Force India's elephant in the room

By on Friday, February 1, 2013

[singlepic id=8753 w=320 h=240 float=right]It’s the elephant in the room. Actually, it’s the elephant in the pit garage and then, later on, in the media centre.

What am I talking about, I hear you say.

Well, a very obvious missing feature at Force India’s launch at a chilly but bright Silverstone was half of the driver line-up. Paul di Resta took the covers off of the VJM06 before taking questions from the media in a corner of the media centre. He looked distinctly uneasy at being alone and batted away questions about the identity of his team-mate. With just a few days to go until testing the team remains incomplete, with only Marussia as the other team yet to confirm their second driver. With other teams having named their line-up months ago, this immediately places Force India at a disadvantage.

Deputy team principal Bob Fernley was hit with a barrage of questions about the identity of the Scot’s team-mate, admitting that it was down to the shareholders to decide. Adrian Sutil and Jules Bianchi remain on the short-list, along with other unnamed drivers. Fernley denied that the delay in an announcement was finance-driven.

“I have difficulty with the terminology of pay drivers. The drivers that are in Formula 1 are very good quality. The fact that they've got the skills to put a budget together as well would be complementary, not a negative. What we do is see how things fit into our programmes and get the best drivers we can afford, and I don't think that's changed.”

Fernley’s words appeared like a justification. After all, why the wait..? Fernley added that an announcement would be made before the second pre-season test begins on February 19th in Barcelona. Fernley had said previously that a second driver wouldn't be announced at the launch as the focus was on the VJM06. But the launch ended up being more about the former...

It is the team’s intention to give maximum track time in Jerez to di Resta, although simulator driver James Rossiter will get a handful of laps as the team seeks to correlate the simulator to on track performance.

As for the aims in 2013, it’s clear that the team wants to fight at the front of the midfield. It’s already set to be a tough task, as Williams and Sauber ultimately had a fundamentally faster package in 2012.

“It's a new car, we didn't hold back,” said technical director Andrew Green.

“We had to redesign basically everything to maximise the potential of the car”.

[singlepic id=8748 w=320 h=240 float=left]Testing will be a crucial period for Force India – especially given the lack of a second driver – as the team has traditionally got off to a slow start before improving once the sport returns to Europe. Green added that much of the testing campaign will be spent getting to grips with the new spec Pirelli tyres.

“I think it's difficult to set yourself targets, especially at this point. It's consistency and working the momentum to carry over from last year,” said Di Resta.

“That's the focus, to have a car that gets into Q3 and put ourselves into strong positions.”

The British driver also emphasised how important the early part of the season will be, and again hinted that he is looking further up the grid for 2014 – and was swift to emphasise that his focus for 2013 is on making Force India successful.

For both parties – as well as the unknown second driver – 2013 will be a vital season. Force India must start strongly to remain in the midfield, while Di Resta has to continue to improve if he is to progress up the F1 ranks. The team has made a step forwards with the design of the VJM06, but other teams will also have improved.

The lack of a full driver line-up made the launch feel a little incomplete. If in ten months’ time the team reflects and wonders where they could have improved, the delay in announcing a second driver could be the elephant in the room.

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