Force India launched its 2010 car, the VJM03, on Tuesday and Vitantonio Liuzzi took it to the track for the first time today. He will drive again tomorrow, with Adrian Sutil taking over for Friday and Saturday and reserve driver Paul di Resta due to drive on Feb. 17.
The team drivers offered their thoughts on the VJM03 and their prospects for 2010, as well as design director Mark Smith and CEO Otmar Szafnauer.
Q. Adrian, last year was a breakthrough for Force India. What would you say the turning point was?
Adrian Sutil: The turning point in 2009 was definitely Belgium. We'd already done some good updates during the season – like at Silverstone – but the biggest one was Belgium, and Monza especially for me.
We didn't expect such a change – we suddenly raced for the victory. But it was one of those circuits that suited us really well and everything came together. But also the last few races of the season were quite good and in qualifying we were quite successful. So, that was the turning point, and now it's important to do a good season.
Q. What do you need to do to build on 2009?
AS: The most important thing is to have a consistent performance throughout the year. We started development late last year with a late car launch and little testing, so this year it's a much better situation because we had a good winter of work and we could develop our car much better than in previous years.
That's why I'm hoping for a good start. My personal aim, and that of the team, is to be competitive for the first race and keep that up, and carry it through the season.
Q. So, you want to maintain form, or do something more spectacular?
AS: For sure I want to be where we ended up last year. Close to the podium would be amazing. But I think top 10, points hopefully every race, would be a good step for us. At the moment, it's too early to say anything clear because I don't know the car's performance – we had our first day today and it was rainy conditions – but everything around looks really promising. I have the best feeling I've had so far before a season.
Q. Tonio, you tested the car today. What are your first impressions?
Vitantonio Liuzzi: It was definitely a good beginning. Unfortunately, we did just two laps in dry conditions when we started the morning. But afterward, for a full wet day, we had a good result – we did more than 70 laps, the car felt really reliable, no big issues, and the weather helped with a few developments around the car with cooling and things like this. Now we are looking forward to tomorrow and hopefully it will be a better day.
Q. How does it feel to be a race driver again?
VL: For sure I suffered when I was in the test seat because I had already done two years of racing, so it has been difficult, but it made me more mature for this comeback. I did five races last year and now I think I'm ready for a strong 2010 together with Force India. We are all looking forward to this season.
Q. What's the program for testing?
VL: Definitely as much mileage as we can for this new VJM03, to understand more about this new wheelbase, and the weight of the car with different fuel. We will have a pretty interesting program for tomorrow and the next days. I think it will be an intense three weeks before Bahrain, but we are pushing, as we have for the last 12 months.
Q. What are your aims for 2010?
VL: As Adrian said, we are aiming to have a competitive car that can finish in the points at every race. That's our target for sure. If we can get more, like happened on a couple of occasions last year, that's more than welcome. But we want to get consistent results, consistency as a team in the championship, and development as good as we did in the past. I think we have a strong combination for 2010 and I think we have got the right car to do it.Q. Paul di Resta, you've been confirmed as test and reserve driver? When did it sink in that you would be part of Formula 1 this year?
Paul di Resta: It's been quite a long wait from Jerez at the beginning of December last year when we did the test. We've been talking and things have been progressing, and finally it was announced. That was the true point when you kind of confirm to yourself that that's what you're going to be doing as a job this year. And it's a very exciting opportunity. I have to thank Force India for giving me the chance to do it, and hopefully we can build a good relationship for many years to come.
Q. Tell us about your program.
PDR: It is going to be a very busy year. Firstly with Force India, they're going to be doing something completely different to other teams. I'm going to be running on quite a number of Friday free practice sessions during 2010, so it's going to be a good opportunity to get working in a Formula 1 environment at the race weekends, and also get involved in different situations.
I'm sure it's going to be the normal program that a race driver would undertake, and it just gives me a better idea and a better understanding of the environment that I'm in. I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be something new to me but I'm hoping to try and build on this for a race seat in 2011.
Q. How have you prepared for this role, do you feel like part of the team?
PDR: Yeah, I must say the team makes you feel very welcome. I've spent quite a few days there in the past couple of weeks. It's moving on, and the more and more it goes on, the more and more comfortable that you feel. I've been looking forward to it since I was confirmed.
