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The 2008 newcomers - Force India 10 Mar 2008

Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India VJM01. Formula One Testing, Day One, Barcelona, Spain, 25 February 2008. World © Moy/Sutton Dr Vijay Mallya (IND) CEO Kingfisher.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Brazilian Grand Prix, Race Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, 21 October 2007 L-R: Force India F1 Team mates Adrian Sutil (GER); Vitantonio Liuzzi (ITA) and Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA). Force India F1 Drivers aboard Indian Empress, Mumbai, India, 6 February 2008. World © Moy/Sutton Andy Stevenson (GBR) Force India F1 Team Manager, Mike Gascoyne (GBR) Force India F1 Chief Technical Officer, Colin Kolles (GER) Force India F1 Team Principal and Vijay Mallya (IND) Force India F1 Team Owner. Formula One Testing, Day Two, Barcelona, Spain, 26 February 2008. World © Moy/Sutton The Force India VJM01 track debut. Formula One Testing, Day One, Barcelona, Spain, 25 February 2008. World © Sutton

Nothing lasts forever, but even in the fast-moving world of Formula One racing Midland and Spyker were short-lived in the extreme. Both squads were incarnations of the former Jordan team and both lasted just the one season. But in 2008, with a new set of owners and a new name - Force India - the squad are hoping to consign any instability to the history books and finally make a fresh start.

At the heart of Force India’s transformation is new team co-owner Dr Vijay Mallya, whose Formula One appetite was whet as a Toyota sponsor through his Kingfisher brand. After tiring of watching from the sidelines, the Indian industrialist decided to take the plunge, buying out the faltering Spyker team, along with Dutch entrepreneur Michiel Mol, towards the end of last year.

Since then the squad has barely had time to look back and there is a tangible air of change at their Silverstone base. At the root of Mallya’s involvement is his hope that the team will eventually help open up India to the delights of Formula One racing and, with both driver and livery launches held recently in Mumbai, an eastern flavour has already taken hold of this intrinsically British team.

Budget-wise too, Mallya has enacted a great deal of change. The billionaire has gone on record as saying he expects to see a Force India driver on the podium for the inaugural Indian Grand Prix in 2010. It’s a big ask for a small team, but Mallya has backed up his bravado with cold, hard cash, thrusting his hands deep in his pockets to help realise those ambitions.

If media reports are to be believed, the team’s budget has almost doubled this year to a cool US$110 million and with that extra money, chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne has been able to hire several key members of staff, including former Jordan colleague Mark Smith, who joined late last year as design director. The extra resources have also granted more flexibility in the squad’s choice of drivers. Instead of relying on those that merely boost sponsorship funds, Force India have opted for experience, handpicking former Renault driver Giancarlo Fisichella to partner rated incumbent Adrian Sutil.

Fisichella’s depth of knowledge and experience in a world-championship winning team will no doubt assist Force India develop. As will the talents of test driver Vitantonio Liuzzi, who joins from Toro Rosso, and who has enough hunger for a race drive to apply just the right amount of pressure to his team mates. Tellingly, despite Mallya’s nationalistic aims, he has opted not to sign an Indian driver until there is a suitable candidate able to genuinely cope with the challenge of Formula One. Until then the squad clearly wants the most talented line-up at its disposal.

The improved budget also means Gascoyne has been able to start planning for the future, rather than merely surviving day by day. Whereas last season Spyker’s snowballing financial concerns prevented much forward thinking, this year the team are already looking beyond 2008 and setting their sites on bigger things for 2009 when they hope the new lower downforce regulations will allow them to reap much bigger rewards.

For now, however, it is unlikely that Force India’s enhanced R&D work will have too dramatic an effect on the performance of their 2008 car. The VJM01 is for the most part an updated version of last season’s B-spec Spyker F8-VII and although the Ferrari-engined car has shown some real improvement in recent tests, the team are under no illusions for Melbourne and the following flyaway races. Hopefully, an occasional foray into Q2 and the odd point will come their way, but it’s in the future that the real excitement lies. This is, after all, a long-term project.

Unlike two of their immediate rivals, Force India do not have the ‘customer car’ issue hanging over their heads and a mid-field position could feasibly be less than a year away. If that turns out to be the case, then a podium in 2010 might not be that grand an aspiration.