Force India technical director James Key has admitted that there is still some way to go before the team's new VJM02 car can be considered battle-ready, but pointed out that that also means that there must be performance gains to be uncovered.
Speaking at the official unveiling of the car, which appeared in a new colour scheme reflecting the hues of the Indian national flag, Key admitted that attempts to pre-empt the change of regulations by running with 2009-spec set-ups on last year's car during winter testing hadn't worked as well as the team had hoped, and that the late launch of the VJM02 had compounded the situation, but remained optimistic that car would benefit from Force India's technical relationship with McLaren and Mercedes.
"In the last part of 2008, we set the car to 2009 drag and downforce levels to get an idea of how the car would behave with the new regulations, but very often we had a cold track and it hasn't been very representative," Key revealed, "We also know we have compromised on testing with the late debut of the car, but we have a very defined winter testing programme from now on and in general the positives on the McLaren/Mercedes deal have far outweighed the negatives.
"We have had to adapt the bodywork to fit a new, slightly different shaped engine, gearbox and KERS - we haven't had to start from scratch, but we have had to repackage and redefine certain areas, such as the sidepods, cooling and the rear of the car.
"We spent a long time trying to get the bodywork right and the guys in the wind tunnel design office have done an excellent job in interpreting the regulations. It is still very early days and I think we will still find new directions as development progresses."
Having seen life in F1 from various angles in his time at Jordan, Midland, Spyker and, now in the same team's latest incarnation, aero supervisor Key is well-placed to comment on the mandatory changes that have been forced on designers for 2009.
"The aerodynamic regulations are completely different this year, to the point where we are almost starting from a blank sheet of paper," he noted, "The bodywork is now much more like a 'jelly mould', that is there are no elements hanging off the bodywork, so no bargeboards, chimneys, louvre panels or any 'add on' devices that manipulate the flow of air over the car.
"All the bodywork must comply to a set of 75mm radii so the VJM02 has a much more curved, clean profile compared to 2008. Of course, the lack of these outlet devices and the changes on the rear has had a fundamental impact on the cooling of the car. Now there are only two cooling exits, and the air has to exit via the rear of the bodywork just ahead of the rear wheel centreline.
"If we talk through the car from the nose, the front wing looks very different. With an FIA-prescribed central section, and two working sections that are towards the outside of the wing, it also works in a very different way from last year. In 2008, this wing was narrower and the whole section was working very hard and pushing the air flow inside the tyres and under the car. Now, the air hits the front wing and its up-wash is directly affected by the tyre, so it must flow in several different directions, which creates a much more complicated problem, particularly as the rest of the bodywork is also subject to very strict regulations.