2012 ended on a big high for SFI where they almost got their first win or their second podium since the team’s inception. Naturally the team headed into the winter break with high hopes thinking about the 2013 season. The only thing I thought the team could work upon was the first half of the season where they tend to lose some important points. Throughout the winter testing, the team tested the Pirelli tyres and understood it’s needs and demands. It did make a lot of difference as we saw in the first half of the season. I must say, the team in the factory did an excellent job to line the car perfectly suitable for the tyres in whatever situation the tyre is during the race.
With the start SFI have got this season, it seems like they have done their homework well because it is surely the best start the team has had in all the years till now. 10 races and 59 points (could have been better if they didn’t had the double DNF in Malaysia where they looked very strong) is all down to hard work put in by the teams. Lot of us can say that it’s down to them understanding the Pirelli better but that is what is F1 about, adapting to the changes and learning about them. Above all make the changes work as your advantage and move ahead and SFI did it well. I am not saying it is all on the tyres, it is everything I believe, the car has the race pace as well along with the tyre support.
Without any doubt the best race for the team has to be Bahrain in terms of pure pace when di Resta finished a superb P4. In addition to it, Sutil’s P5 in Monaco was both luck and pace, in those circumstances to get that kind off result was commendable. N qualifying too the team has done a reasonable job getting into Q3 on most occasions. There have been few odd occasions specially for di Resta with silly problems but the tyres and race pace along with smart driving came to the team’s rescue.
Both the drivers have been on the money this season scoring good for the team, di Resta has had a very good first half scoring in 7 races out of the 10 races. He has matured as a driver surely, he has driven well in both situation i.e driving in front and also coming from behind. His second remains a question as in previous years it is his second half which has made him look average, he would surely want to continue to perform well and at least match his first half performance. As for Sutil, it has been a fairly good comeback, one would have not expected that he would drive like he never left. Luck has been his downfall in several occasions in the race and surely he would want to have a race where both luck and pace like in Monaco goes hand in hand for him.
The last two races has been off the pace for the team. I would concede that the new tyres situation has hurt the team’s chances as does the team officials suggests that too. The P5 battle with McLaren will be very close in the second half, the last two races for the British team has brought them a lot closer to the Anglo-Indian team. McLaren are no easy target to topple certainly, SFI would only hope that they get to the end of the tyre issues and continue to maintain the lead. Few of the coming tracks suit the team a lot better and those tracks will give us a better picture if the team can hold onto P5 or not, otherwise I think P6 is very much secured for them.
Meanwhile, Jehan has been driving in the KFJ British Kart Championship this season representing the Sahara Force India Academy. He has also raced in CIK KF3 European Championship last month. In the 3 rounds of KFJ, this season till now he has done a superb job facing different kind of challenges in all the races he has raced in. He has got two podium finishes under his belt and is only 13 points behind the leader in the championship. Of all the junior Indian drivers, Jehan has been doing a brilliant job, competing with the best of the racers of Europe. I have been impressed with his results and more so how he has achieved them. There have been few races where he had to come back from behind, it shows some calibre and talent. He is getting the proper guidance in the SFI Driver Academy and all the experience will surely help him grow as a driver in the coming years. I for one think he could be the next biggest Indian F1 star and I certainly hope to see him race and compete in F1 in future.
We all know the results so far this season, and currently, we're 5th in the constructors championship - a very strong position to date, and it seems as if we're going to continue our tradition as the only Formula One team to improve their points total every season.
Why exactly have we been so strong at the start of this season however? It's all because the team changed their development strategy. In previous seasons, development on the car would go on right up until the last race of the season, and then focus would shift to next season. This would mean that the team struggle so much next season to the extent that our season wouldn't really begin until race five (because of less development time compared to rivals who switch focus to next season towards the end of the previous season). In other words, most teams develop two cars (current + future) towards the end of the season whereas Sahara Force India wait until a season is over before thinking too much about the car for next season.
However in 2012 the team shifted focus to the 2013 car towards the end of the season - rather than waiting until after the season had ended. This meant that when 2013 began, we were quick straight away! If we look at the points scored during the first four races of the season every year:
2008: 0 points
2009: 0 points
2010: 18 points
2011: 4 points
2012: 17 points
2013: 26 points
Clearly a big jump has been made in 2013, and that's down to development starting earlier. Will this work? Well, it has done so far! However, following this generic development strategy - we will switch focus to the 2014 car towards the end of the season, like everyone else, so we may not be as strong at the end of the season like in past years (previously we had the advantage with everyone switching focus earlier than us). Although, maybe someone at Sahara Force India has had a very smart idea! 2014 is unique in that the regulations changes are so huge that everyone will probably be switching focus around now sometime ... some teams may have already switched! If we have another five races of 2013 development, before switching to the 2014 car, then we may just keep hold of P5 in the Constructors Championship. This will mean sacrificing development on the 2014 car somewhat, however all the data suggests that the 2014 championship will be an engine-based formula, rather than the current aerodynamic + tyre based formula, so actually, sacrificing 2014 aero-work may just be of benefit in the long term!
Note: Our engines are bought from Mercedes, we don't develop them at all.
It should be an interesting final half of the season. McLaren have caught up in the last few races, but I would expect us to be similarly matched in the next few races - they may overtake us, but I would expect us to pull away again from the Japanese GP onwards where McLaren will have switched focus to 2014, but we won't have.
Do I think P5 is achievable? Yes. Do I think P5 is possible? Definitely!
Looking elsewhere, James Rossiter is still looking to get an FP1 session in the car to correlate the wind tunnel and on-track data. However, he is also racing in the World Endurance Championship this season. He drives for the #31 Lotus, who race under the Czech Republic license in this series. Ex-Force India employee James Key was the designer of this car, known as the Lotus T128. Only three races have been completed so far this season but James has only done rounds 2 & 3 replacing Christophe Bouchut in round two and then ex-Force India driver Vitantonio Liuzzi in round three.
At round two in Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, the #31 Lotus finished 24th overall and 6th in class, scoring 8 points for the team and the drivers receive 0.5 points for finishing the race. As for round three, the team retired early on in the famous 24 hours of Le Mans, scoring no points. In terms of the championship, the #31 Lotus sits 8th out of nine teams whereas the Sahara Force India development driver, James Rossiter, sits in joint 17th out of 22 drivers with 0.5 points.
Additionally, lets not forget about Sahara Force India academy driver, Jehan Daruvala. He's taking part in the British KFJ Karting Championship and has been doing a great job to be honest. A few podiums and some stunning comeback drives have really seen the 16-year old develop his potential! Will we see him in F1 in the future? It's probably too early to say, but he's certainly progressing in the right manner.