Force Indias Sutil, Fisichella and Liuzzi on the VJM02 01 Mar 2009
Force India racers Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella and test driver Vitantonio Liuzzi discuss the teams new car and their prospects for the coming season
Q&A with Adrian Sutil
Q: It's been a very long winter break this year, particularly with very little testing for you! How do you feel about getting back in the car?
AS: I had a good winter break and I feel happy and confident. It was very good to switch off a bit and be at home, but now it's definitely time to start again. I had very little testing after Brazil, just one and a half days, and now I am getting really tired of this break - I want to go back to work. I feel refreshed, eager to do some good lap times and I am counting down the days, hours and minutes right now!
Q: This is now your fourth season with the Silverstone-based team, the third as a race driver. What does this stability mean for you?
AS: It's nice to be in a team for such a long time as you get closer to the people, you know everyone and you feel very integrated. On the other hand, it doesn't matter how long you have been in a team, you still have to prove yourself. Even though this will be the fourth year with the team, I am treating it like the first - I have to show everything I can do and prove myself against all the drivers and do the best job possible.
Q: How much have you learnt in the last three years, and how much from Giancarlo in particular?
AS: I think I have matured a lot in the last three years and having Giancarlo as a team mate last season really did help me. Before I did have good race drivers with me, but they were not race winners. Giancarlo is a strong driver, he won races and finished on the podium a lot of times, so it was a real challenge for me to be against him. I had a few problems at the beginning of last year with the car and also adapting to the 2008 regulations and Giancarlo was doing much better. I could pick up a lot from him then - from his style, his way of working with the tyres, looking at data and so on. He didn't tell me any big secrets or anything, but I could see how he worked. It was very important to be on the same level, which I think I achieved, so now I think if I have to race against other experienced drivers, I will feel stronger mentally.
Q: Last season was a very mixed season for you. What will your aims be this year, how do you intend to build on last year?
AS: My aim this year is to finish all the races without any problems. We had a lot of technical issues last year so our goal should be to reduce those problems and try to be reliable and consistent. The results will depend on the car. If the car is really good, as we all hope it will be, we should hope to get into the points and make the most of it, but right now I don't want to predict results or say too much, I just want to have a season without any problems and a much higher finish rate. Everything else depends on the package; we will see how it all turns out.
Q: There have been many regulation changes this year. What will be the biggest challenge for you this year? Slicks, KERS or aero regulations?
AS: Yes, this year there are so many big changes and the cars are completely different. There's new aero design, new tyres, KERS, so it is a real challenge for everyone. I think slicks will be the biggest challenge. For a driver KERS is just a button. If the team has done a good job it will work well to give you a boost, but when you use it comes down to strategy. If the aero is good the car will seem well balanced, but the slicks will completely change the behaviour of the car. Nobody has a huge amount of experience with them, at least not any more, so it will be a big challenge for everyone.
Q: Do you think this raft of changes will make the grid closer this season?
AS: I think so as nobody really knows where they are in relation to the rest of the field. The teams seem to be a bit more mixed; some of the stronger teams last year have had problems in testing, some are really quick, so I think there is a change in the field. For everyone it's a really big challenge and it's good for the sport - it will make it very interesting.
Q: And within Force India there have been a number of changes.
AS: It has to be positive for us. The co-operation with McLaren and Mercedes has been good so far as the team can work more efficiently now and can concentrate on the aerodynamics and other areas of the car that have more impact on performance. It's a package from a world championship-winning team and it's the best we could get, so it's a great opportunity. That's why I think people are so motivated here now - it looks very promising.
Q: Do you see the late debut of the VJM02 as a disadvantage?
AS: Signing with McLaren and Mercedes was the right decision to take all round. Of course it delayed everything slightly, but we have a better overall package now. We have to make the testing days count as we are very limited, but in general it is better to have a decent car at the start of the year and to start a little bit later, than get going earlier with one that needs sorting out.
Q&A with Giancarlo Fisichella
This season will be your 14th in the championship. Are you still excited to be in F1? What keeps your motivation going?
GF: It's not a difficult question to answer - I still love this job, I like driving F1 cars and I am passionate about motorsport. Plus I am very confident in this new car and with the new partnership with McLaren and Mercedes. It is a very exciting opportunity for the team, and that in itself is enough to keep me motivated. Our car is ready quite late relative to the others, and I am looking forward to getting my hands on it. I want to drive the car as soon as possible.
Q: What have you been doing over the winter?
GF: I had some rest and obviously sent a lot of time with my family. I went to Kenya for the New Year, did a bit of skiing, but also a lot of training for this year. It has been a good break but quite long, after so many days out of the car I really want to get back in!
