Force India launched its new car at a chilly Silverstone this morning, following on from launches by Lotus, Ferrari and McLaren.
The VJM06, which is visually very similar to last year’s model, was rolled out in the pit lane by deputy team principal Bob Fearnley, driver Paul di Resta and technical director Andrew Green.
There was no second driver announcement. Fearnley said that it is up to the teams’ shareholders to decide on who will fill the second seat and they aren’t there yet. Paddock gossip suggests that currently Jules Bianchi is in the strongest position, although Adrian Sutil has long been confident of his chances.
Fearnley said that he expected to announce the second and third drivers before the Barcelona test later this month.
Targets for this season are hard to pin down. Last year they aimed for fifth and ended up seventh with 109 points, behind Mercedes and Sauber. This year they are being more cagey on expectations, with good reason. Qualifying in the top ten on a regular basis is the main target, allowing them to pick up regular points and the odd fourth and fifth place, as last year. But they would like to achieve more consistency than they have recently.
Fearnley said that he would like the team to knock on the door of the podium. He announced a new commercial partnership with TW Steel watches. He said that the future looks bright for the team, despite the turbulent situation in the business life of the team’s owner Vijay Mallya, who was forced to sell a significant stake in his drinks business to Diageo at the end of 2012 to shore up his debts.
Force India is in what one might called the “squeezed middle”; teams of middling budget (along with Sauber, Williams, Toro Rosso etc) who will only be able to push on development for a short while this year, with diminishing returns from a formula which will become obsolete at the end of the year. There will be far more to be gained for them by focussing on their 2014 car from relatively early in the season and as they don’t have the resources of the top teams, which can develop both cars at once – the 2014 car will have to take priority.
The car ran in an installation lap, with Di Resta shaking down the car on a damp track,
“It’s obviously tense times ahead,” said Di Resta. “It’s nice to see the finished product. The guys have done a good job. We need to start more strongly than we have in recent years. The key point is going to be qualifying in Melbourne.”
The new Force India car looks like an evolution of last year’s model. There is a lot of carry over from last year. The stepped nose is covered by a vanity panel. There is a legality strip running along the mid part of the nose. They had gurney flaps on the wing ready for running.
Around the cockpit area, from the roll hoop, down through the side pods to the floor, are identical to last year. It is perhaps surprising there aren’t more changes there.
The rear wing is changed; the DRS actuator pod is reduced in size, as Ferrari has done.
The exhaust looks similar to last year’s car, in launch spec. With the Coanda system if you want maximum Coanda effect you go for the minimum diameter of pipe. This also reduces engine power, so there is a balance to be had. Without seeing the pipe it’s hard to judge, but the channel looks a similar size.
The floor is similar to last year’s, however rear brake ducts are different, there are quite a few detailed changes here. The cascades on them are areas where there are some gains to be had and the engineers have clearly decided to spend some resources there.
Overall, the impression is that the car is largely a carry over from last year, with the whole cockpit and side pod area unchanged with some new work on the nose and the rear brake ducts. It isn’t like the McLaren, for example, where you can see many detailed changes throughout the car.
“It’s a new car, we didn’t hold back,” insisted technical boss Andrew Green. “The incremental performance gains are harder to find due to regulation stability. It’s getting harder to find gains.
“Consistency will be key to this season. We’ve done a lot of work analysing how we used the tyres last year. So keeping the tyres working in their sweet spot is the key to it and on top of that we keep on bolting on extra downforce.
“Our focus in winter testing is going to be all around the new tyres. It’s the one thing we don’t understand.”
[Additional technical input: Mark Gillan]