2011 Team Reviews - Force India

Slyboogy

World Champion
Contributor
Force India Season Review

Force India finished a highest-ever seventh in the world championship last year, just a point behind sixth-placed Williams.

But before the season was over there were signs their form was beginning to dip.

Towards the end of 2010 they were struggling to get both cars into Q2. They managed just a single points finish from the last four races.

Earlier in the year the team were hit by a double-whammy of departures from their technical department: first James Key left to join Sauber then Mark Smith, who inherited his workload, switched to Lotus.

There are signs team have hit a peak and are now on the other side of the slope. But they aren’t going down without a fight.

The VJM04, conceived by new technical director Andrew Green, is one of only two cars on the grid to adopt the ‘blade’ roll-hoop design of the 2010 Mercedes.

It retained the competitive and reliable McLaren drivetrain and this year the similar well-proven Mercedes Kinetic Energy Recovery System has been added.

The team also tweaked their driver line-up, dropping Vitantonio Liuzzi – who had a generally poor 2010 – and replacing him with Paul di Resta.

It’s a sad reflection of the state of motor racing that after winning the F3 Euroseries in 2006 di Resta was unable to find the support to continue in single-seaters and had to switch to the DTM instead.
The DTM may be a competitive series with high-tech cars but as a feeder series to F1 it pales in comparison to GP2 or Formula Renault 3.5.

It races at few F1 venues and only offers a dozen or so opportunities to race per year. The last drivers to graduate from the DTM to F1 were Christijan Albers and Markus Winkelhock – and they didn’t last long.
But in another sense Di Resta is at a slight advantage compared to some of his fellow 2011 rookies in that he participated in eight practice sessions last year. Although the mileage was not that great it gave him an introduction to several new circuits.

Nico Hülkenberg stepped into the role of third driver formerly occupied by di Resta. That’s an interesting proposition in itself because Hülkenberg had a promising debut season with Williams last year including, of course, that pole position.

There’s nothing like having a promising and hungry young driver in the third driver spot to keep the pressure on the drivers in the race seats. Hülkenberg is too good to be left on the sidelines for long and everyone knows it.

The team didn’t run VJM04 until the second test. With teams who finished behind them last year such as Toro Rosso and Sauber attracting attention with some quick times, Force India could have more of a fight on their hands this year.

The team expected to perform even better than they did in 2010, targeting sixth place in the championship and podium finishes.

They go one of their targets in a fine 2011 performance as they finished sixth in the constructors' championship, just four points adrift of Lotus Renault GP. However, podium finishes where far and beyond with only seven drivers occupying the podium places this season.

Paul Di Resta had a great rookie season and Adrian Sutil responded well to finish the season ninth in the drivers' championship, the first representative from outside the 'big four' teams.

Three times the cars finished in the top six - Sutil in his native Germany and at the season finale in Brazil, and Di Resta in Singapore. Sutil finished the year with 42 points while Di Resta racked up 27 and finished 13th in the championship classification.

The VJM04 was a development of the previous car, complete with its Mercedes engine/KERS and McLaren gearbox. New for 2011 was pull-rod suspension.

The team had lost James Key to Sauber and Mark Smith to Team Lotus. Engineering chief Dominic Harlow says: "Technically I don't think we lost out but meeting the tight deadlines with the track testing is incredibly difficult in that pre-season month of February, pure hell, and that made it just a bit harder still."

Gains had been made with KERS packaging since 2009, the system now beneath the fuel tank and contained within the survival cell with just the electric motor outside, as against the previous sidepod-mounted units. It meant that the team could shrink down in the pod area and although it had to accommodate the KERS volume on the survival cell, Harlow reckons it was a better compromise.

As far as the year's exhaust blown development was concerned, Force India started quite conservatively but then, unlike Sauber, quickly realised its potential and started to pursue it much more aggressively, in the manner of the top teams, using the exhaust around the tyre foot.

"We had a big upgrade package for Barcelona, then took it off, but we came on song around Silverstone time," Harlow says. "It was a case of two steps forward, one step back and just catching up with development to make that a fully competitive package.

"The upgrades were centred on getting performance from the exhaust. There was floor, pods, pretty much everything bodywork related. Just the front and rear wings carried over and had their own development paths."

A strength of the VJM04 was its versatility, whereas before Vijay Mallya's cars had been renowned for performance in low downforce conditions.

Harlow says that DRS development decisions were dictated by where the team was likely to race. In the middle of the pack the idea was to make yourself a little less vulnerable by having decent top end speed.

