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F1 2014 Season Team Preview: Force India - Indian Summer

Carrying a Mercedes engine already makes people at Force India optimistic ahead of the season. Will the team jump and become a top team?
Tuesday, March 11, 2014

March 11th, 2014 (F1plus/Graham Keilloh).- Never judge a book by its cover. And in the same spirit never judge an F1 season by the top level outcome.

Force India last year on the face of it re-asserted itself as the clear best of the midfield bunch, in so doing equaling its best ever constructors' table finish of sixth. Yet the feeling emanating from the Silverstone camp at the end of it all was one of lingering regret, as but for a few matters - some within its control; many not - it could have been better. The considerable scalp of McLaren's might have been its too.

Why? Well as Mark Hughes noted in Autocourse, Force India's 2013 experience was that of a 'conscientious pupil who had done all of his exam preparation, only for the syllabus to be changed halfway through the exam itself'.

The team in Technical Director Andy Green's words put 'a huge effort' into ensuring the car had gentle tyre usage given what was known about the delicate nature of the season's Pirelli product, and this brought its rewards in the first part of the year.

After the Silverstone round Force India sat pretty in fifth in the constructors' table and did so with a clear 59-37 lead on McLaren, despite missing out on even more points via Adrian Sutil puncturing a tyre against Felipe Massa during Bahrain's lap one and both cars dropping out with wheel problems in Malaysia.

Nevertheless, as we also know, for a few reasons after Silverstone everything changed, rendering the team's previous work on the tyres largely useless.

Also, by this time the team had shifted a lot of resource to focussing on the radical 2014 regulation changes, and it rather confused itself in response to the here and now changes too.

Apparently the warm conditions at Silverstone in the young drivers' test as well as the track's unusual characteristics gave the team a bum steer about the behaviour of the revised rubber, while the squad hindered itself further with a few subsequent blind alley set up changes.

A mini recovery was made in the final few races of the year but by this point McLaren was but a distant speck on the horizon.

Yet it looks now that finally the team is getting some gain as a result of the pain it endured in the latter half of last season.

The early switch of focus to 2014 appears to have had its effect with the VJM07 for this year, a car that gives the impression of being business-like and well-designed; one that handles well on track and is possessed with good traction.

Possibly related to this it like its predecessor looks to be gentle on the tyres too, evidenced by is often improving on its time on the second lap of a stint compared with the first. Even with Pirelli keeping things further from the edge this year this will be a benefit.

Of course, the Force India is one of the boats that has been lifted by the Mercedes power unit rising tide. This also is the first year of a technical tie-up with Mercedes (rather than McLaren) more generally, part of what Deputy Team Principal Bob Fernley calls the start of a 'new five-year programme'.

Whatever is the case, given how the Silver Arrows are flying right now teaming up with them cannot be a bad thing.

Force India replaced most of the white paint for black in its 2014 car, looking more agressive.

Early in testing though it appeared the VJM07 was the least well-prepared of all of the Merc runners. Almost alone of the four it did little running in the first three Jerez days and appeared further behind the others in its programme for much of the duration.

Even with testing over its total mileage lags behind its three similarly-powered rivals. But by the time the 12 days were done Force India appeared to have licked such reliability problems in large part, and frequently was showing handy pace too: Sergio Perez topping the times on the first two days of the Bahrain get together, which followed on from Nico Hulkenberg similarly topping the charts during the first Bahrain test's day one.

All of this should have a few implications. The expectation is that Force India at the very least will start the season with a par score being both cars in the top ten - the most optimistic assessments has its machine as the second best out there behind only the imperious Mercedes works team.

Healthy points hauls early in the campaign can therefore be expected, and if achieved will likely have the auxiliary benefit of putting them realistically out of sight in the constructors' fight of some of its nominal rivals such as Sauber and Toro Rosso almost before the campaign has begun (and of course it's this table that the prize money is based on).

The team adding to its solitary podium finish - as a result of Giancarlo Fisichella's second place in Spa in 2009 - seems within its grasp too.

More generally too we can expect from Force India as always a determined collective of racers that will make the best of what they have and shun outside distractions (in a similar vein to Team Enstone).

Its pair of drivers is one that would improve most on the grid - particularly in the case of Nico Hulkenberg who more and more appears one who can rank alongside just about anyone out there right now. Set yourself for an Indian Summer.

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