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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Force India Assessed - Has the team peaked?

There's a lot of positive talk from Force India in the lead up to Montreal; most of it based on the fact that the tyres have brought a lack of predictability to the season - in their eyes anyone can win any race.  This is not entirely inaccurate looking at the form, however neither is it accurate to assume that it's a total lottery, which is the basis of all of the positive talk.

Since they were set up in 2008 the team have been moving forward, achieving good results and consistency.  2008 - 2011 they have finished 10th, 9th, 7th and 6th respectively, from 0 points to last years 69.

10th was second-last in 2008, effectively last given that Super Aguri only competed in the first 4 races and finished 11th.

Second-last again in 2009, beating Toro Rosso only thanks to a superb Belgian GP from Giancarlo Fisichella who qualified on Pole and finished in second, followed by a 4th place finish from Adrian Sutil at Monza.  These were the only two points finishes of the Season versus 6 from the Toro Rosso team however the placing gave them the points to ensure they did not end the season in last place.

2010 was a lot better with a 7th place finish, convincingly beating BMW, Toro Rosso and the three newbie backmarker teams with a points haul of 68 points.  This was a season in which at least one of the cars was knocking on the points door at every GP, apart from Germany where the pitcrews fitted Liuzzi's tyres to Sutil's car and vice versa, necessitating a second pitstop to change them back again.

2011 saw Liuzzi's replacement by Paul di Resta in the second Force India car.  Last season, once again they finished convincingly in 6th place ahead of the three backmarker teams, Williams, Toro Rosso and Sauber.  Last Season saw the two drivers achieve 9 points finishes for Sutil and 8 for diResta who was the Rookie driver.  The team finished only 4 points behind Renault, and were it not for another pitcrew tyre error similar to Germany in 2010 Paul diResta looked set for a strong points finish which might well have seen the team take 5th place from Renault. As it was, Heidfeld took 4 points from the British GP - the number of points Renault finished ahead of Force India in the Constructors.

So in 2012 there's a lot of pressure on the Force India Team.  While Vijay Mallya is also under pressure from various business interests he really needs to keep his eye on the F1 scene in order that the team do not move backward in the standings.  This year they're up against a revitalised and restaffed Williams team, a Sauber team that has gotten back into the groove under Peter after the disastrous BMW decision to leave the series, and an unpredictable set of tyres whose durability appears to alter from hour to hour.

So far in the season, with 6 races under our belt, the team have recorded 7 points finishes from the two cars with one retirement.  This is in comparison to Sauber, 15 points ahead of them in the Constructor's in 7th place, who have achieved 5 points finishes but have Perez' second place finish in Malaysia and the 18 points which followed.  Williams are in 6th place with 44 points, 25 of which are the Maldonado win in Spain, they like Sauber have achieved 5 points finishes and 3 retirements: however it is worth noting from Williams perspective that every time a Williams has finished a race this season it has come home in the points.  If they can finish they can score.  They could be one to watch.

It would appear that the top 5 teams may well be out of reach of Force India this year.  Once Schumacher begins to finish races I'm expecting Mercedes to overtake Lotus, a team that is also solidly and consistently scoring.

Force India therefore must aim for 6th place and a greater points tally than last year's 69 if they are to count this season a success.  Toro Rosso would appear to be out of the fight even at this early stage and perhaps even slipping back into the clutches of Caterham, were that team to luck into a couple of points finishes.

Sauber and Williams to beat. I think it's a big ask particularly if Williams were to be reliable and accident free for a few races.  Of the Force India drivers, di Resta is looking good on 21 points, were he to continue in that vein of form his tally for the season would see him take the 69 points on his own, however Hulkenburg is on only 7 points and needs to get his head in the game to show us what he's capable of, otherwise we might see the return of Sutil - who has been seen hanging around the paddock - just after mid-season.

VERDICT:  A seventh place finish would be solid for Force India were they to score over 70 points, sixth should be their goal.

The problem is that both Williams and Sauber have had a taste and will be looking at 4th and 5th as being possible. Should Lotus and Mercedes get involved in scrapping for 4th one of them might lose out to the guys snapping at their heels.