|The new Force India VJM03|
The Force India Formula One Team finished the 2009 season as a genuine regular contender for points and the new 2010 challenger, the VJM03, builds on the solid foundations established by its predecessor, which took pole for the Belgian GP. With driver consistency in Adrian Sutil and Tonio Liuzzi and the able support of Paul di Resta in the test and reserve driver role, this year the team is looking forward to a strong performance right from the start of the year.
'Our goal is to continue on the same path of performance improvement that we had at the end of 2009,' says chairman and team principal Dr Vijay Mallya. 'I don't think I am being over-proud when I say 2009 was an exceptional year for us. The bare statistics say it all: one podium, one pole position, one fastest lap, a further five top 10 starts and 13 points. We've learnt from our experiences and we've come out a better team: resilient, resourceful and now resurgent. I hope 2010 will see this great progress carrying forward. We've got one podium so far but I would hope that, this time next year, I'm talking about more points and more podiums. I'm confident we can get this, why not aim high?'
While the VJM03 is an evolution of last year's strong car, it incorporates the package of rules changes introduced for this year, including the requirement for a larger fuel tank as a result of the refuelling ban and a switch to narrower front tires.
Design director Mark Smith explains, 'The VJM03 is definitely an evolution of the VJM02 in terms of the design philosophies we have developed at Force India over the last year. We are very happy with the direction, therefore we have opted to evolve the car rather than significantly revise.
'Obviously one of the major aspects we have had to contend with are regulation changes which have had a considerable impact on some aspects of the design of the car. The removal of refuelling from races increases the amount of fuel needed to be stored in the cars - almost twice the amount we ran in 2009. There is a compromise now: either make the car much longer or wider, or, as we have done, a combination of both. This of course has influenced the mechanical design solutions and also the aerodynamics, specifically with respects to the diffuser and bodywork.
'Even with the ban of double diffusers for 2011, we recognize that we still have to push as much as we possibly can in this area in 2010 as we have targets to meet and the double diffuser is a key development aspect of the car.'
Last year's VJM02 was noticeably quicker on the low downforce circuits, however Mark is confident that this year the VJM03 will be strong across the board: 'The VJM02 was a relatively low drag car that showed well on the low downforce tracks. As was demonstrated throughout 2009, that was a useful attribute but as we go into 2010 we have tried to maintain a high level of aerodynamic efficiency, but we recognize that our championship position will be enhanced by a general level of performance that is suited to all types of circuits. We have, we believe, quite an efficient car overall.'
Adrian Sutil is eagerly anticipating the start of the season, '2010 is a really important season and we are very optimistic about going well. I think this year it's important to be consistent from the first race. I'd like to be in the midfield and be competitive from Bahrain. It's the first time we have been completely on schedule so I feel this will be the first season when I can show from the beginning to the end what is possible with the car and what I can do. Of course we will have updates and performance packages from this point on but I hope we will be strong from the first practice session rather than compromising at the start.'
Meanwhile Tonio Liuzzi is also going to the season with a strong goal, 'After one and a half years in a test role, I feel really prepared, both physically and mentally for a full race season. My objective is to be as strong and consistent as possible and give good feedback to the team to help them improve. For sure scoring points as many times as I can is going to be the key and you never know, perhaps we can get something more as well if everything comes together.'
The VJM03 will make its official testing debut on 10 February at the Jerez circuit in Spain. Tonio Liuzzi will be on driving duties for the first two days before Adrian Sutil takes over on 12 February for a further two days. Paul di Resta will step into the car on 17 February in Jerez.
The following is a list of the new car’s technical specifications...
||Carbon fiber composite monocoque with Zylon legality side anti-intrusion panels.|
||Aluminum uprights with carbon fiber composite wishbones, trackrod and pushrod. Inboard chassis mounted torsion springs, dampers and anti-roll bar assembly.|
||Aluminum uprights with carbon fiber composite wishbones, trackrod and pushrod. Inboard gearbox mounted torsion springs, dampers and anti-roll bar assembly.|
||620kg (with driver, by regulations)|
||BBS forged wheels to Force India specification|
||Mercedes Benz High Performance Engines V8 2.4-litre|
||McLaren Racing 7-speed, semi-automatic, 'e-shift'|
||Mobil 1 products|
||AP Racing carbon clutch|
Force India's James Key
|Technical Director James Key|
Last winter Force India had to deal with a relatively late change of engine supplier and the switch to a McLaren gearbox. How much smoother have things been this time around?
