Features - 2011 Grand Prix Review
JANUARY 12, 2012
Sahara Force India F1 Team
BY TONY DODGINS
Pos 6: Sahara Force India F1 Team
Adrian Sutil(D); Paul Di Resta (GB)
Points: 69; Best finish: 6th (Germany, Singapore, Brazil)
Force India turned in a fine 2011 performance to finish sixth in the constructors' championship, just four points adrift of Lotus Renault GP.
Paul Di Resta had a great rookie season and Adrian Sutil responded well to finish the season ninth in the drivers' championship, the first representative from outside the 'big four' teams.
Three times the cars finished in the top six - Sutil in his native Germany and at the season finale in Brazil, and Di Resta in Singapore. Sutil finished the year with 42 points while Di Resta racked up 27 and finished 13th in the championship classification.
The VJM04 was a development of the previous car, complete with its Mercedes engine/KERS and McLaren gearbox. New for 2011 was pull-rod suspension.
The team had lost James Key to Sauber and Mark Smith to Team Lotus. Engineering chief Dominic Harlow says: "Technically I don't think we lost out but meeting the tight deadlines with the track testing is incredibly difficult in that pre-season month of February, pure hell, and that made it just a bit harder still."
Gains had been made with KERS packaging since 2009, the system now beneath the fuel tank and contained within the survival cell with just the electric motor outside, as against the previous sidepod-mounted units. It meant that the team could shrink down in the pod area and although it had to accommodate the KERS volume on the survival cell, Harlow reckons it was a better compromise.
As far as the year's exhaust blown development was concerned, Force India started quite conservatively but then, unlike Sauber, quickly realised its potential and started to pursue it much more aggressively, in the manner of the top teams, using the exhaust around the tyre foot.
"We had a big upgrade package for Barcelona, then took it off, but we came on song around Silverstone time," Harlow says. "It was a case of two steps forward, one step back and just catching up with development to make that a fully competitive package.
"The upgrades were centred on getting performance from the exhaust. There was floor, pods, pretty much everything bodywork related. Just the front and rear wings carried over and had their own development paths."
A strength of the VJM04 was its versatility, whereas before Vijay Mallya's cars had been renowned for performance in low downforce conditions.
Harlow says that DRS development decisions were dictated by where the team was likely to race. In the middle of the pack the idea was to make yourself a little less vulnerable by having decent top end speed.
With the Pirellis, Harlow thinks that the over-riding factor was the level of downforce with the harder compounds.
"With the quicker cars the prime to option delta is that little bit smaller," he says. "It's probably more significant on the top three teams but beyond that we're comfortable that the tyres did what they said on the tin."
The team had enjoyed working with Di Resta in 2010, recognising his potential, and that translated as soon as he got into a regular race seat. He produced a number of strong drives, Hungary being one of the best, and a Safety Car issue was unlucky at Spa.
Sutil is deserving of a place in F1 and must consider himself unfortunate to lose his seat to Hulkenberg after earning his "best of the rest" accolade. Having said that, it was equally clear that the German former GP2 champion is far too good to be anyone's permanent reserve driver. It was almost an embarrassment of riches.
Looking back at a really strong year, Harlow says: "If we are improving on the previous year, that's probably the biggest motivator. It's nice sometimes when you know you've beaten Mercedes and Michael Schumacher, that's fantastic, but in the long run we're about bettering ourselves."