This year's Chinese Grand Prix will be third race of the 2009 championship, a change from recent years when it has featured towards the end of the season. However the addition of Abu Dhabi as the season finale means that Shanghai has been moved to April to help ensure a balance of 'flyaways' and China will now form a double header race with Bahrain.
Following a strong double finish in Australia and improved pace in Malaysia, the Force India Formula One Team will go to the Chinese race with the aim of translating its early-season promise into results.
Did the first two races of the 2009 season pan out as you expected?
Dr Vijay Mallya, chairman and team principal: Before the start of the season, we said that the first four flyaway races would be somewhat of an extended test session for the team due to the lack of test mileage over the winter. However when we got to Australia and Adrian and Giancarlo were able to convincingly stay with the pack and so nearly got into the points, we were forced to re-evaluate our expectations. We know we still have some work to do, but I think we can be very encouraged by the speed, reliability and performance of the team.
The team made a lot of changes over the winter both technically and on an operations level. How do you now review them now, two races into the year?
VM: 2008 was very much a learning year for the team and, on the basis of these lessons, I made some changes over the winter. I am pleased to see the switch to a McLaren-Mercedes drivetrain has been very reliable and the drivers say the mechanical balance and grip has to date been very good. Nobody would count us out for points so I think this says we have made a good decision. Secondly, we made some changes on the management front. The team is now a much more cohesive outfit ¡V it's all pulling in the same direction and this is entirely positive. So yes, I feel our decisions have been vindicated by the improvements this year.
Have you been surprised by the field this year?
VM: After winter testing, everyone expected the Brawn GP cars to be very quick and this has proved to be the case. Although the team started its 2009 preparations very early on last year and has significant resources, it is now effectively an independent team and I am very pleased that the team can operate at such a high level. It certainly gives us all some lessons. What we have seen further down however is that the field is still very close and we cannot predict the outcome. Under these circumstances I think we have reasons to be very positive about our own situation.
What have you learned about how competitive the car is this year from these two races?
Adrian Sutil: We are closer this year and in general the VJM02 is an improvement from last season's car. The balance and mechanical grip is good and it is very fast in a straight line, but at the moment we don't have enough downforce. We do have a much clearer direction though this year ¡V last year we were struggling everywhere, but this year it's just downforce. We need more grip in the corners. I know we have some developments in the pipeline so at this point in the season I am hopeful. The car has potential, definitely.
Are you enjoying driving the 2009-style cars?
AS: I think we didn't really lose performance as everyone expected. The cars are quicker than last year, so with less downforce and slick tyres, you don't really feel any difference in speed. It's a bit different driving them, but I really like it. It's very good for F1 to be back on slick tyres.
What will your aims be for Shanghai?
AS: The aims, as for the previous races, is to be reliable and get to the finish. This year I've got a 100% finish record so far, and I want to keep this up. We've seen that some of the other teams are having problems with KERS and the order is not so fixed at the moment so if you get to the finish there's a good chance you could do well. I think this should be our goal for now ¡V but when we get back to Europe I want to be racing on merit, not just waiting for something to happen to another driver.
What have been your thoughts on the opening two races of the 2009 season?
Giancarlo Fisichella: We are definitely closer than we were last year. For sure qualifying is still a bit of a problem for us, but in Australia we were only a couple of tenths from the World Champion so we can't be too disappointed. In the race it's not looking too bad. The balance is good and I have had some nice fights with other cars. Unfortunately in Malaysia we made the wrong call with the tyres so we couldn't show our real performance there, but in Australia it was not too bad. We are racing and that's a step forward. We need more downforce now, but we have a clear direction to improve and I think this is really positive.
Is the field more competitive this year?
GF: I think it is even tighter than it was last year and a lot more unpredictable too. Some teams you would expect to be up there at the front are midfield, and we've seen that if you get the strategy right or wrong it can make a really big difference. You just can't afford to slip up, even more so than last year.
Looking forward to Shanghai, what are your goals?
GF: The main goal this weekend is to have a clean event without any mistakes, qualify well and to finish the race. I think it's too early to start hoping for points yet, but we need to keep the momentum going and get as much information as possible so when we introduce new parts we can really see an improvement.