Adrian Sutil has predicted that the Force India F1 team should be able to finish in the points in Bahrain this weekend.
Sutil has been encouraged by the form of the Mercedes-powered VJM03 during winter testing and was fourth quickest on the very last day at Barcelona last month, just 0.139 seconds off pace setter Lewis Hamilton.
“The baseline car we have now after 12 days of testing looks very good and promising. The changes we have made during the winter have all had a positive effect,” Sutil explained.
“Testing went well and although there was a lot of rain over the period, the last two days in Barcelona were okay. We did our long runs and a lot of work with the tyres so we are fully prepared.
“We are pretty confident that our car is good enough to be in the top ten in Bahrain. I think that should be possible. I would hope we could score a few points. For everything else, it is very difficult to say what else will happen, but I am fine with any position within the top 10 - that's my goal for the moment.”
Asked about the current peaking order, Sutil added that while testing is not always a reliable indicator, he expects McLaren and Ferrari to be on the pace from the off – and that FIF1 won't be far behind.
“You can see a little bit, but you can't be 100 per cent sure [where the competition is] as you never know what the other teams are doing with their programme,” he continued.
“That said, you can tell that some of the big teams like McLaren and Ferrari look very strong on both the long runs and qualifying runs and are always on the top of the timesheets. I am expecting them to be on the top again in the race weekend but we are not far away and that's a really good sign.”
Vitantonio Liuzzi meanwhile concurs that points are a realistic goal and like Sutil, he was happy with pre-season testing.
“In my five years of F1 this is definitely the best car I've driven,” Liuzzi added. “It's the most balanced, and knowing that has made me feel so much stronger and confident. Of course you can never know exactly where you are compared to the others but we can go to Bahrain feeling optimistic and positive.
“I had five and a half days in the car [during winter testing] and I learnt a lot of things about the car over this time. We had several test items to get to the optimum level for the start of the season and generally every item we tested had a positive effect.
“The car responds very well to any change, it's definitely going in the right direction. For sure the weather didn't help, but fortunately the car showed formidable reliability and performance, so in my mind there is a really strong preparation for Bahrain and the rest of the season.
“For the first race we want to show that our winter work has paid off. Points are our target for the time being and getting into the top ten, as high as possible. Being realistic, a few points should be feasible and hopefully everything goes as well as in testing with good reliability for the first race.”