Force India F1 designer Mark Smith says the team can be confident of being straight on the pace at the opening round of the Formula 1 World Championship in Australia next month after taking the wraps off its 2010 challenger, the VJM03.
Following a winter period characterised by significant change among the majority of teams, Force India is one of just three operations that will begin 2010 with the same driver-engine combination that it ended the 2009 season with, Red Bull and Scuderia Toro Rosso being the other two.
It's a situation that differs greatly from Force India's build up to the 2009 season, when a late deal with Mercedes to use its engine and gearbox forced a hasty development programme for the VJM02.
However, with that car going on to achieve great things during the second-half of the season, most notably its pole position and second place finish at Spa-Francorchamps, the more relaxed process of the 2010 machine is being met with greater expectations from the off.
“It's [development] been a lot smoother,” declared design director Mark Smith. “From the very beginning we designed the VJM03 in full knowledge of the engine and gearbox that we would be using for 2010, which gave us a significant advantage by comparison with respect to the same point in design time for VJM02.
“Fundamentally, key relationships are established and data is available to us much earlier. The result of this is a much smoother design and development process.”
Even so, the design of the VJM03 still differs markedly from its predecessor, with the latest wave of regulations forcing designers to think up new solutions to potential problems. The most immediate change has been the decision to ban refuelling, although wheel covers have also been ruled out and the front tyres are narrower.
“In terms of the way the car was designed and their impact upon performance, it's predominantly those three factors,” Smith continued. “The wheel covers were an aerodynamic device, so you take them off and develop around the new configuration.
“The refuelling ban however has had a significant impact upon a number of areas, such as the wheelbase, cooling system layout and the way the fuel system has to perform without fresh fuel going in every 20 laps or so.