Force India unveiled their new car yesterday confident that they are poised for a much improved showing in 2010. Vijay Mallya's team finished ninth out of 10 in last season's Formula One constructors' championship, but they improved significantly in the closing stages as they achieved their first pole position and first points finishes in the series.
It has been a smooth transition from last year's car for the VJM03, which again uses a Mercedes engine and McLaren gearbox, whereas the start of last season was hindered by a late switch of suppliers, which put the team on the backfoot. "It's been a lot smoother," said Mark Smith, Force India's design director. "From the very beginning we designed the VJM03 in full knowledge of the engine and gearbox that we would be using for 2010, which gave us a significant advantage by comparison with respect to the same point in design time for VJM02."
The back of the car has changed most significantly as they have had more time to develop a double diffuser after having to rush the introduction of last year's version when the authorities decided early in the season that the device was legal. A ban on refuelling during races has led to bigger fuel tanks and an crease in the VJM03's length, while Force India say they will develop an adjustable front flap this year.
The car, which will be tested for the first time in Spain's Jerez today and the next three days after missing the first test in Valencia last week, has a carbon fibre composite monocoque chassis with Zylon legality side anti-intrusion panels. Force India scored their first points in Formula One when the Italian Giancarlo Fisichella finished second at last year's Belgian Grand Prix before leaving the team after that race to join Ferrari.
He was replaced by his countryman Vitantonio Liuzzi, who will first test the car today and drive for the team again this season alongside the German Adrian Sutil, who got the team's other points with fourth place at the Italian Grand Prix. Amid a raft of driver changes in the series, having the same two drivers as the end of last season and no longer being the smallest team on the grid given this year's new entrants also bodes well Force India.
"I am really confident in the work they have done over the winter and we've built a car that can regularly be in the points," Liuzzi said, adding that budget restrictions would also help Force India against the big guns. "Yes, this is an advantage for us as we know how to operate on smaller levels that the bigger teams will have to get used to, while the new teams have a tough job to do. I think it will be a good season for us."
Sutil expects to add to the five points he gained last year. "Right now we're looking really good, we've sorted out all the issues and this winter has been a consistent working situation so it's a big advantage," he said. "It's nice to be one of the few teams who have stability now and can just focus on the racing." Force India rejected speculation last week that they were in danger of being forced out of business because they had not filed their 2008 accounts by an October 31 deadline. "Force India's participation within the championship has not, and will not, be in jeopardy," Mallya, the Indian tycoon, said, adding that Force India had been granted an extension until February 25 to submit accounts.
Eight other teams will join Force India in Jerez today for the test session, with Red Bull and Virgin Racing's cars also making their debuts. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org