It’s obviously been a lot smoother! It’s the first time in a while that we’ve had early confirmation of what the engine is going to be for the next season, and that helps things massively, because a) you’ve got relationships already established with the suppliers, and b) you fundamentally know what to expect. So it helps a great deal, and thus it’s felt a lot smoother this year compared to this time last year.
In 2010 there is no refuelling, the front tires are narrower, and wheel covers are banned. Have those changes dominated your thoughts, or were there any other key issues?
In terms of the way the car was designed and its performance, it’s just those three factors. The wheel covers were an aerodynamic device, so you take them off and try and adapt to that, but for the fuel we’ve had to take a lot into consideration, such as the wheelbase and the way the fuel system has to perform without any fresh fuel going in every 20 laps or so. The narrow front tires have a little bit of an aero implication, but primarily it’s down to what they are going to do, because their characteristics are quite different to last year.
What sort of differences should we look for on the VJM03 compared to last year’s car?
It’s a natural progression in areas which seemed to have strong trends at the end of 2009, and in other areas it’s quite different. The back of the car is the area that has evolved most as obviously everyone has had a year of experience with the double diffusers so we’ve all gone into 2010 much wiser to what we can do. There have been some refinements in that area and it’s formed part of the make-up of the car this time around, rather than being added very quickly, as happened at the beginning of last year! It’s natural now to design the car to take these devices. The gearbox is now a little bit easier to work around, and there are tweaks to make the diffuser potential bigger. So there are some notable differences.
What are the implications of the narrower front tires?
As you’d expect with a smaller tire, it’s less strong. Last year there was a lot of flexibility but I think that will be less this year. You’ve got to get more out of the front tires, so the cars may be a bit more prone to understeer. Plus the tires at the back have to support 170kgs of fuel at the start of the race, and you’ve got to look after those as well. So how do you play it? You can’t look after both ends particularly well, so you’ve got to try and make a decision on how you save the rear tires but you don’t hurt the fronts by doing it. It’s quite a fresh challenge and I suppose you’d say that the driver and the car that can save the tires best will be at a pretty good advantage compared to cars and drivers that don’t.
How much effort went into calculating the optimum fuel tank size? Potentially if someone gets it wrong, they could be in trouble in high consumption races such as Montreal and Valencia.
There was good interaction with Mercedes on what they expected, and we arrived at a size which hopefully is OK! Certainly all the historical data on every track was considered, and we looked at worst case scenarios. We did predictions of what the lap times would be with a lot more fuel in the car, because obviously that affects consumption too. You’ve got the temperature of the fuel to consider as well, because that’s going to increase through the race, so there’s a fuel system implication.
The extra fuel has to go somewhere. To what extent has the chassis grown to accommodate it?
In both width and the length directions it’s bigger, because you have got a substantial amount more fuel. I’m sure like every other team we’ve just tried to make the best compromise we can.
What are the implications of the heavy fuel load?
The implications on lap time are obviously very big – you are probably talking about up to five seconds. So the cars will certainly go a lot slower at the start of the race. It will be a lot more difficult for the drivers with a heavy load, and certainly our drivers weren’t around in the last era with no refuelling! Then you’ve got your brakes to manage as well. We have our methods of looking at how the brake cooling works, and the targets have been re-set for the fuel loads and energy predictions that we’ve had.
Last year you quickly abandoned the option for an adjustable front flap because incorporating it made it harder to keep up wing development. Will it be more important to have the system operational this year?
I think it’s potentially more important. No one really spoke about it much in the paddock last year, we didn’t get the impression it was a big boost for the drivers, so we were happy to do without it. But given that you’ve got the scenario where you’ve got to manage the car in a race now, it’s a good thing to have if you can. So we’re making efforts to ‘future proof’ it this year.
Overall, are you happy with the way everything has turned out?
