Force India gamble on youth to break into F1’s top five

2012 F1 season preview

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Force India have taken a brave gamble with a relatively inexperienced driver line-up in their bid to move up the F1 pecking order in 2012.

Will it pay off?

Car 11: Paul di Resta

Paul di Resta acquitted himself superbly well in his first season of F1 and was often a match for team mate Adrian Sutil.

Despite a few scrapes early in the season Di Resta completed more racing laps than any other driver last year – a particularly impressive feat for a rookie.

He faces a different challenge in his second year of F1, without a more experienced team mate to learn from and with an equally promising talent occupying the sister car.

Car 12: Nico Hulkenberg

Formula Three Euroseries champion, GP2 champion at his first attempt, and of course that sensational pole position for Williams in his first season of F1 in 2010: Nico Hulkenberg’s credentials mark him out as a promising talent for the future.

Having lost his Williams seat mainly due to financial reasons, Hulkenberg impressed Force India as an occasional Friday tester in 2011 and has won promotion back to the top flight.

Hulkenberg has already said he expects di Resta to have the upper hand in the opening races thanks to his more recent racing experience, which sounds like a wise piece of expectations management.

Heading into the first race of the season Hulkenberg is pleased with the team’s progress so far but expects a close fight: “You always want more time in the car, but I think we can be pleased with how our three tests have gone.

“We still need to find some more performance because the whole grid looks very close and competitive, and I expect the grid in Melbourne to be extremely tight.”

Force India VJM05

Force India VJM05, 2012

Force India have made consistent progress since Vijay Mallya took over the Spyker team (previously Midland and, before that, Jordan) in 2008. They were a solid sixth in the constructors’ championship last year and were the fifth-fastest team at the end of the season.

They face a challenge to improve their position as the midfield battle looks set to be fiercer than ever this year. Force India have shown some speed in testing but so have Lotus.

Technical director Andrew Green reckons the team are close to recovering all the downforce lost due to the new restrictions on exhaust-blown diffusers. The VJM05 is visibly different to its predecessor and Green called it “a big departure” from their previous design.

Paul di Resta, Force India, Barcelona, 2012

However the VJM05 retains ones major strength of the team’s previous cars – they will continue to use Mercedes engines and McLaren’s gearbox and hydraulics this year.

It’s clear the deal has played a significant role in propelling the team forward in recent years. But the latest extension, in February last year, only takes them up to the end of this year.

Renewing the deal will not come cheap. Last year the Sahara Group bought into the team, bringing with it a significant injection of income which the team will need to continue making progress in F1.

It comes as other areas of Vijay Mallya’s business empire come under pressure, such as his beleagured Kingfisher Airline.

For his F1 team, a lot hinges on how well their comparatively inexperienced driver pairing performs. Both had very credible rookie years in F1 and if they can build on that Force India just might crack the top five in 2012.

But it’s a big ask – the five teams that finished in front of them last year each have at least one world champion driving for them in 2012.

Force India’s championship form

Championship position10976

Force India in 2012: Your view

Do you think Force India can finish in the top five in the constructors’ championship this year?

Which of their two young drivers will have the best season?

Have your say in the comments.

2012 F1 season preview

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Images © Force India F1 Team

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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34 comments on “Force India gamble on youth to break into F1’s top five”

  1. This will a very tough year for Force India, VJM05 does look capable of fighting for 6th position in the championship. The driver line up looks promising. Mid field pack looks close & the fight for points among them will be good to watch. i feel they could finish this year 6th again but it won’t be easy.

    1. I would rephrase your first sentence: VJM05 does look capable of fighting for at least 6th position in the championship.

      I think they may bring the fight to the Mercs and Lotuses, at least at the beginning of the season, and are clearly in front of the midfield. Williams and the rest of the pack might have difficult time catching them.

      1. Really? I’d heard they’re slightly quicker than williams and sauber over a single lap but are having problems with tyre wear

        1. i think they are not quicker than Sauber or Williams they seem very close. it will be harder for them to beat Lotus, Merc or Ferrari hence they will remain 6th at best. last years Lotus’s problems on slower tracks was due to forward exhaust… now thats out of the way. Force India can only hope that Ferrari have screwed up their car massively.

