Dr. Vijay Mallya has forecast a more competitive performance from Force India F1 in next weekend's Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka – and the Indian entrepreneur confesses that the team needs just such a showing if it is to successfully achieve its target of staving off the threat of a fast-closing Williams for sixth position in the final constructors' standings.
In Singapore last time out, FIF1 tallied a mere two points courtesy of Adrian Sutil's ninth place, with Vitantonio Liuzzi in the sister car crashing into retirement on only the opening lap following contact with Sauber returnee Nick Heidfeld. In Italy a fortnight earlier still, neither driver had troubled the scorers on a dismal weekend from which much, much more had been expected – and over the same period, Williams has notched up no fewer than 16 points with a brace of double top ten finishes.
That has left the former multiple world champions perilously within touching-distance of their Silverstone-based rivals at just four points adrift heading to Japan, but Mallya is hopeful that a new aerodynamic boost allied to a circuit layout that, like Spa-Francorchamps – where Sutil took the chequered flag an excellent fifth – should play to the strengths of the Mercedes-powered VJM03, will help Force India to stay in front.
“Singapore was a so-so event for us,” mused the Kingfisher Airlines billionaire. “Qualifying was disappointing, but we were happy with the way things went eventually in the race in that we scored points and demonstrated good race pace. Adrian finished eighth on the road [before being penalised back to ninth], which was a credible achievement after starting 15th. It was unfortunate for Tonio, but it was a racing incident that can, and does, happen.
“I'm looking forward to Suzuka, as I feel we have a chance to be a bit more competitive – I would hope we could show a level of performance similar to Spa this year. Our car favours the low-downforce tracks slightly more than the high such as Singapore, and whether it's wet or dry, both drivers love it, which gives extra confidence.
“I'm not going to repeat our objective, as everyone knows what we want and need to achieve in terms of points to maintain position. We are giving ourselves every tool we have available – we have another aero development package to put on the car, with a couple of bodywork tweaks to eke out every possible performance advantage. The drivers are fully-motivated as well – we all know what's at stake.”
To that end, it has been confirmed that FIF1 test and reserve driver Paul di Resta – increasingly linked with a race seat promotion in 2011 – will sit out Friday practice, in order to enable Sutil and Liuzzi the maximum time and opportunity to prepare for the competitive action.
“Unfortunately, I won't be out in FP1 in Japan, for similar reasons to Singapore,” revealed the Scot. “It's such an important time in the year that we need to play the team game and give ourselves every advantage we can; plus, the team will have some new aero tweaks to try out, so Adrian and Tonio need the time to get used to them and give some feedback for the race.
“As I've not seen the track before and have in fact never been to Japan, it will still be another new experience for me. Suzuka is one of those places you hear so much about – all the drivers love it and talk about the challenges of each corner, so I can't wait to see it for myself! There's so much history about it, with world championships decided there some years, so I'm sure it will be a very special place to be, particularly when there's so much at stake this year as well.”