Sahara Force India revealed its new car today at a freezing cold Silverstone, with a young dynamic driver line up and an ambitious target; to attain fifth place in the constructors’ championship.
Paul di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg and third driver Jules Bianchi look a potent force, with Force India’s proven system of developing young drivers through the Friday morning practice sessions working on several levels.
It helps to bring through young drivers and to give them valuable track time, helping them to get race sharp and it puts constant pressure on the race drivers, which keeps them sharp and it gives the team the opportunity to constantly assess progress.
The team has changed one driver in each of the last two years but with Di Resta and Hulkenberg there could be an argument for a few seasons of stability. Bianchi will be hoping otherwise, but with less than 40 Grand Prix starts between them but a couple of years each of time in F1 the two race drivers look well matched.
Both have shown at various times speed, intelligence and the ability to be measured. Di Resta in particular impresses with his approach of building up his speed to a peak at the right moment in qualifying. Hulkenberg showed intelligence and speed in his year at Williams and his pole position in Brazil in 2010 was impressive. It wasn’t just a fluke lap on the right tyres in damp conditions, it was nine consecutive best sector times. He was on it.
For Sahara Force India to achieve fifth it is essential that the drivers deliver consistently strong performances across every race weekend. Last year was a bit peaky, with some outstanding weekends punctuated with others where opportunities were missed. Strong qualifying didn’t always lead to strong races. To get fifth, they must be looking to score points most weekends and get plenty of top 6 finishes, which won’t be easy if Mercedes improve this season.
Force India mixed it with – and beat – Mercedes at times in teh second half of last year and kept Lotus Renault behind them. To achieve fifth they will need to finish ahead of the Enstone team as well as Sauber, Toro Rosso and Williams.
The battle in the midfield looks set to be very intense.
As far as the car in concerned, Force India have a clear aerodynamic direction and the car is believed to have very encouraging numbers from the wind tunnel. It uses some of the thinking pioneered by Red Bull in terms of air flow under the nose section. For this reason, with new rules for 2012 about lowering the nose, they have gone for an ugly stepped solution as we’ve seen from Caterham and Ferrari too. At the moment, McLaren look like the odd ones out in not following the Red Bull vision.
The reason why the nose has been lowered in the rules is for safety; there was concern about a car going nose first into the side of another car and acting like a spear. By lowering the nose, they reduce the consequences of such an impact.
The other point of note from this morning’s launch is Force India’s ambitition together with the Sahara Group to go from a Premier League team to a Champions’ League team, in other words, to make the investment necessary to take on more staff, boost resources and become a top four team.
It’s being discussed with the shareholders at the moment and the management group hope to get the green light in the next few months to implement an expansion plan. The business pages tell the story of the troubles of owner Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines group, which is suffering in India. Mallya’s number two Bob Fearnley told me this morning that this does not impact the F1 business and that together with Sahara Group Mallya is focussed on setting out the vision for the development of the team in the next phase.
Here is my interview with Nico Hulkenberg from today.