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Exclusive Fisichella Q&A: Force India can trouble midfield in 2009 02 Mar 2009

Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Force India VJM02 Formula One Testing, 1-5 March 2009, Jerez, Spain. (L to R): Adrian Sutil (GER) with Force India F1 team mate Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) alongside the Force India F1 VJM02. Force India F1 VJM02 Launch Studio Shoot, Silverstone, England, 24 February 2009. Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Force India VJM02 Formula One Testing, 1-5 March 2009, Jerez, Spain. (L to R): Adrian Sutil (GER) with Force India F1 team mate Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) alongside the Force India F1 VJM02. Force India F1 VJM02 Launch Studio Shoot, Silverstone, England, 24 February 2009. Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Force India VJM02 Formula One Testing, 1-5 March 2009, Jerez, Spain.

After a four month absence from the winter tests, Force India’s 2009 season got underway on Sunday as the team unveiled their new car, the VJM02. And after sampling his new charge for the first time, driver Giancarlo Fisichella is convinced that the gloominess of their 2008, during which they failed to score a single point, has finally lifted. Indeed, despite covering fewer laps than he would have liked due to a fuel pressure problem, the highly experienced Fisichella believes the car’s got more than enough potential to lift the team clear of the back of the grid…

Q: Giancarlo, it’s your 14th season in Formula One racing and you’ve experienced the first run of many cars. What was your first impression of the VJM02?
Giancarlo Fisichella:
Well, it was the first day in four months that I’ve driven a Formula One car because we did not test until now. It was a good and a bad day. A bad day because we only did 31 laps because we had a problem with the fuel pressure. And a good day because even with this limited number of laps the car felt good. It is quite promising. I am happy with the car because it is quite consistent in the braking stability in the middle of the corners. It’s got very good potential and I know that we can build on that.

Q: The briefing with the engineers after the first day of running was quite long. What were the ‘hot’ topics that you discussed?
We went through the problems that we were faced during the day and discussed the programme we have done. And most importantly we talked about the direction in which we should go to fix the set-up better. Thirty-one laps are not enough to have a final verdict on the car’s potential, but the engineers and I are quite pleased with how it went.

Q: When Pedro de la Rosa tested the VJM01 last December he said that it was an almost impossible car to drive and that you had been very brave all season long. Is the VJM02 easier to handle?
I think when Pedro drove last December in Barcelona the car was a disaster. I can say now that I am much more comfortable and much more confident with this car, as it seems to be very consistent. After one day and four runs, I am really positively surprised.

Q: Last season was difficult for Force India as you were the only team not to score points. Now the team is dreaming of midfield positions. How realistic is that?
Last year was a difficult season for us, but that is history. This year is very important for the team - and for myself! After 14 years in Formula One I don’t want to do another year like last year so I need to keep motivated and to keep my motivation I need to do well - to score points. Our target this season is clearly to score points consistently and to move forward in qualifying. We still have a mountain of work ahead of us - but as I said, the potential is there and the midfield looks possible.

Q: It’s four weeks until the Melbourne grid. I imagine you would have hoped for the new car to arrive earlier. In light of the in-season test ban, how much of a disadvantage is that late rollout?
Unfortunately the car was ready very late so we did not make it to any of the previous tests. In fact, today was our first day of the new season, while other teams have been running since January with their new cars, so they have already done a lot of mileage to eliminate any teething problems. Compared to them we are a bit late, but the pace of the car looks good, so we just need to push the development in the wind tunnel, try to do as much mileage as possible over the next few days, and hopefully our efforts will pay off.

Q: How intensely did you monitor the development of the VJM02? Have you been at the factory a lot?
This year I’ve been there three or four times, to do the seat fitting and to have a look at the wind tunnel. In fact, to get closer to the team and watch at first hand all the development steps of our ’09 car was very important, as we didn’t test.

Q: This season is all about new regulations and new technology. Will strategy become even more important?
With all these changes - be it new rules or new technology - this season will be very interesting to follow. I think that the gap between the teams will be much closer than what we have seen in the last three to four years, and hopefully that will include us. And strategy-wise, strategy has always been a very important part of Formula One so I don’t think that there will be much of a change.

Q: KERS is one of the big topics. No team seems to know whether to run it or not. What is the state of KERS discussion at Force India?
I am not in favour of KERS. Obviously, it is still not safe after many tests, it is not reliable and it is very expensive. The team must spend a lot of time and money to make it work and my guess is that half of the teams will not use it until the European races - us included. So I am not very happy about it.

Q: In addition to all the changes to cope with the new regulations, Force India have also changed their engine supplier from Ferrari to McLaren-Mercedes. Have you noticed any difference in the driving characteristics?
From the brief experience that I have had so far I am really happy about the performance of the engine. But even last year we had a very good engine. Ferrari is a very good supplier, so the difference is not the power of the engine, which is quite similar. But as we will also use the McLaren-Mercedes gearbox it is a very good package. Now I am working to build a good relationship with their engineers to push the development further.

Q: It’s been a while since you have been in the cockpit. Did you get rusty or endure withdrawal symptoms? It must have been one of the longest winter breaks of your career…
No withdrawal symptoms - but the truth is that I’ve been a bit worried about my first day, after such a long time out of the cockpit. But although I didn’t do so many laps, the feeling was immediately there. It’s like riding a bike - once you know how to do it you will never lose it. I immediately felt comfortable, even the seat and the pedals feel good. It was the first time that I didn’t have a lot to change. Usually on the first day, you almost start rebuilding the cockpit. Today I just slipped into the car and it worked.

Q: Driving a car is the best exercise for a driver. What do you consider as the next best training? Michael Schumacher’s former physiotherapist Balbir Singh is now working with you - and Michael was always extremely fit…
Ten days ago I was in Cologne with Balbir to do some special training and a special test to see where I am with the muscles. It was really good. Other than that I’ve spent most of the time with the family - and in between I did my usual fitness program.

Q: You must have been following the winter tests very carefully. Who is your hot favourite to lead the pack?
The usual suspects - Ferrari, McLaren and BMW Sauber. Maybe there will be an outsider like Toyota or Red Bull who could be very good - and hopefully Force India.