Recovering from a difficult start to a Formula 1 season is never an easy task for any team, let alone one which doesn’t have the resources of its well-equipped rivals. Sometimes this is simply life in the sport and compromises need to be made; sacrifice one part of a season for another, start well but know you’ll fade, or start slowly and hope that promised developments will deliver the required step.
Force India started 2015 on the back foot following its primarily financially-motivation decision to run old parts on its comparatively undeveloped chassis. However, halfway through the season, a new design for the VJM08 means the team is back in the ballpark.
The introduction of the B-spec car at the British Grand Prix – having been initially delayed – delivered progress, with Force India upbeat over its pace. However, the situation nosedived in Hungary. A rear suspension failure pitched Sergio Perez into a dramatic flip during practice, while a front wing collapse sent Nico Hulkenberg into the barriers in the race. Force India headed into the summer break having to investigate the incidents.
Force India has 98 points at this stage in 2014 but so far this year has amassed only 39, even if they still occupy the coveted fifth position in the championship. F1Zone.net sat down with the team’s Chief Operating Officer Otmar Szafnauer to understand the squad’s issues after its high point in 2014.
“In the winter we had some issues that didn’t allow us to go testing,” he explained. “We only tested a couple of days and not with the specification of car that we had designed for the test either, so we started the season not with car that we designed. That car we just introduced at Silverstone and had we been able to introduce it at the beginning of the season I think our performances would have been much better.”
Some financial problems and the move from a 50% scale wind tunnel to Toyota’s 60% scale facility in Cologne delayed the introduction of the new car. Force India found itself in ‘damage limitation’ mode and despite its comparative lack of points, it has done well to sit fifth in the standings at the mid-point of the campaign.
“The rules changed and the FIA said that you have to nominate your tunnel by December 31st, which we did. But Formula 1 is expensive and sometimes you don’t have all the discretionary money that you want to go racing so then we had to make trade-off decisions and one of the trade-offs was what type of car we’ll produce. So we had to run some of last year’s parts on this year’s car.”
“There were some significant components,” Szafnauer explained when asked how much of the last year’s car was in the ‘A’ version of the VJM08.
“The chassis itself was not, but a lot of the aerodynamic components, more important the aerodynamic philosophy was last year’s not this year’s. We had a philosophy change but we just couldn’t produce all the parts required for this change-over until Silverstone.”
“We developed the car in our own tunnel as well as sometimes at Toyota’s [wind tunnel] and then we went completely to Toyota starting in January. The car was designed, we just didn’t have the financial resources to build it.”
From A to B
Force India started introducing new parts at the post-Austrian GP in-season test and Silverstone was the first race for the B-spec car. The most striking change was the ‘nostril’ nose design; a concept to recover the aerodynamic loss, although the decision to do something so different looked a bit risky.
“That came out of the aerodynamic group. They had some ideas on how to manage the flow through the nose and I think it was a good idea.”
“It wasn’t a financial decision. It’s all to do with performance. The nose has to pass the crash test too so there’s crash test considerations. The risky bit wasn’t really the nose, the risky part was the big change in aerodynamic philosophy but luckily it worked. We were going down that road for quite some time, it was just the complete step at Silverstone.”
The nose was the most visible upgrade from the outside but it was just one of many developments. The wings, the floor, side parts, among other areas, and the debut of the new car met the team’s expectations. However, there remains room for improvement, though without any remaining in-season test days, the car’s real potential will vary from one race to the other.
“It’s still not optimised because that takes time to do, especially when we have to do it at the race weekend. We don’t have 12 days of winter testing to optimise it so we’re still working on that. But I think it will get better and better as we understand it.”
“Probably our season began in Silverstone. But even before Silverstone we were in fifth already. With the car that we had we didn’t do too badly. We had a few double point finishes, some decent results. And now with this car we look forward to get better results.
“The car still has the potential to get better because we need to understand it more. Maybe from Spa the benefits of all the changes will become clear. I mean Monza is a different track so we’ll run a different aero package, so by Singapore we should have a good understanding and a good car.”