Q: With a completely new set of regulations, is this interesting for you as a very experienced driver?
GF: I think this year is maybe the biggest change for many years, with KERS, slick tyres, downforce and new aero rules, so it's very exciting. It would be good to see all the teams mixed up and to be able to fight for points. If the car is good, why not even for the podium?
Q: You're one of the few drivers in the field who've raced on slicks. Do you think this will give you an advantage?
GF: I don't think so, to be honest. First of all, I drove with them back in 1997 and they were completely different compounds used with completely different cars and engines. In the 12 years since then the cars and the tyres have evolved so much you can't really compare the two periods. I don't think there will be much of an advantage having driven on them before.
Q: What will be the biggest challenge for you out of the new regulations?
GF: KERS. It's a very complicated system that gives at least 60 - 70 horsepower for around six seconds. It could be for us to get the strategy right. It's also a big challenge for every team to make sure it's ready at the first race.
Q: And within Force India there have been some changes in the team this year. Are you hopeful this will aid performance?
GF: It's positive for sure. With Ferrari last year we had a good partnership, they were very professional and the engine was very good, but with McLaren and Mercedes we have a fantastic opportunity to integrate the whole engine, gearbox, hydraulics and KERS system.
Q: The VJM02 is only making its official debut on 1st March - is this a big disadvantage?
GF: It is a disadvantage as it's important to drive as much as you can before the start of the year to get a feeling with the car and try and establish a good set-up. It's not easy in just four days, especially with the new rules coming in this year. We are just going to have to try and get as much as we can from these eight days before the season.
Q: Without in-season testing, does this mean there will be a greater onus on Grands Prix Fridays now, especially for Force India with the limited pre-season testing?
GF: I think so. We will try and do as much running as possible, but the problem is that we are limited on the number of engines this year, so you have to balance out putting in miles and keeping the engines.
Q: You're paired with Adrian for another season. How do you work together?
GF: We work well together, he is a nice guy and very quick. He is focussed even though obviously last year we were struggling as the car was not quick enough. We did our best and in a few races we could have scored points. We will work on this direction together.
Q: Are there any races you're particularly looking forward to this season?
GF: It's always nice to discover a new country and city so Abu Dhabi will be good. Anywhere where the driver gets a chance to shine, for example Monte Carlo, which is one of my favourites, is also exciting, and Singapore was great last year. I think this year the first races will be good as for the first time no one really knows what will happen. Also I really like Australia as I won there, so I have great memories.
Q: Can Force India surprise the grid this year?
GF: I hope so, for sure it will be better than last year!
Q&A with Tonio Liuzzi
Tonio, you're staying with the team for a second season, again as the test and reserve driver. What are your feelings on this?
VL: It will be an interesting season. Unfortunately the rules this year do not favour test drivers very much, both pre-season and during the season, but I am still really looking forward to it. There have been many changes in the regulations, both on the technical and aerodynamic side, with new systems such as KERS and also slick tyres being used, so it will be a difficult year for everybody as it will change the field a lot. I am excited about this as, from a driver perspective, it's a new challenge with lots of new things to discover and develop.
Q: Which of the new regulations are you most excited about?
VL: The slick tyres will make the cars much harder to drive as you need to be more aggressive. I think you will see a bigger gap between the drivers as how drivers use the tyres will make a real difference in time. KERS will also be a completely new thing to learn and it could make a difference at the end of the race if you use it cleverly.
Q: With so little testing mid-season, what are you planning to do to keep your eyes sharp?
VL: Of course I will try to have a look round to try and keep racing without taking my focus away from F1, as this is for sure my main thing. I want to keep my racing experience going and that's why I am looking at projects such as the Le Mans 24 hours. The plan is still fluid for now, but for sure I will try many categories that can keep me racing at a top level.
Q: Force India has made many changes over the winter period. How do you view these changes?
VL: I think we have made a really good step forward. Last year was the first season for Force India and we were still trying to build a strong structure. Now we have made the right structure and are building a team that can be successful in the future. The first year is difficult for any new team and you always see results after two, maybe even three, years but I think we are going in the right direction and I am sure this will already give results this year. The link with McLaren and Mercedes is a very good move.
Q: Have you felt a change in the team in this small amount of time?
VL: I have seen a change in such a small timeframe - there's already a different attitude in the team. It's only four months from the close of last season but there seems to be a very positive vibe. It feels good.
Q: When will you first get your hands on the VJM02?
VL: I will test the second car at a shakedown just before Melbourne at Silverstone. It's not going to be a long test, but it will be important work to get it right for the first race. I'm really excited about it. After that we have some aero tests planned and I hope I can help with these.