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Otmar Szafnauer, Force India COO: Q&A

5 February 2012


Sahara Force India chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer looks ahead to the 2012 F1 season following the launch of the outfits new car, the VJM05, on Friday at Silverstone.


Q:
What are your thoughts heading into the new season?

Otmar Szafnauer:
The car has come together nicely. It's all about how much we have developed under the new regulations versus what the others have done, which will be difficult to judge until the first race. But from our perspective we've made some gains over the winter. Our objective is to start our season strongly, and continue our development.

Q:
Last winter there was a change of philosophy that the team knew would make for a difficult start to the season. Have things been more straightforward this year?

Otmar Szafnauer:
This year we haven't done that, so it's been more of a traditional winter development programme. However, it's been shortened, because we finished last season nearly in December!

Q:
Do you anticipate some controversy in the coming weeks over how the exhaust rule has been interpreted by the teams?

Otmar Szafnauer:
It's hard to know at this point. We've followed the letter of the law. I don't know who is going to push the boundaries, but we will soon find out! The FIA have been pretty clear – they don't want exhaust gases being used for aerodynamic effect. You can't eliminate that, especially under acceleration, but it should not be a primary effect.

Q:
Are you pleased with the work that has been achieved over the winter?

Otmar Szafnauer:
Aerodynamically we've done a solid job, and I'm sure Mercedes will have done a good job over the winter, in light of the new rules. All-in-all, with our two good drivers, we should be competitive in the midfield.

Q:
Nico has been promoted to a race seat. What was it that impressed you last season?

Otmar Szafnauer:
We had three very good drivers to choose from and the decision wasn't an easy one. We had to look at medium to longer term potential and we saw some good potential in Nico, based on what he delivered on Fridays, based on his attitude, based on his feedback, and based on his speed. With all that taken into consideration we saw big potential in Nico.

Q:
Do you expect to see an even stronger Paul in his second season?

Otmar Szafnauer:
If you look at drivers coming into F1, generally in their second year they take a relatively significant step, which we expect Paul to do as well. It's not new to him anymore. In 2010 he saw a lot of the circuits on Fridays, but he's actually raced on them now. He has significant experience now which will enable him to improve his overall performance.

Q:
Both drivers have done a lot of winning in other categories. How do you feel about them as a combination?

Otmar Szafnauer:
Especially with the teams we are competing against, I think we have a very strong line-up with the two of them.

Q:
The competition is tough this year, but how hard will it be to achieve your targets?

Otmar Szafnauer:
I think it's going to be very difficult. But nevertheless, our aim is fifth place. I think Sauber started last season very competitively and towards the end they didn't develop their blown diffuser, which hurt them. However it will help them for this year, because the developments that they were uncovering still apply. They have two fast drivers, a good powertrain, they are a team with a lot of experience, and they have a good infrastructure, so they are not going to be easy to beat. Lotus were a bit constrained with the blown floor concept they had, and this year they won't have that, so they are going to be competitive. Williams have a new engine in Renault, they've got a new technical team, and they've got a lot of experience. Toro Rosso made some huge strides last year. They've got some new drivers, and while that is perhaps still an unknown, you usually make changes with the intention of improving! So it will be very competitive in the realm of the midfield that we are competing in.

Q:
On the other hand there is no reason why Sahara Force India cannot carry on from where it left off last year…

Otmar Szafnauer:
Exactly. We have continuity in our senior employees and management, we have continuity in our powertrain – Mercedes do a great job on the engine and KERS. We've got two good drivers again. We're starting to understand the tyres a bit more. All things considered, it will be tough, but I think we will be competitive. Where will we finish? It's difficult to predict. But our goal is fifth, and I think we will be competing for that.

Q:
Sahara came on board late last year. What impact will that have going forward?

Otmar Szafnauer:
It just gives us further financial stability, which is always good and welcome. It also means that our future planning for the medium term might see some significant changes, as we've got two shareholders who have funding capability for the team to grow. We're going through that process now, and it could be that we will soon be announcing some infrastructure enhancements that will allow us to move past the midfield.

Q:
Sum up your expectations for 2012?

Otmar Szafnauer:
I think we've done a solid job over the winter, and we've complied with the FIA rules as I said. It all depends on what the others have done and what they were able to find from a development standpoint over the winter. It's going to be difficult in the midfield, but our focus is on improving our position from last season. We're going to work hard throughout the year to regularly qualify in Q3 and finish in the points. And to achieve fifth place, we'll have to do that.


TO SEE PICTURES FROM THE LAUNCH OF THE SAHARA FORCE INDIA VJM05, CLICK HERE


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