Having taken progressive steps forward since Vijay Mallya purchased the team from Spyker back at the tail end of 2007, Force India F1 has now firmly established itself as a solid, respectable midfield contender in the top flight – but just how far can that progression take it?
In 2011, we would wager, probably not all that far at all, and in fact if anything, on the basis of pre-season testing – when there have in truth been few signs of any great pace from the Mercedes-powered VJM04 – FIF1 is set to cede some ground this year to the likes of immediate rivals Williams, Sauber and Scuderia Toro Rosso, all of whom look to have made a greater leap over the winter months and stolen something of a march on Mallya's boys. Even Team Lotus may be a threat.
Lead driver Adrian Sutil has confessed that the car is lacking in outright performance terms at the moment – although encouragingly, it does at least appear to be reliable – and in a battle as closely-fought as that in the mid-pack is likely to be, that could prove to be costly indeed. On the positive side, Sutil is a safe pair of hands – if occasionally prone to the odd bout of erraticism – and should notch up points in the lower half of the top ten if the machinery allows.
The German's new team-mate, grand prix debutant Paul di Resta, comes highly-rated and highly-recommended having achieved title glory in both the F3 Euroseries – defeating current reigning F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel, no less, along the way – and then again last year in the DTM. The Scot has the advantage of having run in a number of Friday practice sessions in 2010 so he knows some of the tracks – and come mid-season, he will be expected to be regularly taking the fight to Sutil.
It is a decent enough driver line-up and probably roughly on a par with those of Williams and Sauber – and indubitably better than the Toro Rosso pair – but the biggest shame for Force India is that arguably their best driver, Nico Hülkenberg, is the only one that isn't actually racing...
Crash.net World Championship Predictions
Paul di Resta:
Force India F1: