Giancarlo Fisichella was full of praise for Force India's progress after the Bahrain Grand Prix at the weekend, claiming that the Silverstone-based minnows are now firmly 'racing' again after duelling it out with a Red Bull, McLaren-Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari in the desert kingdom.

Despite a low-key qualifying showing, the veteran Italian put all of his 13 seasons' experience in Formula 1 to good use as he gained four spots on the first lap and ran as high as twelfth place during the opening stint. He later broke into the top ten as he engaged in entertaining tussles with Mark Webber, Heikki Kovalainen and Nelsinho Piquet, before discomfort inside the cockpit of his Mercedes-powered VJM02 caused the 36-year-old to drop back later on and cede position to the Ferrari of the recovering Felipe Massa - though not, it must be noted, without a fight.

"It was a really tough race," the three-time grand prix-winner confessed of his impressive performance en route to 15th at the chequered flag. "The temperatures were the hottest we've had this year, and I was really in some pain in the closing stages as my seat was rubbing against my right hip. By the end it was very badly bruised.

"All the same, I think the first part of the race was very strong and I could race with Webber and Kovalainen and then Piquet. In the final laps Massa got past and there was a little contact. I think 15th isn't too bad - we are racing again and I think we can be pleased with the overall weekend performance."

Team-mate Adrian Sutil - Saturday's qualifying 'villain' for having impeded Webber on his final flying lap in Q1 and inadvertently knocked the Australian out of contention - crossed the finish line just over two seconds adrift of Fisichella at the close, after similarly gaining ground in the early laps to run 14th, and as high as eleventh by the time he came in for his first pit-stop on lap 23. The young German later went on to stave off Scuderia Toro Rosso rookie S?bastien Buemi to the end.

"It was a long race, very tough and the temperatures were very high," the 26-year-old acknowledged of the physically gruelling encounter. "Everything was on the limit - the car and myself - but actually it was a very consistent race.

"At the start I lost three positions on the first lap as [Kazuki] Nakajima drove into my car. That was a shame, but it was a good race from that point with good pit-stops and another finish that keeps the team's good finishing record so far this year. The new upgrades have put us firmly back in the midfield, and we can look forward to Barcelona now where we have some more upgrades coming."

Indeed, it was an extremely solid midfield showing from the traditional tail-enders in Sakhir, and re-affirmed the steps forward Force India has taken of late, with Sutil's eye-catching drive a week previously in the downpour of Shanghai now looking less like a flash in the pan than it may have done at the time. FIF1 chairman and team principal Dr Vijay Mallya certainly believes there are a number of reasons for optimism.

"The team has made some very promising progress this weekend," the Kingfisher Airlines billionaire underlined. "We've introduced a major new aero package that helped move us forward, and we raced fairly and squarely in the midfield. Both drivers yet again had very solid races, which shows we have a good foundation for future updates. We can now look forward to Spain and the start of the European season to continue this good form."

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