2010 marks the third year of competition in the FIA Formula One World Championship for the Force India F1 Team. After a positive finish to 2009, the team is hoping this season will be the one that firmly establishes it as a strong, competitive outfit regularly challenging for points and podiums whenever possible.
Consistency has been the key this year: Adrian Sutil and Tonio Liuzzi are retained as drivers and the team's technical package is an evolution of last year's increasingly competitive car. Paul di Resta, from Scotland, strengthens the driver line-up as test and reserve driver. He will participate in some free practice sessions this year, although not Bahrain as the race drivers will need to learn the new track configuration.
Over winter testing the team fared well, completing 12 days of testing and more than 4,000km and is now looking forward to the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
What are your thoughts ahead of what could be a crucial season for Force India?
Dr Vijay Mallya, chairman and team principal: We finished 2009 on a real high note - our first-ever points, a podium and one place up in the constructors' championship. That is enough in itself to set the bar much higher this season, but we're really determined to take it to the next level. Regular points and the odd podium have got to be the aim and we know it is possible. I have a lot of faith in the drivers and the technical staff, I think we've got into a very good rhythm together now.
Have you been encouraged by the performance over the winter?
VM: I have been very encouraged by the entire performance, both at the track and at the factory. The testing times gave very positive headlines, but it is very difficult to know where we are until we get to Bahrain. Certainly however the initial reports from the drivers are encouraging and when that happens it's worth another three to four tenths - if they feel happy and confident in the car then that they can really attack.
What is it that has made the difference this year for Force India?
VM: The key point was that last year we had a good baseline car and we improved throughout the year in a very structured manner. In the second part of the season we were very successful - at times we even had a potential winning car - and with that in mind we went into the winter and developed this foundation as much as possible. That stability is crucial and we have been able to focus 100% on emphasising the strong points while addressing the weaker areas. I think Mark [Smith] and his team have done an excellent job.
Adrian, you've now finished the VJM03's winter testing programme - how did this go?
Adrian Sutil: The baseline car we have now after 12 days of testing looks very good and promising. The changes we have made during the winter have all had a positive effect. Testing went well and although there was a lot of rain over the period, the last two days in Barcelona were OK. We did our long runs and a lot of work with the tyres so we are fully prepared. We are pretty confident that our car is good enough to be in the top ten in Bahrain.
From the testing, it is possible to see how the competition is faring?
AS: You can see a little bit, but you can't be 100% sure as you never know what the other teams are doing with their programme. That said, you can tell that some of the big teams like McLaren and Ferrari look very strong on both the long runs and qualifying runs and are always on the top of the timesheets. I am expecting them to be on the top again in the race weekend but we are not far away and that's a really good sign.
One new addition to the team is a new team-mate for you in the form of Paul di Resta. You've raced against him before?
AS: Yes, it was a long time ago, but in F3 in 2005 we raced against each other. I think he is a very good driver and it's great to have him on board in the team as he can help develop the car with us. He will do some Friday sessions too so will get some experience, it's a good opportunity for everyone.
Looking forward to Bahrain, what would be a good result for you?
AS: Hopefully in the top ten and I think that should be possible. I would hope we could score a few points. For everything else, it is very difficult to say what else will happen, but I am fine with any position within the top 10 - that's my goal for the moment.
You covered a lot of kilometres in pre-season testing. How did that go for you?
Tonio Liuzzi: I had five and a half days in the car and I learnt a lot of things about the car over this time. We had several test items to get to the optimum level for the start of the season and generally every item we tested had a positive effect. The car responds very well to any change, it's definitely going in the right direction. For sure the weather didn't help, but fortunately the car showed formidable reliability and performance, so in my mind there is a really strong preparation for Bahrain and the rest of the season.
How would you judge this car compared to the other cars you have driven in your career?
TL: In my five years of F1 this is definitely the best car I've driven, It's the most balanced, and knowing that has made me feel so much stronger and confident. Of course you can never know exactly where you are compared to the others but we can go to Bahrain feeling optimistic and positive.