2011 Force India F1 Team challenger: the VJM04
Green and rest of the Silverstone-based team faced major challenges created by the changes in the 2011 FIA Technical Regulations, with a cut in downforce and the movable rear wing chief among them. In addition Pirelli has become the new tire supplier, and the teams have agreed to allow the use of KERS again. The result is a car that is very different from its predecessor.
'Everything is different, but visually a lot of it is subtle,' says Green, who re-joined the team in July 2010. 'The most obvious visual change is that we've gone away from a conventional roll-hoop to a blade. This gives us a small packaging improvement compared to a more conventional style. The engine cover is different, in-line with the abolition of the F-duct system. But there are a lot of differences under the skin that people won't necessarily notice.'
The ban on double diffusers and other changes in the rules created a drastic cut in downforce at the rear of the car. Getting it back has been one of the major challenges of the winter.
'We've recovered a lot of the aerodynamic performance, we believe. We still have a little bit to go, but we are still in the process of the realignment after the end of last season, because it does take a long time to move aerodynamically from one position to another. The movable wing is a whole new game, and we'll be trying to exploit its performance to the max.
'We've also put in a lot of work trying to maximize the potential performance of the new Pirelli tire compounds. To this end we've recruited a new senior tire engineer, Jun Matsusaki, to guide us through the development process. The test we recently conducted in Valencia was a good learning exercise.
'Exhaust management will also be a big area of development this year. There will be an upgrade for the first race, so there are some changes that will come into effect at the Bahrain test. Further down the line there are some big updates for the front of the car coming in for the first European race.'
Significantly the team has done far more than simply address the new rules. It has also gone back to basics by taking a close look at the fundamentals of last year's package, and attempted to address key areas of concern.
'Towards the end of last season there was a drop-off in our relative performance,' says Green. 'In theory we were adding performance to the car, but it wasn't getting translated to the track. We decided to have a very close look at what was happening on the car, and what could be causing this. The bottom line is we didn't extract the most from the blown diffuser, thus over the winter we've taken a reasonable philosophy chance on the aerodynamics of the car in order to try and prevent the sort of drop-off in performance that we saw at the end of last year.'
In addition the team has focused on improving its performance in high downforce spec.
'Looking back over the years the cars we have produced here have always struggled at the high downforce tracks - they always been 'slippery' cars. We've identified a problem, and now we have to fix it, and it means that potentially there's another strategic aero change coming as well.'
Underlining the team's renewed focus on aerodynamic development, there will extra emphasis on gathering data on the Fridays of race weekends.
'We are going to be using the real car at the track as a validation tool for the aerodynamics, which is something that we haven't done effectively before. There's a lot more focus on what's actually happening on the car aerodynamically. To measure it at the fidelity that we need to measure it at is a huge task.
'We understand how important it is, and we're in that game now as well. That will start to feed back into the aerodynamic development of the car. When we get positive results it backs up our development tools, and when we don't, we'll investigate why. Fridays will be a lot more about understanding the car we have as well as understanding the track at the time and the tires you're running.'
The change requires more accurate sensors and different procedures for gathering data, better analysis tools, and dedicated people at the trackside focusing on the aerodynamic performance.
Force India is not entirely new to KERS. The 2009 car was designed to utilize the Mercedes system and the team ran it in testing, although it was never raced.
'The Mercedes KERS system looks very strong, and we're really happy with it. We've done a lot of running in the simulator, so the drivers are well up to speed with how to use it. We're well developed with what we have to do for harvesting and deployment. It's smaller and lighter than in 2009, and packaging required very few vehicle compromises.'
Summing up, Green says the intention is to build momentum over the course of the year as developments come on stream, and the aero work pays dividends.
'There are some big developments in the pipeline, probably bigger than this team has seen for quite a while. I think we're looking for a much stronger finish to the season, and we do recognize the fact that there's an Indian GP on the calendar, and we are an Indian team. The plan is to be putting stronger performance on the car through the year that will lift us up the ranks.'
Q&A with Adrian Sutil
Adrian, the start of the 2011 season is just over a month away. How excited are you about the year ahead?
I’m genuinely excited about the 2011 season. I just missed out on the top 10 last year in the drivers’ standings – I’m pretty hopeful I can get in there this season! The progress the team has shown over the past two years has been very impressive and what I’ve seen in the factory and at the wind tunnel over the past weeks indicates that the rate will continue this year. I feel very good and confident; the team and I know each other very well and we know how to get the most from each other.
This is your fifth season with this team. Does that make it easier to push to the maximum knowing the team this well?
Definitely. For me, when I feel comfortable I feel good, and when I feel good I perform to my best. I respond a lot better to a positive environment and there certainly is one at Force India as we know what we’re capable of achieving.
Last year the team was challenging for points at most races. Are you confident the team can take a significant step forward and challenge in every race, perhaps even go for podiums in 2011?
Last year we started the season really strongly and I was qualifying in the top ten at most races and regularly scoring points before the summer break, but then the second part of the year was a bit more challenging. We were still developing but the other teams had a quicker development rate, which meant we dropped some points. It’s something we’ve worked really hard to address this year, tieing everything in together with regards the wind tunnel, track work and the design process back in the factory. We’ve got targets to finish at least one spot higher than last year so consistency has got to be key. As for podiums, why not – we should certainly be in the mix at some races.
This year there are several rule changes; KERS, moveable rear wings, bans on F-ducts and so on. What are your thoughts on these introductions?
For a driver it’s going to be quite busy in the cockpit. There’s the KERS to activate, the moveable rear wing and the usual adjustments to engine settings and brake balance. Getting everything right and in the right order will take getting used to, but it’s something we are working on very hard in the simulator. It’s a question of making sure you have the rhythms right and then it just becomes normal. But the first few races will be interesting, even spectacular, as everyone gets used to it.
