Force India team principal Vijay Mallya has admitted that he has had to raise the goals he is setting for early 2009 after results from the opening races in Australia and Malaysia proved better than expected.

The Indian had thought that, with the relatively late arrival of the VJM02 following the switch from Ferrari to Mercedes power, drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil would still be gathering information at the first two 'flyaway' events, but confesses that the results were better than he had anticipated.

"Before the start of the season, we said that the first four flyaway races would be somewhat of an extended test session for the team due to the lack of test mileage over the winter," he confirmed, "However, when we got to Australia and Adrian and Giancarlo were able to convincingly stay with the pack and so nearly got into the points, we were forced to re-evaluate our expectations. We know we still have some work to do, but I think we can be very encouraged by the speed, reliability and performance of the team."

Indeed, despite yet being able to break into Q2, the VJM02 has proven to be a solid race performer and, allied to strong free practice showings, has led Mallya to consider the decision to align his team with McLaren and Mercedes a wise one.

"2008 was very much a learning year for the team and, on the basis of these lessons, I made some changes over the winter," he confirmed, "I am pleased to see the switch to a McLaren-Mercedes drivetrain has been very reliable and the drivers say the mechanical balance and grip has to date been very good. Nobody would count us out for points, so I think this says we have made a good decision.

"Secondly, we made some changes on the management front, and the team is now a much more cohesive outfit, all pulling in the same direction. This too is entirely positive so, yes, I feel our decisions have been vindicated by the improvements this year."

Veteran Fisichella might not have been able to deliver his first points for Force India, but is suitably encouraged by the VJM02 to suggest that it might not be long before he can.

"We are definitely closer than we were last year," the Italian confirmed, "For sure, qualifying is still a bit of a problem for us but, in Australia, we were only a couple of tenths from the world champion, so we can't be too disappointed.

"In the race, it's not looking too bad. The balance is good and I have had some nice fights with other cars. Unfortunately, in Malaysia, we made the wrong call with the tyres, so we couldn't show our real performance but, in Australia, it was not too bad. I think [the field] is even tighter than it was last year and a lot more unpredictable too. Some teams you would expect to be up there at the front are midfield, and we've seen that, if you get the strategy right or wrong, it can make a really big difference. You just can't afford to slip up - even more so than last year.

"But we are racing and that's a step forward. We need more downforce now, but we have a clear direction to improve and I think this is really positive."

Mallya, too, has been surprised by the shape of the field in 2009, with the once-thought-dead Brawn GP team rising from the ashes to set the pace, while the likes of Ferrari and McLaren struggle to reach the highs of recent years. Brawn's performance - with similar motive power to his own team - has pleased Mallya.

"After winter testing, everyone expected the Brawn GP cars to be very quick and this has proved to be the case," he noted, "Although the team started its 2009 preparations very early on last year and has significant resources, it is now effectively an independent team and I am very pleased that the team can operate at such a high level. It certainly gives us all some lessons.

"What we have seen further down, however, is that the field is still very close and we cannot predict the outcome. Under these circumstances, I think we have reasons to be very positive about our own situation."

Underlining the team's potential, the two VJM02s were the fastest cars in a straight-line in Malaysia, with Fisichella clocking 293kph and Sutil 294kph. The German, however, confirmed that certain areas of the car still need attention, but is hopeful that he will be able to add to his tally as the year goes on.

"The balance and mechanical grip is good and it is very fast in a straight line but, at the moment, we don't have enough downforce," he reported, "We do have a much clearer direction, though, this year - last year, we were struggling everywhere but, this year, it's just downforce. We need more grip in the corners, but I know we have some developments in the pipeline [and] the car has potential, definitely.

"We've seen that some of the other teams are having problems with KERS and the order is not so fixed at the moment so' if you get to the finish' there's a good chance you could do well. I think this should be our goal for now - but, when we get back to Europe, I want to be racing on merit, not just waiting for something to happen to another driver."

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