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.