The latter half of 2009 was a surprisingly good time for Force India with the back row minnows suddenly playing with the championship duelers and threatening to win races in what can be only described as an overnight improvement. The Belgian Grand Prix will go down as the race that they should have won, and although driver changes may have caused a hesitation in their form, there was no doubting that the team formerly known as Jordan, Midland and Spyker had found their mojo again. Can 2010 see the team pick up where they left off?
It would be great for all if Vijay Mallya’s squad can continue their form over the winter and into the new season, but this is a tall order. The Silverstone-based team are up against the well-funded Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull squads. However, if one thing can be learned from last season, it is that you should never rule out the smaller outfits, and more importantly, the talented people who work for them.
Force India continue their relationship with McLaren and Mercedes-Benz, the power plant proving to be worthy of its place in the back of many cars on the grid. Even Red Bull Racing were after a Norbert Haug-looking signature on a contract. But the association with McLaren also provides a gearbox and technical support, which has undoubtedly helped the squad push forward and ahead of the midfield.
The third car from Force India (the second designed under complete control of Mallya) is an evolution of the 2009 VJM02, although the team insist they have made big strides with the rear, developing the diffuser being a key area. The externals show a higher nose and shark-fin engine cover, a revised front wing, smaller and curvier sidepods and no Newey-dip.
The livery adorning the car is pretty much identical to last year’s, which is no bad thing – I quite like the green and orange mix and depicts the team’s Indian roots. In terms of sponsors, it is always good to see a variety of logos on the car, especially as Force India are one of the lesser-funded teams. Unfortunately, it is also worthy of note that most of the companies shown on the car’s bodywork are owned by or related in one way or another to Vijay Mallya. Still, money is money, as they say.
Adrian Sutil and Vitantonio Liuzzi continue to pilot the Force India, and while consistency can prove helpful in team stability and chassis development, one has to start considering whether Sutil is worthy of his contract. In 2009, Giancarlo Fisichella finally found his groove with the VJM02 and started to show some promise with the car. And although Sutil had some flashes of brilliance, he all-too-often binned it.
Sitting opposite the German is former Red Bull racer Vitantonio Liuzzi – a driver whom I’ve often presumed fashion took precedence over race craft. While Liuzzi maybe a hit with the fans, his results haven’t always been quite so enlightening. However, having only driven a handful of races in 2009, Liuzzi could be given the benefit of the doubt, and retaining a full-time drive in 2010, the Italian driver whom so many speak highly of will be under the spotlight. 2010 will his time to shine, if he can.
It would be a great story if Force India can maintain their momentum from last year and take the challenge to the big four. I fear though that when all the teams get underway in Bahrain, Mallya’s squad will be back in the midfield again.
Force India’s car designation system refers to the initial of the original three team owner’s forenames, Vijay Mallya, Jan Mol and Michel Mol, the final number being an incremental numbering system that for 2010, has reached 3. Hence, VJM03.