A FIERY COMBINATION
SILVERSTONE based team Force India had a brilliant ending to 2011 and will be hoping to take that momentum into the new season. If testing form is anything to go by, they look to be at the front of a very compact midfield group that includes Toro Rosso, Williams and maybe even Caterham.
Adrian Sutil is missing from the line-up for the first time since the team took over Spyker at the end of 2007. Sutil’s well-documentented issues off the track have cost the German his career for now, even though his old employers insisted that this didn’t play a part in the decision not to retain him. As one German goes out, another comes into the driving roster through Nico Hulkenberg.
Hulkenberg, who made his mark in junior formulae categories such as GP2 and A1GP for Team Germany had a wasted year last season. Despite a remarkable pole position in Brazil during his debut season in the sport for Williams, the Grove team replaced him with Pastor Maldonado. With no other options, Nico was forced into a third driver role with Force India. He showed strong pace and this has continued in winter testing. Ultimately, his patience has been rewarded with a return to the racing cockpit this season. Many feel he was desperately unlucky to not be competing last season, so now the pressure is on for him to prove again what a prominent talent he is.
Paul di Resta had a super rookie season and the Scot keeps his drive for 2012. He outqualified Sutil nine times last season and by the season’s end, was a regular points scorer. Sixth on the grid at Silverstone and sixth in the race in Singapore were the highlights. With Sutil gone, di Resta will be expected to lead the team. However, with both drivers having just one season each in the sport, this combination promises to be very competitive and fiery.
The aim for the team is to beat Lotus and break into the top five elite. They’ve done it before under the old Jordan guise in 1998 & 1999. If they achieve this in 2012, it will be a sensational achievement for a team that in recent seasons, has delivered very impressively against the odds.
FORCE India’s fantastic winter continued today on the second day of pre-season testing at the Circuit de Catalunya. Nico Hulkenberg, who is returning to the sport after being a frustrated spectactor in 2011, set the pace in Spain. Hulkenberg gave his team some crucial data, pounding around Barcelona for 112 laps, setting a quickest time of 1.22.608. Although his time was on super-soft tyres, the new Force India looks consistent and fast, which bodes well for the early season events.
Hulkenberg edged out Sergio Perez today, who showed some pace from Sauber that has been seriously missing in early tests. Like Hulkenberg, Perez recorded his best time on super-softs, but still was an impressive second quickest, just 0.040secs shy of the German’s quickest time. Having set a benchmark yesterday, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull looked at race simulation today, but the champion was the man to beat again until the late efforts from the top two. Vettel was third fastest, his best today was a 1.23.056. Fernando Alonso was next up, but a super-soft tyre run slower than Vettel’s on the prime tyre suggests Ferrari have a mountain of work to do before the first race in Australia on March 18.
Like Vettel, Lewis Hamilton focused on race simulation work today, doing 120 laps and coming sixth on the timesheets. However, the Brit later told BBC Sport that he is encouraged by the hidden pace McLaren have at the moment. Jenson Button, flying in from presenting an award at the BRITS last night, will take over driving duties tomorrow. Likewise, Mark Webber and Felipe Massa will be putting in the miles over the next two days, after Vettel and Alonso’s efforts at the start of this test.
However, Lotus have had to withdraw from the rest of this week’s testing. They went home yesterday, after Romain Grosjean felt uncomfortable with an unspecificed chassis problem. However, team principal Eric Bouiller is convinced they’ve fixed the problem. He said to BBC Sport; “On the positive side, we have quickly identified the issue with the chassis and our design office has already devised a solution. We will be present at next week’s test in Barcelona.” However, it leaves Lotus just four more days of running before Melbourne, so they are now seriously on the backfoot.
TESTING TIMES IN BARCELONA – DAY 2
1. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes) 1.22.608 – 112 laps
2. Sergio Perez (Sauber Ferrari) 1.22.648 – 85 laps
3. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.22.891 – 104 laps
4. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.23.180 – 87 laps
5. Daniel Riccardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.23.659 – 50 laps
6. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1.23.806 – 120 laps
7. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.24.555 – 82 laps
8. Juan Bottas (Williams Renault) 1.25.738 – 117 laps
9. Vitaly Petrov (Caterham Renault) 1.26.605 – 69 laps
10. Charles Pic (Marussia Cosworth) 1.27.343 – 108 laps