Force India has unveiled the VJM03, the successor to the car that caused the biggest upset of 2009 when Giancarlo Fisichella took pole and finished second at Spa. The new car will get its first proper mileage at Jerez on Wednesday, when the Red Bull and Virgin will also join the teams seen in Valencia last week.
Fisichella has slipped into a testing role at Ferrari, and Adrian Sutil and Tonio Liuzzi are the guys who are hoping that the team can keep up its momentum. Both will be kept on their toes by new test driver, Paul di Resta, who will do some Friday driving.
This year the team has enjoyed the benefits of continuity with both Mercedes and gearbox supplier McLaren, after last year’s late decision to switch caused a few compromises as the some elements of the car had to be redesigned. In other words the team has been able to focus on building on last year’s performance and dealing with the increased fuel tank size.
“Some of it looks quite different, and some of it will look quite familiar,” says technical director James Key explains. “It’s a natural progression in areas which seemed to have strong trends at the end of 2009, and in other areas it’s really quite different. Obviously everyone has had a year of experience with these aero rules now, and the double diffusers. So we’ve all gone into 2010 much wiser to what we might want to do in the future, and what sort of things we’ve got to make sure the car can cope with.
“I guess you could say the back of the car is the area that has evolved most. The packaging with the engine and everything else has been better. We had quite sweeping bodywork last year, which had a certain function. We’ve had more time to think about it, and that looks quite different.”
Last year Force India was one of the first teams to switch to a double diffuser, helped by the fact that the gearbox happened to lend itself to the change. This year’s car has of course been designed with a double diffuser in mind, and McLaren has further honed the gearbox to extract the maximum potential.
“It’s formed part of the make-up of the car this time around, rather than being added very quickly, as happened at the beginning of last year! It’s natural now to design the car to take these devices. The gearbox is now a little bit easier to work around, and there are tweaks to make the diffuser potential bigger. We’ve tried to make use of that. So there are some notable differences.”
Finding home for that 170kgs plus fuel cell has been the biggest challenge of the winter: “I’m sure like every other team we’ve just tried to make the best compromise we can. You are quite restricted by the regulations in how far you can push the fuel forward, for example. The side of the chassis, in pure performance terms, is really defined by your aerodynamics – what you want to do with your sidepods, and how big your radiators need to be, and so on. Then you’ve got vehicle dynamic wheelbase implications and aerodynamic wheelbase implications that you’ve got to consider. You’ve got to weigh all those things, and hope you choose the best compromise.”