A new tire supplier as well for this year – how much difference will that make to drivers?
We’re getting more and more information on the performance of the tires with each lap and how we need to adjust the set-up. Each compound is quite different to the other so I think we will see tire strategy coming into play each race. I’m actually looking forward to it as I think the wear rate will make the racing more interesting. Last year Canada was an extraordinary race as nearly every driver managed the race differently.
You’ve got two new team-mates for 2011, do you feel there’s an additional pressure on you to lead the team?
No, we are all treated equally in the team and there’s no ‘lead’ driver so to speak. Information and parts are shared and we all know what we need to do to achieve the results the team wants. We’ve got a very good relationship and I think it’s going to be a very strong partnership.
What do you think the team is capable of achieving in 2011?
We need to be in the points regularly and at times challenging for the podium. I’m really confident we can do it.
Q&A With Paul di Resta
A busy winter for you, but finally back down to work in the car last week. How did that test go?
It was a very productive test. I did a few laps on Tuesday to get back into the swing of it and set a baseline and then got a full day on the Wednesday. As it was the VJM03 we weren’t focusing on the times, it was more about getting data from the Pirelli tires to feed back into the development of the VJM04. Everything went smoothly and we achieved our targets. For me it was also about getting back into the team environment, re-establishing the relationships I’ve built within the team and preparing as much as I can for the start of the season.
This year it is your own car, one you don’t have to give back after free practice sessions – how did that feel and does it change your approach?
Knowing I’ll be on the grid in Bahrain hasn’t changed me or my approach as I’ve always been committed to every task the team has given me. But like any promotion you need to work at it to understand what is required and how you can personally achieve that. I’m looking at it step by step and not letting it overwhelm me. It’s a great opportunity and I want to make the most of it.
Last year you conducted a lot of simulator work for the team, will this continue into 2011?
The simulator program is a very important development tool for the team and last year I did a lot of proving and testing of new parts while the race drivers looked at specific race preparation. Now I’m in the race seat I’ll be concentrating more on the next Grand Prix, learning the tracks, knowing when you need to operate the different systems we have to use and making sure that when I get to the event I can start on a solid footing.
With so many different driver operated systems in the car now, how will that affect your concentration in races and is there any preparation you can do to make it easier?
There will be a lot of different systems to operate in the car now, from the KERS to the rear wing and the usual balance switches. The moveable rear wing will be a challenge to get right as it can only be operated in certain conditions, so this will be a learning experience for everyone. Coming in relatively new to F1 I think I will take to this quite quickly as I won’t have anything else to reference it to, but all the same it’s something we are focusing on in the simulator so it becomes more routine.
The race distances and stresses put on your body in DTM and F1 are quite different – has your preparation changed over the winter with regards to fitness or mental training?
I’ve always said that a DTM car is like a single seater with a roof and racing them is pretty tough, so I don’t have any concerns about fitness or concentration over the race distances. Participating in the free practice sessions last year however gave me a heads up to see which particular areas needed a bit more focus, for example your neck or shoulder muscles. Testing over the winter will be the best training to get back into it though.
*A lot of the tracks will be new for you this year. How will you learn them or prepare in advance? *
I did eight tracks last year and know them fairly well now, and the rest I’ll learn on the simulator or looking through last year’s data. The sim we use is pretty accurate and gets you up to speed before you get to the track itself.
What are your expectations for this year?
I don’t want to say exact targets on record as there are so many factors that can come into play. What I do want to do is to have a positive approach, finish, be consistent and contribute strongly to the team’s overall performance. We’ve got high aims of finishing in a good constructors’ championship position and I know that I’ve got to play my part in this.
Q&A With Nico Hulkenberg
You got your first taste of a Force India car last week in Valencia – what were your impressions?
It was a very good day both for the team and for me personally. We learned a lot about the new Pirelli tires and for me it was a special moment to sit in a Force India race car for the very first time. The entire team was highly motivated and so the day was a big pleasure.
Are you feeling at home in the team now?
Yes, I am. Of course we still need some time to fit together perfectly, but the start was very promising and finding each other will not take too long. I can’t wait to sit in the car and work with the team again.
What will your plans be from now until the start of the season in Bahrain?
I will be in London when the new car will be presented. And I will be in the factory several times, fly to Barcelona with the team, do some PR-days and fitness training and sit in the car again at the test in Bahrain.
What are your objectives for 2011 and will you continue racing alongside your F1 duties?
No I will not compete in another series. I will focus on my work at Force India only. I want to help the team as much as I can. We want to be within the best five teams in 2011 and I will try my best to assist on that. Personally I want to satisfy the team to be back in a race car in 2012.
Last year Paul got several free practice outings on Fridays – will you have this opportunity as well?
Yes, luckily the team will give me the chance to drive on Fridays in free practice one.
Over the season we understand you’ll be involved in other duties other than just the test driver role – can you talk us through this?
I will be testing in the simulator several times this year trying to develop our car outside the race track.
What can you contribute to the team in this role?
I hope I can give some useful feedback during race weekends with my experience from last year. Obviously I will be around and have my eyes and ears very open trying to help the team and drivers.
You visited Silverstone yesterday – what have you learned about the team since you were announced as a Force India driver?
I did my seat fit for the new VJM04 yesterday. I know that everyone back in the factory is working hard to get the VJM04 out on track right now, everyone is motivated.
What do you think about the new rule changes that have been introduced this year?
Difficult to say right now as I haven’t tested a car under the 2011 spec rules. But I believe that KERS, the movable rear wing and the new Pirelli tires will make racing more exiting this year and allow more overtaking during races.
How have you prepared for the new season?
Well, I did the fitness preparation as usual, plus I’ve visited the Force India Factory to get to know the people there.
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