut back in 2011 for the Sauber F1 Team, and would have scored points but for a wing irregularity that saw the Mexican driver disqualified, but he rates his debut in Melbourne as his favourite memory from this circuit so far.
“Melbourne is the place where I had my first Formula One race,” said Perez. “That’s a great memory that will stay with me forever. It’s my best memory from Melbourne so far, but I hope to refresh it with some new memories soon!
“The Australian Grand Prix is one of my favourite races because it’s one of those events in which everything comes together: the excitement of a new season, a great track and a fantastic city.”
Looking over the circuit, Perez reveals that it is not an easy place to get the set-up right with so many different styles of corner, and also bemoans the closeness of the walls should you make a mistake around the temporary street circuit.
“Albert Park is a special circuit and it’s great to get back to action on such a challenging track,” insisted Perez. “Even though it is classified as a street circuit, it doesn’t really feel like one – there are only a few corners in which you get close to the walls. Driving on it, it feels like a permanent track, although if you make a mistake you realise pretty quickly how close the walls really are!
“There are many difficult corners and it is not easy to get a perfect lap here. In terms of set-up, you are mostly looking for front end grip and it is not easy to find the right balance for the car.”