Force India has podium finishes in its sights with its Mercedes-powered VJM03 in F1 2010 - that is the assertion of the Silverstone-based squad's 'proud' owner Dr. Vijay Mallya, as his new baby was launched today (Tuesday) amidst great expectations.

After beginning the season firmly ensconced in the rear part of the field with its VJM02, in 2009 Force India produced a turnaround arguably second only to that of McLaren-Mercedes over the course of the campaign, to such an extent as to stun regular observers on a number of occasions over the second half.

Whilst Giancarlo Fisichella's pole position and near-victory in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps was the understandable highlight, Adrian Sutil's front row grid spot, fourth place finish and fastest lap only a fortnight later in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza was also a noteworthy performance, as was the comeback to competition that weekend of Vitantonio Liuzzi, replacing Ferrari-bound compatriot Fisichella and impressing by running as high as P4 on his return to the F1 cockpit following a nigh-on two-year absence.

With the VJM03, FIF1 chairman and team principal Mallya affirms, the clear objective is to do even better still in 2010, and definitively transform the erstwhile back-of-the-pack minnows into genuine points contenders in each and every race.

"Our goal is to continue on the same path of performance improvement that we had at the end of 2009," underlined the Kingfisher Airlines billionaire. "I don't think I am being over-proud when I say 2009 was an exceptional year for us. The bare statistics say it all - one podium, one pole position, one fastest lap, a further five top ten starts and 13 points.

"We've learnt from our experiences and we've come out a better team - resilient, resourceful and now resurgent. I hope 2010 will see this great progress carrying forward. We've got one podium so far, but I would hope that, this time next year, I'll be talking about more points and more podiums. I'm confident we can get this, so why not aim high?"

One factor that should on paper play in Force India's favour is continuity on the driving strength, with Sutil and Liuzzi remaining on-board, accompanied by new test and reserve driver Paul di Resta. The team's race drivers both benefit from a healthy mix of youth and experience - and both are palpably up for the fight.

"2010 is a really important season," acknowledged Lewis Hamilton's former F3 Euroseries team-mate and sparring partner Sutil, "and we are very optimistic about going well. I think this year it's important to be consistent from the first race. I'd like to be in the midfield and be competitive from Bahrain.

"It's the first time we have been completely on-schedule, so I feel this will be the first season when I can show from the beginning to the end what is possible with the car and what I can do. Of course we will have updates and performance packages from this point on, but I hope we will be strong from the first practice session rather than compromising at the start."

"After one-and-a-half years in a test role, I feel really prepared both physically and mentally for a full race season," added Liuzzi. "My objective is to be as strong and consistent as possible and give good feedback to the team to help them improve. For sure scoring points as many times as I can is going to be the key, and you never know, perhaps we can get something more as well if everything comes together..."

That, naturally, will depend upon the pace of the VJM03, which is due to take to the test track for the first time at Jerez in southern Spain tomorrow (Wednesday), firstly in Liuzzi's hands for two days and then Sutil's. The VJM02 proved to be particularly fast around low-downforce circuits like Spa and Monza, though less effective elsewhere - but design director Mark Smith is confident that having built on its predecessor's solid foundations and having followed the mantra of evolution rather than revolution, the 2010 model will be strong across the board.

"The VJM03 is definitely an evolution of the VJM02 in terms of the design philosophies we have developed at Force India over the last year," the former Red Bull Racing man explained. "We are very happy with the direction, therefore we have opted to evolve the car rather than significantly revise.

"Obviously one of the major aspects we have had to contend with is the change in regulations, which have had a considerable impact on some aspects of the design of the car. The removal of refuelling from races increases the amount of fuel needed to be stored in the cars - almost twice the amount we ran in 2009. There is a compromise now - either make the car much longer or wider or, as we have done, a combination of both. This of course has influenced the mechanical design solutions and also the aerodynamics, specifically with respect to the diffuser and bodywork.

"Even with the ban on double-diffusers for 2011, we recognise that we still have to push as much as we possibly can in this area in 2010 as we have targets to meet and the double-diffuser is a key development aspect of the car.

"The VJM02 was a relatively low-drag car that showed well on the low-downforce tracks. As was demonstrated throughout 2009, that was a useful attribute but as we go into 2010 we have tried to maintain a high level of aerodynamic efficiency, whilst recognising that our championship position will be enhanced by a general level of performance that is suited to all types of circuits. We have, we believe, quite an efficient car overall."

To see the new Force India-Mercedes VJM03 in pictures, click here