Force India suffered an early setback before the start of the season due to the delayed introduction of their 2015 car at the final pre-season test in Barcelona citing issues with parts suppliers and financial woes. Subsequently this year’s challenger came about largely as a carry-over from 2014 and in spite of that they were able to get both VJM08s into the points scoring ranks in Australia taking advantage of only eleven finishers in the race.
The heavily revised “B-spec car” was touted to be on the cards from then on and expected to hit the ground midway through the season as the Silverstone-based team indicated the switch from their own windtunnel in Brackley to 60% scale model of Toyota’s facility in Cologne as one of the major reasons for prolonging the development.
Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez wouldn’t get past Q2 in Malaysia as they were unable to improve on previous lap times when rain showers made track conditions worse. The race was neither a head-turner, as both drivers received ten-second penalties for causing on-track incidents and ended up outside of points reach.
Force India’s only technical retirement uprose when Hulkenberg beached in the gravel trap with gearbox failure following an awful exit in the opening part of qualifying on Saturday he described as “there is a lot of work ahead of us” while Perez endured another underwhelming race weekend.
Contrasting fortunes in Bahrain led to the Mexican two-stopping the race to perfection from eleventh on the grid and finish eighth while Hulkenberg found himself dropping back due to the excessive tyre wear endured after involving in battles for track position despite qualifying eighth.
Initially, the updated car’s debut was expected in Monaco but one of the Force India drivers, Sergio Perez, confirmed ahead of their worst performance at the Spanish GP that it had been pushed back to Austria.
Since the VJM08B failed the FIA mandatory crash tests on its first attempt and consumed a few weeks to get through it until May, the team decided it’d be appropriate to bring the whole package together at their home race in Silverstone as the post-Austrian test can be utilised for further track evaluations.
In fact, the revised parts were trialled and tested since Monaco and it coincided with the surge in form as they were clearly the fourth fastest team at the tricky Red Bull Ring bagging a total of ten points. The B-spec VJM08 featured a new nose, revised front wing and rear wing pillars besides changes to the floor and monocoque design to accommodate the new chassis.
The most noticeable change being the radical ‘nostrils’ on top of the bodywork in the nose section that could channel the airflow to the underside of the chassis for aero efficiency. On day 1 of the second in-season test in Austria, GP3 driver Esteban Ocon praised the car as “brilliant” after clocking 76 laps.
Such is the significance of the revised machinery to compete against the likes of Toro Rosso and Lotus in the midfield battle during the second half of the championship, Force India’s Deputy Team Principal Bob Fernley addressed, “From (Silverstone) we can get points on merit rather than opportunity.”
Looking to maximise the potential of that upgrade package, the Silverstone-based team headed to Hungary with greater confidence hoping to upset the frontrunners. Although not qualified inside top ten, both Hulkenberg and Perez moved up the field to fifth and seventh respectively on the frenetic opening lap.
They did have enough pace left in the bag midway through the race to collect a big chunk of points with Hulkenberg, before his front wing fell off spectacularly underneath the car at nearly 200 mph spearing him into the tyre barriers at Turn 1. He was running ahead of eventual podium finisher Kvyat at that stage.
His teammate Sergio Perez endured a torrid time on Friday morning when an apparent suspension failure pitched his car into the wall following a brief off at the slippery astroturf before landing upside down. The team investigated the dramatic crash and opted to sit out the second practice session.
Speaking to Auto Motor und Sport, Force India’s technical director Andy Green accepted Hulkenberg’s incident as a structural failure while baffled over the cause itself as the same wing design didn’t instigate any such problem in Silverstone. He commented “It was the same wing design as in Silverstone. The wing itself was brand new, but if it was ok at Silverstone then it should also have been ok here.”
Hulkenberg continued his winning-momentum after mastering Le Mans in his first attempt with Porsche and really upped his game since then. He had become a regular contender for points and could’ve secured his fourth consecutive finish in top ten if the front wing didn’t fail dramatically in Hungary. Among the 28 points Force India amassed since Monaco, Hulkenberg betters his teammate in the 18-10 split.
Force India are looking to unleash the full potential of VJM08B as a raft of new parts are planned for Singapore to optimise the car’s performance in variety of corners. According to them, the car is only at its first step of a series of development processes and there are more gains to be dealt with in the upcoming races.
If they are half as correct as what they claim it to be, Lotus and Toro Rosso are in for a hard time to knock them off fifth in the constructors’ table. With some stellar performances in the power-hungry Spa, Monza and Suzuka the possibility of Force India challenging the likes of the struggling Renault-powered Red Bull cannot be ruled out as still nine more races are left to be sorted in the championship.
But will the VJM08B be as reliable as its predecessor that played crucial role in salvaging points when its two main midfield rivals sustained technical glitches? (Suren M)