Q. Mark Smith, this is the first time you've tested, how was it?
Mark Smith: Today is really about verification of many things. When you design a car you're obviously working with lots of models, whether it's a wind tunnel model, CFD, simulation tools, tire models, chassis models, suspension models...all of these models are the tools that we use to design the car. The first time it runs effectively on a circuit we try to validate those models.
Today has been really about 'Does the car have the weight distribution that we designed it to have? Does it have the aero balance? Is the thermal balance where we expected it to be?' And working through those kinds of things along with all the usual systems checks – does the car function correctly? That's really what today was about.
Q. What are the main differences with the new car?
MS: The biggest obvious difference is the length of the car and the wheelbase, which is a function of the ban on refueling. That's not an inconsiderable increase in wheelbase, which is evident visually. That's the biggest difference. In terms of aerodynamics it's a development of the themes that we worked with last year. Obviously the integration of the double diffuser from the outset of the design is probably a key factor as well.
Q. What is the development plan?
MS: The development program really hinges around the whole philosophy of trying to go to the first race with the quickest car we possibly can. That's tied up with a whole host of logistical factors. Not going to Valencia for instance so we could keep the car in the tunnel for a few more days, and making sure that we've got the right quantity of the right parts at the first races.
For Bahrain, the car has a reasonable update from the car that we're running today, in terms of diffuser, front wing, the usual aero parts, so we're looking forward to that. We'll go to Melbourne with another step, so we'll hopefully start further forward than we started last year, but we'll keep moving forward as quickly as we can.Q. Otmar, the regulations seem to be moving toward smaller teams. What are your feelings about that?
Otmar Szafnauer: Yes, there's the resource restrictions which will come into effect this year and next. I think the larger teams complying to those restrictions will have to come down in size and expenditure, and I think there are some smaller teams coming into the sport.
So I think the sport is changing and it's downsizing – or right-sizing. However at Force India I think we're very well placed to cope with this kind of restriction. The team has traditionally run very efficiently, and I see that in both the design and development staff and, as we all know, here at the team. We'll continue on the same path that we've been on.
Q. Force India had a strong end to 2009, how confident are you that you can build on that in 2010?
OS: That was the aim over the winter. Toward the end of the season the performance was markedly better than at the beginning of the season. We'll try to stay on that glide path, understand how that happened and the reasons for it, continue to exploit those efficiencies and benefits, and also enhance the places where we were less competitive. Those were the goals and objectives over the winter, and we will soon find out how we perform relative to the others.
Q. What are your goals for 2010?
OS: We want to be regular points scorers this year, and also challenge for podiums when we're in a position to do so. Some podium finishes for sure, but let's be in the points regularly. If we can do that, we'll have a successful year.
It's very much dependent on how competitive we are relative to the others. We're quietly confident, the numbers look good, but we'll soon know.
Q. Mark, what were key areas to improve for this year's car?
MS: I don't think that we particularly looked at any one area and felt that we had to focus on that. One of the fundamental things is just to keep working as hard as you can over the winter and keep putting on efficient downforce, and that's the key thing, the thing that we are primarily working on.
We did have a car that was very low drag, comparatively, so we have focused a little bit of attention on trying to look at the circuits outside of the two or three that were very good to us, to try and have a more balanced approach.
But we haven't particularly deviated strongly away from that. It's a subtle shift of emphasis maybe.
Q. Paul, describe what you think you will be doing during these tests?
PDR: I think just being part of the team. The team has a clear view of the direction they want to go, so I'm just trying to focus on helping them and developing the car, and just getting involved as much as possible, to understand what's happening. Driving the car as much as possible is going to help me in this area.
Q. Otmar, with the weather like this today and similar problems last year at Algarve, are teams going to start looking further afield or keep saving money and just stay at Silverstone?
OS: Silverstone could be snowy at this time of year, so we'll probably still be coming to Spain. It's unfortunate that we didn't get some more dry running. However, we still have a few more days before the testing is over, so hopefully we'll get some dry running and some higher temperatures as well?
Should we go further afield? Well, that debate happens quite a bit. If we get better weather, it's easier to stay in Europe, it's more cost effective. I think in years past, we've gone as far as South Africa in the winter. Although that does help from a temperature and weather perspective, it does cost a lot of money, and in this day and age, everyone's looking to save costs. I think the circuits in Europe are pretty good and the weather could change.