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Watch out for Force India!
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Watch out for Force India!
Posted By:   |  01 Mar 2009   |  11:40 am GMT  |  13 comments

Things are really starting to hot up now as the new season approaches and the final two tests before the first race are upon us. This week Jerez, next week Barcelona. We will know who’s looking good and who’s not in the next fortnight.

The new Force India package has been launched and this team are demanding that we take them seriously. There is every reason to. They have made a very smart technical and strategic alliance with McLaren. This means that in addition to a McLaren man moving in as the CEO of Force India, they will run the same Mercedes engine as the front-runners as well as the gearbox, hydraulics and KERS system. That is starting to look like a very smart move.

Using KERS is worth two to three tenths of a second per lap over a non-KERS car, basically it comes as a boost of speed on the straight worth an extra 5mph. Doens’t sound like much but when it’s as tight in the midfield, as it look like being this season, then three tenths is a lot.

With many teams unlikely to start the season with KERS and all the signs being that the McLaren Mercedes system is working well, Force India could well have an early advantage there. Of course they have to close up the gap to the midfield teams with better aerodynamics and chassis design and we will see over the next two tests whether they have done that. In 2007 they were 2.5 seconds off the pace at Barcelona (which is a good benchmark track) and last year they cut that to 1.7 seconds. Ideally they will want to have shaved at least another 7/10ths off that with the new car. With the technical adrenalin shot McLaren has given them, that’s entirely possible.

It was relatively late that they signed the McLaren partnership, November last year, so they have not had as much time as they would have liked to fit the drivetrain into their existing design. Normally you would start the process three months earlier. But as the hydraulics come as part of the package as well, many of the bits which can lead to reliability problems are included, so the installation gremlins will be less serious than with the Honda team running the Mercedes engine, for example.

Force India has only eight days of testing plus two 50 kilometre shakedown tests before Melbourne.

Adrian Sutil goes into his third year as a driver with the team with a lot still to prove. It was very unfortunate that he missed out on that fourth place in Monaco when he was taken out by Kimi Raikkonen last year. But he has looked good at times, only to crash out or fade out when it counts. He needs a big year.

Vijay Mallya has plenty on his plate already steering his massive Kingfisher conglomerate through the economic downturn, but it looks as though F1- wise he is in the right place at the right time. If the FIA and FOTA bring in the kind of cost-saving changes they are talking about then it could be the best time for 30 years to be the owner of an F1 team with the chance of being competitive on an independent’s budget. And his deal with McLaren to buy their technology will become the blueprint for how independents go racing in the future.

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13 Comments
  1. Ed H says:

    My only concern is that sacking Mike Gasgoine will do the team no good. Remember Toyota? I know this is a different sitiuation, but it seems a waste of good engineering talent to me.

  2. Peter says:

    The car I think will be good but I believe Fisichella’s too slow.

  3. Jon says:

    My understanding of KERS is that it can be 3 tenths faster like you said, only if the teams can solve the braking instability problem while KERS charges. If they charge it in 2 corners per lap, the time lost under braking in 2 corners will mean they break even in laptime or maybe even a net loss in time. That’s why early on we might only see KERS used in qualifying lap (charged in outlap) or first lap of race (charged during formation). Even with these benefits, they could still lose time compared to others in a race stint because non-KERS cars could have better weight balance.

    If that’s true it could mean the teams without KERS have an early advantage in Melbourne. With KERS out of the car, they will be able to shift ballast around and find the optimum balance for the new aero and most importantly slick tyres reducing wear rates. But by doing this, they will lose out in the long run as the teams that run KERS will eventually solve the problems and the teams that didn’t run KERS won’t be able to catch up as quickly because of inseason testing ban. So by having KERS in the car from the first race, it might be shorterm losses for longterm gains, like an investment.

    Even for the teams that have it working fine, it could be a race by race decision. For example I can’t see anyone using it at Monaco. Mechanical grip is everything, and extra horsepower would be of little benefit. The low top speeds means there is enough cooling concerns as it is, why risk it? Especially if you can benefit from the extra ballast. That’s my take on KERS but I could be wrong.

    For Melbourne, it’s a heavy braking circuit like Canada so having instability in even 2 corners per lap could hurt more then the 0.3 it gives in power. We’ll have to wait and see I guess.

  4. Martin says:

    If the car turns out to be good, then all the more pressure on the drivers to produce the results. I bet Fisichella will out shine Sutil if its a points scoring car. But it would be nice to be proved wrong.

  5. RJ says:

    Even with McLaren and Mercs help the force india team will find it to tough to get up amongst the mid field this season, it takes time and the right balance to get where McLaren and Ferrari are and see it being these two teams fighting it out again with the odd suprise of RedBull or Renult getting a win here or there. Bt McLaren both Championships this time please!!!!

  6. Chris says:

    I agree with RJ

    Even with McLaren’s help i dont think the car will be a front runnner. I still think they will find themselfs near the back of the grid.

  7. john g says:

    jon: i think you’re right to an extent about KERS – braking instability is going to be a major compromise in its use, it’s an incredibly complex problem especially if you’re pulling large amounts of energy out of deccel, but i can’t ever see a situation where KERS will be on the car and used so occasionally as qualy and first lap. it’s just not worth lugging around 30kgs of high CofG ballast for that. if it’s going to be on the car, then it will be used for lap time gain over the majority of the race.

    for those circuits where KERS will not provide sufficient advantage, the teams will be using an alternative car specifically designed without KERS

  8. Alastair says:

    I don’t understand what the issue with KERS braking is. How is it different to engine braking, where the compression of the cylinders is slowing the car down? It was a major source of chatter during the runup to the 2008 season, the first without TC. Everybody thought engine braing was going to throw cars off the track and nothing happened. I doubt very much that KERS is going to affect braking. I drive a honda hybrid and the kers only starts to work as you begin to brake, you hardly feel it. Surely an F1 car has a better KERS system than my Honda?

    Mechanical failures and driver error due to lack of testing are going to be the deciding factors this year.

  9. john g says:

    alastair: engine braking was the most difficult thing about the switch to non-tc, a lot of time went into different engine push and downshift strategies. one of the main issues is the change in brake balance with speed – at high speed the grip and optimal balance between front and rear tyres is different to at low speed. this is why you see some drivers changing brake balance from corner to corner.

    now with KERS, you still have this issue, plus the difficulty of engine braking, in addition to the braking the rear axle to charge up the energy storage. this is something that will vary a lot depending on speed too. like engine braking, this is something that will be overcome with enough testing, so that by the time they get racing, you should not see evidence of it being a problem, but that’s not to say it isn’t a very complex issue to solve.

    the main difference in the F1′s system and your hybrid is the rate of charge being much higher and the storage capacity being much less. in terms of complexity, they are no more complex – there aren’t any new ideas or technologies, except those which have been used to reduce the systems to between 30 and 40kg and very compact.

  10. rpaco says:

    Alastair: As I remember it engine braking was not allowed last year.

  11. Kenny Carwash says:

    Engine braking wasn’t banned last year (it would be impossible to do so), but teams were no longer allowed to electronically control engine braking to stop the driver from locking up the rear wheels by changing down too many gears, too soon.

    As for the realtionship betweem McLaren/Mercedes and Force India, I fear rather too much is being made of it. It’s my understanding that so far the collaboration hasn’t extended much beyond a diagram detailing the engine mounts.

  12. The topic is quite hot in the net right now. What do you pay the most attention to while choosing what to write ?

  13. Ed H says:

    NEVER doubt Fisi. He’s a consistent driver and less likely to put it in the wall than Sutil.

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