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.”