In the first race of the year in Australia, Sutil and di Resta finished the race in eleventh and twelfth places respectively but were later promoted to ninth and tenth after both Sauber cars were disqualified for a technical infringement relating to the rear wing of both their cars.

They scored more points in Malaysia with a tenth place finish for Sutil before di Resta's retirement in Turkey. Sutil finished seventh in Monaco, and ninth in Valencia. Their car in the first half of the season wasn’t solid to their main competitors Renault and Sauber, only scoring ten points from Australia to Monaco, while Renault scored fifty points and Sauber twenty-six. They were thereabouts picking up little points when others faltered, while the drivers looked anonymous.

However, from Silverstone onwards the team made a turnaround, and soon became the lead midfielder. Di Resta, who was known to be quicker than Sutil in qualifying in the first part of the season qualified sixth on home soil. He was bound for points before a collision with Buemi and a bad strategy making him lose several places.

Sutil seemed under pressure, most notably from the British media as di Resta was consistently near him on race weekends. The points table however, told different story as up to Hungary, Sutil scored eighteen points to di Resta’s two.

Sutil was asserting himself as the lead driver, after finishing in sixth in Germany ahead of the Mercedes cars, in normal conditions.

But Di Resta, after not scoring any points since Malaysia, bounced back in Hungary to finish in seventh place in a race with mixed conditions. Sutil added a seventh place finish in Belgium. It was punch and counterpunch with these two for several consecutive races, as Di Resta went on to finish in eighth while Sutil didn’t score.

Singapore was a duel between the two, with di Resta coming out on top, finishing in a career best sixth place and overtaking Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg late on, Sutil was chasing him but finished eighth. Was it a straight-out fight or was it more strategy related?

The team had a habit of splitting the strategies whenever both drivers got into Q3, while this nearly guaranteed for a points finish, one driver was likely to lose out, and we saw that in the five races from Germany to Singapore, where strategy wasn’t that much of a hindrance the drivers where close together.

No points in Suzuka for the team as both drivers finished just outside the points in eleventh and twelfth. Di Resta continued scoring more points in the second half of the season with another point in Korea, while at the inaugural Indian Grand Prix, Sutil scored two points with ninth place.

At the final race in Brazil, Sutil matched his best finish of the season with sixth place, while di Resta finished eighth, to help the team finish sixth in the Constructors' Championship, four points in arrears of fifth-placed Renault.

Sutil’s season was anonymous at the start, receiving criticism as a rookie was beating him in qualifying, and both were level on points up until Monaco, where he scored a seventh place in a hectic race (enjoy the rhyme? I sure did), and then scoring ninth place in Valencia, steering clear of his team-mate. Sutil was being the typical F1 German, bringing in the results but being anonymous ala Glock, Heidfeld and Rosberg.

He put in a stunning performance in his home race, qualifying in eighth and finishing ahead of both Mercedes’ cars in sixth. He put in another solid performance in Belgium finishing behind the top four cars in seventh.

From India onwards, he was in the points in all three races.

His performance in Brazil has got to be his best; he was on it from the start of the weekend, qualifying in eighth, finishing in sixth with great pace. This resulted in him to finish in ninth in the drivers’ championship and the best of the midfield runners, and right in the thick of the driver market.

Di Resta was looking solid and consistent, for the first five races he had the same amount of points compared to his experienced team-mate, and out-qualified Sutil 4-1.

However, his season went downhill for a while, collisions in Monaco and Canada making him look amateurish and losing the team crucial points. After Malaysia, he didn’t score points for the next eight races.

He was unfortunate in his home Grand Prix, where he qualified in a fantastic sixth place, but with another collision and a bad strategy call, left him down in fifteenth after what looked like a promising weekend for the young Scot.

His season started to pick up when he scored points in Hungary and Italy. His best race result came at Singapore, qualified tenth, and overtaking and finishing in sixth.

His season looking a lot better than what it did at the start.

Will Force India be the team to watch next season? Two talented hungry drivers in a team that is constantly improving since 2008, or will they miss Adrian Sutil, whom has been in the team since it became Force India, and has been dropped in favour of young Nico Hulkenberg.

Highlight: Finishing sixth in the constructors, and improving season by season.

Lowlight: Not a great start to the season, and missing out in fifth place in the constructors by four points.
 

no-FIAt-please

Champion Elect
Premium Contributor
It really is a shame the Sutil probably won't be in F1 in 2012, I hope he finds a 3rd driver role at a top team for a year and then finds a race seat for 2013, he's a good if not great driver that in the last two years has come on leaps and bounds. The Sutil of old wouldn't have beat both Mercedes' in a fair fight. Crying shame.
 
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