Following an encouraging showing at the 2010 curtain raiser, the Bahrain Grand Prix, the Force India F1 Team now heads to Australia in a buoyant mood for the second round of the FIA Formula One World Championship. Tonio Liuzzi, contesting his first full race season since 2007, secured two points in Bahrain while Adrian Sutil qualified in the top ten and raced to 12th position at the flag fall, setting the second quickest lap of the race in the process.
The team has reason to be optimistic for the next race as new aero developments will be introduced, while test and reserve Paul di Resta will make his free practice debut on Friday. The young Scot will replace Adrian Sutil in FP1 as he seeks to gain further track time and experience behind the wheel of the VJM03.
In Bahrain Tonio finished ninth and 'best of the rest' behind the eight cars from the four pacesetting teams. Were you satisfied with that?
Dr Vijay Mallya, chairman and team principal: It's what our objective was over the winter. We set ourselves an internal objective of finishing fifth in the World Championship. I know there's a long way to go, but it's a right start. We've got a solid car to start with, and we've got a good base, and now it's about the development rate for the rest of the year. It was fantastic for Tonio to have scored points for the first time since 2007. Adrian's second fastest lap means there's also some good for him to take out of the race too. I think we all acknowledge that last year our progress was sporadic - on some tracks we were very quick, on others not so good - so to come out this strongly is a really good step forward. With the new upgrades we have in the pipeline for Australia I can say with every faith that we can carry the momentum forward.
Paul di Resta will be driving one of the cars on Friday in Australia. What is the thinking behind that?
VM: Paul is a very good driver and has a lot of potential. But as a third driver the question is how he can use this potential if there's no testing in-season. This is a good solution all round, he can learn the car and the tracks in real time and therefore spend his simulator time helping to develop the car, which will be of real benefit to us. The race drivers are very supportive of the move - they've all been young drivers one time!
How has the reaction been in India to the team's success?
VM: Formula One is growing by leaps and bounds in India. Firstly they have an Indian team and now, in the form of Karun Chandhok, they have an Indian driver. The fans now have genuine interest to hold on to. Sure, people were aware of the big legends of the sport - Ferrari, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton - but for them to have tangible, identifiable properties is the difference between a minority sport and national interest. With the Indian Grand Prix now looking very promising it's really building - you've got these heroes and now you can go and watch them too. You can see the interest growing day by day, on our social networking site we've got more than one million followers.
How would you review Bahrain?
Adrian Sutil: I think it was a very good start to the season. We were very competitive in free practice, I was quickest in FP1, and then again in qualifying where both Tonio and myself were in the top 12. Last year we didn't get through to Q2 in Bahrain so to come out and be in the top 12 is really positive. Everything went well until the start of the race for me and then I dropped back down the field but from the team perspective at least one car got into the points. But now we want to go even higher in Australia. I think there is still potential to improve everything and get close to the top five or six.
From your perspective how was the racing in Bahrain?
AS: Well, after the start I dropped down to 21st position and I came 12th at the end of the race so it shows that you can overtake and have a good race. OK, some of the cars I passed were the new teams and we had a performance advantage over them, but in the midpoint of the race I was fighting with Kubica [Renault] and the two Saubers so you can pass with the new regulations, it was just higher up the field that people were very cautious. But then at the first race of the year you never know really how everything will behave in race trim. You do long run simulations in testing, but until you have the field around you it's can never be 100% representative. Under these circumstances it's natural to take care as you don't want to be a DNF in the first race. But last year's Bahrain Grand Prix was also not that interesting, with only refuelling and pit stops so never really overtaking possibilities. I think every driver was a bit cautious as it was the first race and we had to go a long distance on the soft tyre and nobody really knew the best way to call it. Now we will go to Australia and tweak it a bit more to the limit and start to be a more aggressive. I think there will be some more overtaking.
Looking to Australia now, what are your thoughts on the Albert Park circuit?
AS: It's one of my favourites. It's quite a nice street circuit with a few run off areas through a park so it's very beautiful. But it's also very challenging with a lot of quick corners and a few slow speed corners so altogether it's a great circuit to race on. I also have a lot of history there - I made my race debut for Spyker at the track in 2007, it was where Force India made their race debut the next year and then last year I was ninth. If we can get that position again this year that's two points! We've got to aim for this or higher - I'm pretty happy with where we were in qualifying and how we performed in the Bahrain race so we've got a lot of reasons to look forward to Australia now.