Interestingly, everyone had this massive development rate last year, and those development rates are still going. I think we’ll see a lot of developments this year, certainly in the first half of the season. It was so close at the end of last year, so where should you be this year, where do you pitch it? Are people going to gain a second or three seconds? You’ve got to think very hard about how you play your game this year.
Q&A with Tonio Liuzzi
It's finally a chance to get a full race season under your belt for the first time since 2007. What are your thoughts on this?
After one and a half years in a test role, I feel really prepared, both physically and mentally for a full race season. My objective is to be as strong and consistent as possible and give good feedback to the team to help them improve. For sure scoring points as many times as I can is going to be the key and you never know, perhaps we can get something more as well if everything comes together.
How would you review your five races in 2009? What did you learn?
It was a great opportunity to learn the tracks and then get back to the rhythm of a F1 car. I was a bit disappointed with some races, but we knew that the car would suit Monza much better than the other types of circuit. We had a bit of bad luck as well, like qualifying in Brazil when I aquaplaned off. Although it was difficult to score points, it was important for me to show that when the car is performing well I am ready to bring the results in and I'm always the same, fast competitive driver I've always been. It was a good warm up for 2010.
Do you feel this time round as a racer you're approaching it differently?
In Force India I feel really good, the atmosphere is great and the team works well together. Even when I was in a difficult position last year as a test driver they were very supportive and I've built a good strong relationship with them. I feel like I'm in a family and for sure much better environment than I have been in the past. This year is a new start for me. I'm a different person from two years ago and I am approaching it from a different mentality. It's a different Tonio and I'm looking forward to what can come. I'm still young and have a lot of time in front of me so I just want to prove what I can do.
Do you feel confident in the VJM03?
I have to say that the team, looking at what we did last year, has done a fantastic job. They never stopped working on the 2009 car to push right to the end, but have been flat out for 2010 as well. 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. That's also my aim, plus to be more consistent and competitive throughout the whole season.
With the new teams coming in, Force India won't be the smallest team on the grid any more. Is this an advantage?
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.
Q&A with Adrian Sutil
2009 was a transitional year for the team, and you scored your best result in F1 to date. How would you sum up this year?
2009 was a really important year. I was very close to scoring points in a lot of races and, frustratingly, something always happened. So when we got to Monza, it was a pretty perfect weekend. I scored my first front row, my first points since 2007 and it gave me a lot of extra confidence. I was very happy when the success came and it was for sure a big moment in my career, the turning point. It's really different to start from the front row and race at the front and I feel it has helped me to grow. I know I need to follow it up this year now.
How do you feel going into this year?
I hope we will have a good season and I am pretty confident we will. We have had a good winter and a very good development program so expectations are high. The car looks great, we did a positive step with the wind tunnel simulations but let's test and see where we are. I know we need to perform well and from my side I have tried to be perfectly prepared.
What will your aims be this year, how do you intend to build on last year?
2010 is a really important season and we are very optimistic about going well. When you start a season you always want it to be better than the previous one and I think this year it's important to be consistent from the first race. It's the first time we have been completely on schedule so I feel this will be the first season when I can show from the beginning to the end what is possible on the car and what I can do. I'd like to be in the midfield and be competitive from Bahrain.
This is now your fourth season with the Silverstone-based team. What does this stability mean for you?
I feel really good in the team, it's like family for me as they know me very well, they know how I work and my strengths and weaknesses. With that kind of relationship they can really get the things that suit me and I have confidence in them to do it. At the end of last season I felt very good and it was hard to find a better option for 2010. Over the past four years we have of course seen many different changes but when Vijay took over in 2007 it was a step in the right direction. He's committed to go for it and he has his goals. 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. It's nice to be one of the few teams who have stability now and can just focus on the racing.
The competition is very tough this year, with new teams and more world champions in the field than in previous years. What are your thoughts on this?
The competition of course will be really tough with four world champions in the field now - of course Lewis and Jenson in McLaren, Fernando in the Ferrari and now Michael back in Mercedes. I have a lot of respect for all of them and I'm actually really excited about being on the same grid, but at the end of the day they are your competitors. You can't hold them up as heroes or goals - when we're racing they are people you need to beat. If you do go well against them it will really lift you so I'm looking forward to seeing how I do.