Q&A with Force India's Simon Roberts
Force India became the latest team to introduce its version of a double-decker diffuser at the Bahrain Grand Prix. That development, plus some front wing tweaks, has lifted the performance of its cars so far this weekend.
AUTOSPORT caught up with team's chief operating officer Simon Roberts to get the lowdown on how the weekend had gone so far, and why he is confident about the team moving forward.
Q. Looking at the timesheets, it seems Force India has made a step forward this weekend. Would you agree?
Simon Roberts: Yes, we've made a performance step, and I guess it does a number of things; the car goes better, but it also means you can get it into the working range of the tyres. You also get driver confidence, which is what we have seen here so far.
Q. It is just the diffuser and front wing developments here?
SR: We've modified the diffuser, and we have another version of our front wing. It is an update rather than a complete new wing. Like everyone else, if you put two or three small things on the car then it all adds up.
Q. How much did Adrian Sutils performance in the race in China lift spirits at Force India?
SR: It lifted spirits a huge amount until he crashed out a few laps from the end. It was a fantastic drive and it must be very disappointing for him because he was so close, and everyone in the factory was on the edge. I still took a lot from that I think it was a great drive and I think it just shows what you can do, which is fantastic.
In those conditions, it nullified the performance of the different cars, but what we have seen here so far is an improvement. When the fuel corrected times are out, I think we will see something slightly different again, but we think we have performed.
Q. And the fact the field is so close and you are in the hunt must be encouraging?
SR: Absolutely. It was close in Malaysia, and it looks like it will be closer here too. And that makes it even harder when you don't make it into Q2, because you don't miss it by much. That is why we have made this big step. It doesn't guarantee we get through, but it should make it easier to make that transition. We think if we carry on with what we did on Friday, then as the track comes in we will be there or thereabouts tomorrow.
Q. So you think you will be in the hunt for Q2?
SR: Yes. But we have to wait and see. Temperature was a factor on Friday, and there was one point in P2 when it was so hot that I thought it was going to be hopeless. It was so hot I thought no one would be able to do anything, but actually everyone did a pretty good job. Some of the teams were limited in the number of runs they did, we could see that, but it should be hot again on Saturday.
Q. How big do you feel the development potential of the car is, considering how late you got things together? Do you think you will make big steps each time new parts come?
SR: I think everyone will really. There is still quite a spread of performance out there and like most things, it is easy to make a few big steps early on. It is much more difficult as everyone closes up. I think we are still in the phase where there is lap time on a lot of the cars on the grid. We certainly feel we can do it with our car.
We are expecting some more updates for Barcelona. Everyone is pushing, aren't they? And that was the trouble in China a lot of teams took some extra performance to Shanghai and we could not do that. We brought it here instead.
Q. And a weird start to the season do you think with Ferrari and BMW at the back here for example on Friday?
SR: Yeah, its all a bit topsy-turvy at the minute. China in the rain, you will get that amplified, but even here in Bahrain it is a completely different feel to last year. Fundamentally we are all trying to chase the same thing. We are pushing hard now, but those guys are pushing too. It is a race to get performance on the car, and then you get racing on top of that.
Q. The Mercedes-Benz KERS unit seems very strong. What is your plan for introducing it?
SR: We are still planning on introducing it. We havent got it here, but the car is still KERS-ready. We are really looking at where it will be the most benefit particularly in the latter half of the season. There are some tracks there that will suit it and with hindsight here would have been a good place to deploy it. But the decision was taken some time ago to not run it here.
Monaco is the opposite, so I don't know if anyone will run it there. We do plan on running it, and we think it will become more of a performance differentiator towards the end of the season. Today we would have loved it to have been even better!
Q. So you think you won't have it until the second half of the year?
SR: We've got a plan. I'm not going to tell you when, but we have a plan and we've looked at it on a race-by-race basis. Certainly all the classic races where you would expect it to be a benefit we expect to have it on.
Q. And what is the situation with your movable front wing?
SR: It depends which version of the front wing you are talking about. We ran it in Barcelona in the test, and the problem is we have been updating the front wing so quickly it hasn't been able to keep up with the mechanism, so we are still looking at that. We had a good debate about it here, and it is one of those things where you have to decide where you put your resource.
Do you update the mechanism? Or do you want better flaps? Right now we have gone for tweaking the flaps. But maybe for Barcelona we could have it but if we get more flaps out of the tunnel that work then we will use those instead. Because we have been chasing downforce up to this point, there is no point in being able to adjust something that is worse. Now we can start thinking about using it though.