Will Gray

Gray Matter: Can Force India find the sweet spot?

Will Gray

View photo

.
Force India have been jumped by their rivals this season after making a breakthrough in 2011 — but they are still the most consistent midfield team and a mid-season push could turn things around.

Force India ended last season on a roll, taking points finishes in nine of the last ten races as they rapidly closed the gap on fifth-paced Renault (now Lotus) to just four points by the season end. Based on that, it was quite reasonable for team chief Vijay Mallya to aim for fifth this year, with the lofty ambition of closing the gap to the 'big four'.

The Silverstone-based team is lower resourced than those ahead of it — certainly less wealthy than McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes and probably not as financially aggressive as Lotus owners Genii Captial — so in reality it is no shock that after eight races it is those teams who still hold the advantage.

What is a surprise is to see Force India sitting in eighth, also behind Sauber and last year's disaster story Williams - but in this incredibly unpredictable year, positions don't really tell the full story.

Force India have had their best start ever, with more points at this stage than in any other season, and of the midfield trio they are the most consistent with nine points finishes — getting both cars in the points in three races - compared to Sauber's eight and Williams' six.

They have also been the most reliable, posting just one retirement in 16 starts compared to Sauber's four and Williams' seven (although four of those were so late in the race they were still classified).

Indeed, taking the best 10 finishes, Sauber only narrowly holds on to the best average finishing place at 7.4 (thanks to their two podiums) with Force India just behind on 8 and Williams further back on 9.7 (despite clocking in one victory).

The problem is, they have not yet managed to fully tune in to this year's fickle and unpredictable tyre challenge.

Sauber were able to set up their car to a level strong enough to score podiums in Malaysia and Canada while Williams managed the victory in Spain — but fifth place in the last race in Valencia is the best Force India have managed.

They got the tyre analysis completely wrong in Canada — their second worst race of the year so far after China — and made a mistake with a one-stop strategy in Valencia that limited di Resta to seventh.

After that race, di Resta hinted at his disappointment with the team when he said: "You've got to follow what the guys are saying. I've done nothing wrong there. That's two races where I've been in great positions where things that I can't control have made a difference to the race result."

Team boss Vijay Mallya was still convinced after Valencia that they have a chance of finishing fifth this year.

The strength of Mercedes and Renault so far suggest that is a tough ask - but climbing back to the top of the midfield pack is absolutely realistic.

In Paul di Resta — who has been linked with Mercedes - and Nico Hulkenburg — who is also highly rated — the team has two drivers ready and able to do the job once they get the right car underneath them.

The consistency of scoring — and importantly scoring with both cars - has kept them in the hunt points-wise, with just one point separating them from Williams and 16 from Sauber.

And like Ferrari at the front-end of the grid, Force India struggled to understand how to set up their new car early on but are now starting to feel they have a handle on it.

This time last year, Force India had just five points finishes and a best finish of seventh — but mid-season changes turned them into regular points scorers. In contrast, this is one of the best starts the team has ever had.

Reports suggest the team is beginning a mid-season development drive with a raft of major updates for their home race at Silverstone next weekend — but that is not the only thing needed to push them forward.

This season is about set-up, and if the developments keep pace with their rivals, once they find that tyre sweet spot they should have what it takes to quickly climb up the order.

View Comments