Force India team principal Vijay Mallya is expecting another strong weekend at round two of the 2014 F1 world championship after seeing both his drivers score points in Australia.
Although he acknowledges that Malaysia – and Bahrain the following weekend – will provide a tougher climatic challenge than the all-new VJM07 faced in Melbourne, Mallya says he is pleased with the way the season has started, particularly after the doom and gloom predictions of outsiders after testing.
“The change to the 1.6-litre V6 with the ERS has had its fair share of debate,” he confirmed, “Yes, it's complicated; it's very sophisticated and it's unknown territory, which led to a lot of speculation. In the Bahrain tests, when some of the bigger teams completed limited mileage, it simply fuelled this speculation. So to see so many cars finish the race surprised a lot of people.
“It shows that teams have got on top of their game and the uncertainties have been reduced to a large extent. Now it's a question of really concentrating on trying to find the competitive advantage.
“Whenever I spoke with the engineering team over the winter, it became clear the biggest unknown was the complexity of the car and consequently the reliability. It wasn't as if the designers and engineers were working with a familiar car that they already knew how to upgrade and tweak. Here, everything was new. For example, nobody really knew what cooling was required and optimising that was a major job during testing. But I think we have gone up the learning curve successfully and we have a good understanding of the car and all the new technology that's gone into it.”
Nico Hulkenberg qualifying inside the top ten and racing his way to sixth place in Australia was complemented by team-mate Sergio Perez's subsequent post-race promotion to tenth following Daniel Ricciardo's exclusion from second spot, and Mallya is hoping that process to be a solid foundation on which to build.
“Australia was definitely a respectable start, without a doubt - and probably the best start we've had since I took over the team,” he commented, “We went into the race feeling good and confident. We were concerned initially about reliability, but I think the number of laps we were able to put in during Bahrain testing gave us the confidence that we were on top most issues. The fact that both the cars finished the race is a good way to start the season.
“Clearly, the VJM07 is competitive. Nico finished sixth with a strong drive and I dare say 'Checo' would have been higher up had he not had a first lap puncture. The fact that he finished where he did after three stops speaks for itself.
“Obviously, there are reasons to be pleased, but we still realise that we need to find a bit more performance if we want to challenge for podiums. That's what we are focusing on right now.
“The weather in Melbourne was relatively cool, so I'd like to see what impact the warmer climates of Malaysia and Bahrain will have on performance and competitiveness. Effective cooling will be a priority this weekend. If we can reproduce the performance level we showed in Melbourne that will be a good starting point.”