New Delhi: A refurbished Force India begins the new Formula One season this month determined to clock its first points and prove it is not there just to make up the numbers.
The Silverstone, UK-based team made an unhappy debut last year when it not only failed to win a single point, but Adrian Sutil completed just seven of the 18 races and fellow-driver Giancarlo Fisichella crashed out in seven.
In the race: Force India’s Giancarlo Fisichella drives his car during a testing session at Catalunya’s racetrack near Barcelona on Thursday. The Formula One team has tied up with McLaren-Mercedes for new engines. Gustau Nacarino / Reuters
Flamboyant Indian beer-to-airline tycoon Vijay Mallya, who raised the team after buying out Spyker in October 2007 with Dutch businessman Michiel Mol, will not tolerate another failure.
“We are not expected to win races, but we certainly want to win points and ensure we do not finish at the bottom of the heap,” Mallya told Indian media ahead of the Australian Grand Prix on 29 March. “The time for making excuses is over.”
A desperate Mallya spent the off-season attempting to revitalize Force India with new technical help, new personnel at the top and even a brand new livery.
He dumped the Ferrari engines used last year and tied up with McLaren-Mercedes, which will supply engines, gearboxes, hydraulics, and Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems for the new VJM02 chassis.
He also showed the door to team principal Colin Kolles and chief technology officer Mike Gascoyne and appointed James Key as technical director.
The car’s livery for the new season will be the green, white and orange of the Indian national colours in a show of patriotism to attract a few more million eyeballs to the sport.
However, both Fisichella and Sutil were retained as drivers and Mallya clearly spelt out what he expected from the team during the season.
“I would like to see a strong start, rising to points mid-season and a definite improvement in qualifying,” he said in a statement. “Regular points finishes should be the aim. It is in everyone’s interest for Formula One to have competition and more teams.”
Mallya, who picked up England cricket star Kevin Pietersen for a record $1.55 million (about Rs8 crore) in February to play for his Bangalore Royal Challengers side in the Indian Premier League, said Force India was not affected by the global economic meltdown. “Force India is a smaller team with a much smaller budget than the big boys, and so it is probably relatively easier for us to manage under these circumstances,” he said.
Sutil was confident of doing well this year after testing the new car ahead of the season-opener.
“I feel a lot more confident about the car now,” he said. “We know we have a lot of work to do, but we now have a good idea of how the car is behaving.”
“I’m looking forward to Melbourne now,” he said.
India hopes to host a Grand Prix in 2011 at a yet-to-be-built track on the outskirts of New Delhi, but the absence of a local driver in the team continues to irk the country’s racing fans.
Mallya, however, defended his decision to keep the likes of Narain Karthikeyan, who raced for Jordon in 2005, out for the time being. “Much has been made of our decision not to employ an Indian driver, but it was my feeling that, although there is great talent out there, it is not right for Force India at the current time,” he said.
“Of course at some point, from a patriotic point of view, I would love to see an Indian driver driving an Indian car. I have always said that with 1.2 billion people, there must be a Lewis Hamilton in there somewhere.”