Force India’s 2009 challenger, the VJM02, will make its track debut today at the Jerez test circuit in Spain.
The Anglo-Indian outfit entered into a technical partnership with McLaren-Mercedes at the end of last year and the team’s new car, a direct product of this collaboration, will be powered by a Mercedes Benz engine unit and feature a McLaren gearbox and KERS unit.
Adrian Sutil completed a shakedown of the car at Silverstone earlier this week, but teammate Giancarlo Fisichella will be the first to push the new car over a race distance in testing today, before handing back to Sutil for the final two days of the test.
Fisichella concedes that delaying the introduction of the new car this late in the year is not ideal, but he remains confident the team can dial in the setup before the season opening Australian Grand Prix at the end of March.
“It is a disadvantage as it’s important to drive as much as you can before the start of the year to get a feeling with the car and try and establish a good set-up,” he said.
“It’s not easy in just four days, especially with the new rules coming in this year. We are just going to have to try and get as much as we can from these eight days before the season.”
Team Principal Vijay Mallya said he was confident that the team’s new partnership with McLaren will yield a strong improvement in performance this year and he expects nothing less than regular points finishes by the end of the year.
“To be brutally honest, I would not be happy if we didn’t show some much improved, and much needed, performance this season,” he said.
“What we really set out to do over the winter was to put in place structures, procedures and partnerships that would give improvement, but crucially, no excuses. By using the same drivetrain as another team, Force India now has a high-level benchmark of its own performance.”
“If performance relative to McLaren – the 2008 championship winning team – is low, there are only a reduced number of variables that need to be analyzed and understood.”
“I would like to see a strong start, rising to points mid-season and a definite improvement in qualifying. Regular points finishes should be the aim.”
Force India endured a trying debut season last year finishing at the bottom of the standings and failing to score a single point. That triggered a restructuring of the team’s back-room staff with both Mike Gascoyne and Colin Kolles being released by their contracts as Vijay Mally took on a more strategic role.
As a result of the these changes VJM02 has been designed by a tight-knit unit led by design director Mark Smith and technical director James Key, who have in turn been supported by a small team spear-headed by 2009 project leader Ian Hall.
In addition to the various challenges in interpreting a brand new set of technical regulations, the team has also condensed its development into just five months: the period between the McLaren deal being signed in November and the start of the season.
It’s been no mean feat to get everything ready, particularly with the team not turning a wheel between its last test in November and the debut of the new car – almost 100 days.
“When we confirmed the partnership on 10 November 2008 we had to adapt our plans fairly significantly,” explained design director Mark Smith.
“It’s not just a case of getting the new parts and installing them; when we changed the gearbox, it had slightly different suspension mountings and when we changed the rear suspension there was a necessary change on the front.”
“Normally you would have started in August, so we have had to compress everything into five months. Everyone has really worked hard to make it work and we’ve got a potentially better package, so the change has been a positive rather than a negative.”
Giancarlo Fisichella will complete testing duties today and 2nd March,
with Adrian Sutil getting his hands on the VJM02 for the two final days of the test.