With a collaboration with McLaren and Mercedes-Benz, 2009 should see the Force India team improve in both pace and reliability over their dismal 2008 performance. Coupled with a continuation in drivers and team boss Vijay Mallya taking a more hands-on role within the team, the 2008 back row minnows could be about to launch themselves closer to the midfield. There are many obstacles in their way, not least experience, but the squad remain buoyed for the upcoming season.
Last year was considered a disappointment by Mallya, who during the course of the season went about making changes to the management structure as well as negotiating a very special deal with McLaren. The result is a team that according to Adrian Sutil, has a much more cohesive bond, a pleasing atmosphere and morale that is riding high. It will take more than a smile to haul themselves further up the grid, but it would appear to be a good start.
The VJM02 was one of the last cars to be launched, only beating the Scuderia Toro Rosso STR4 and the Brawn GP BGP 001. However, it’s debut test at Jerez in early March showed promise and both Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil generally kept the machine from the bottom of the tables. While testing is by far no measure of real pace come race day, the results of the initial sessions in Spain were encouraging. The results from the second group test at Barcelona showed more weakness, as the improvements made to the rival cars was made more apparent. However, nearest team STR have weaknesses as well, so it isn’t all doom and gloom for Force India.
If the team are to prove to be serious about competing in Formula One with the bigger and better funded teams, Force India need to start scoring points. Failing to move themselves off the bottom of the championship table in 2008 was not a great result, and after promising a Q2 performance early on in the year, it took the squad until the mid-point before this goal was realised. For 2009, Force India need to hit the tarmac running and not look back. They need to control their enthusiasm for setting unreachable targets, keep their heads down and race.
The shake up in technical regulations will help the team as some of their competitors get it right, while others may get it wrong. The potential mix up in performances could provide a window for Force India to sneak through, but only if they themselves get it right. With expertise from McLaren, a gear box, KERS device and engine all from Woking and Stuttgart, there is little reason why the Silverstone-based squad cannot do exactly this.
I would expect Force India to score their first points in 2009, but talk of podiums and Q1 results are a long way off. They may prove to be a match for Scuderia Toro Rosso, and possibly even close to Williams depending on how they have done over the winter. But the big results won’t happen for a few more years. Force India will improve, but I think Vijay Mallya will be talking of a disappointing 2009 this time next year.