The man planted into the heart of the Force India F1 operation by technical partner McLaren has admitted that neither he nor the team expected to be chasing Mercedes' third runner at this point in the 2009 campaign.

Simon Roberts, who assumed chief operations officer duties at Force India following its switch from Ferrari to Mercedes power over the winter, confessed to expecting the performance of Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen to be the benchmark for the Silverstone outfit. The 'out of the box' showing by the rechristened Brawn GP team, therefore, came as something of a surprise.

"It was a shock when we saw the Brawn in Barcelona - a real 'oh my God' moment when that thing came out of the garage and was just quick," Roberts told Reuters, "I guess, like everybody else, you go through a bit of denial about how they are doing that, and then you sort of rationalise it and come back and think 'well, they have been at it for 18 months'. If we had been doing that for 18 months, we'd probably be a lot closer than we currently are."

Roberts' comments refer to Honda's decision to start work on its 2009 car a long time before most of its rivals, Force India included, and, following the factory's exit and the Ross Brawn-led takeover, the team has also had several more weeks to hone its challenger, albeit it the supposed disadvantage of reduced testing time.

"In a way it's good, it changes the mindset of the team," Roberts noted, "We stop aiming for the target we used to have and now have a new target. A bit like McLaren, really."

Roberts was particularly pleased with another McLaren comparison, having watched the Force India operation buckle down to make the changes necessary to accommodate the McLaren and Mercedes technology it will run this year.

"Culturally, it feels very like McLaren before we moved to the new factory," he said of the 250-strong Silverstone outfit which substantially redesigned its original '09 machine and had it on track in 108 days, "It is a small team, and funded in a different way, but I didn't really want to have any pre-conceptions about who the guys were or how they'd work. I've been really pleasantly surprised, the guys have made it easy."

The only team not to score in 2008 - although it came close on a couple of occasions - Force India is hoping that the change of regulations imposed for the coming season could help vault in among the contenders.

"To get some points is the number one objective," Roberts confirmed, "Certainly, on some days in the two tests we've just done, we were definitely in that sixth, seventh spot. Sometimes we've been quicker.

"The car's fast, which is good. We know that we've got to do some work on downforce and if we can get a bit more downforce then we are definitely in that middle ground. I think, in all walks of life, people always achieve more when they think they can."

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