After a private shakedown test at Silverstone, Force India will kick-start its preparations for the 2009 Formula One season today [Sunday] as the new VJM02 makes its track debut at Jerez.
The test will mark the beginning of Force India's new technical partnership with McLaren Mercedes, which will see the 2009 Force India challenger benefit from a Mercedes engine and a McLaren gearbox as the team looks to improve on a tough 2008 – where the Silverstone-based team was the only one not to score a point.
Giancarlo Fisichella will be at the wheel for the first two days of the test, with team-mate Adrian Sutil getting behind the wheel later in the week.
“To be brutally honest, I would not be happy if we didn't show some much improved, and much needed, performance this season,” team boss Vijay Mallya said ahead of the 'launch'. “'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 analysed 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.'
Having only confirmed the deal with McLaren as late as November, the Force India technical crew then set about developing the car to fit into Formula One's new regulations and design director Mark Smith admitted it had provided a challenge for his team.
'When we confirmed the partnership on 10 November 2008 we had to adapt our plans fairly significantly,” he said. “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.”