      2. I would place them clearly behind Lotus and Mercedes and on pair with Sauber.

    2. Well Dev, how can you say force india will be having tough year? Brief us please..

      1. last year Force India gained because of five factors; They added more performance to their car compared to cars around them. Merc gave up on developing their 2011 cars very early in the season. Renault car was slower in certain tracks cause of forward exhaust. Sauber did not develop blown exhaust hoping a ban from FIA from Silverstone onwards. Williams were in transition phase and were running not so competitive Cosworth engine.

        I agree they did a great job with getting on with not so competitive car in the 1st half of the season to get 4th best car by the end of the season. but Merc, Lotus (ex Renault), Saubers & Williams will probably not have a weak season like previous year. keeping 6th could be tougher this year than last year unless few teams make huge mistakes in their design philosophy which can’t be corrected by during the season.

  2. I really, really hope Force India can continue there progress up the field. They don’t seem to have as big of a fan base as the other midfield teams but for me, they are easily the best.

    They are extremely professional in everything they do, Their pitstops are constantly up there with the big teams. Plus their car is beautiful.


    1. @silverkeg

      Their pitstops are constantly up there with the big teams.

      Good point – they were very hot on pit stops last year, much more so than the other midfield teams. With at least one conspicuous exception, though – di Resta was rather unlucky at Silverstone!

      1. And let’s not forget two years ago at Hockenheim when one of Liuzzi’s tires was put on Sutil’s car and vice versa.

  3. It looks like they build a good car again this year. But I think their choice of drivers is going to cost them some in the first couple of races. Sutil wasn’t a spectacular driver so it is good they sacked him, but he did bring the car home scoring solid points.
    Let’s hope they prove me wrong and they can atleast finish 6th in the championship again, and challenge for 5th. Because with their (owners) financial troubles they really need good results.

  4. I think 5th in the championship might be slightly beyond them. I do have a soft spot for Force India but, realistically, I don’t think they’ll be able to match the bigger teams as the season progresses. At the moment they have a chance of sneaking into Q3 ahead of maybe a Ferrari, Mercedes or Lotus, but as the season goes on they’ll be left behind in the development stakes. Even if say, Ferrari, are the 5th fastest car in Melbourne and FI manage to qualify ahead of one of them, there’s no way Ferrari will stay there all season. They’re just too big an outfit for that to happen. 6th overall is what they should be aiming for, anything above that is a bonus.

    As for the driver line-up, it is a very promising, but I’m not sure if it’s a big gamble that’s not going to pay-off. Both drivers only have one season of F1 under their belts, and one has not had a race seat for a year. Mistakes happen, especially when you’ve got less experience, and I think there’ll be a few occasions where only one car makes it to the end due to driver error. This is also a reason why 5th is maybe slightly out of reach. Aside from Lotus, the big teams have an established and experienced driver line-up which, theoretically, should see FI fighting for 9th/10th positions in most of the GPs.

    I hope for the best for them though, I’m sure we’ll see a few performances from them where they finish ahead of where they should be. Monza and Spa generally tend to be good circuits for them.

  5. “Even if say, Ferrari, are the 5th fastest car in Melbourne and FI manage to qualify ahead of one of them, there’s no way Ferrari will stay there all season. They’re just too big an outfit for that to happen.”

    Remember 2009. Ferrari may decide to scap 2012 and focus on 2013 car and Force may be able to pounce on that.

    1. 2009 was a freak season. Ferrari were around 2-3 seconds off the pace, and even then, by Monaco they had secured their first podium. In contrast, McLaren only managed 12th at Monaco… A track they excel at, historically. Everyone is saying that this season will be even closer than last season, so even if Ferrari start as 4th/5th fastest, they have the capabilities to overtake Merc and Lotus pretty darn quickly. I doubt they’ll give up on this season’s car as quickly as 2009.

    2. For how many years Ferrari will scrap the development for current year and will look start for next year early and fail again.. Can we have a bet on that..

  6. Force India have done well so far in improving year on year, and I would like to see them continue to progress. I think, realistically, that 5th may just be a little out of reach this year, but that doesn’t mean that in some races, they won’t achieve some damn good results.

    They have an inexperienced line-up, but it’s no different to Sauber last year, and that worked for them, so I commend them for taking on two young drivers and building with them.

  7. Considering a very close pack this year, we may see one or two front running cars out in first lap itself. This is where FI can catch and thats the only reason i think they can challenge for fifth.

    Also everybody is talking about inexperience driver lineup, about lotus Kimi is back after 2 years and also not sure of his motivation. Grosjean is rookie so easy for them to make mistakes.

    Hope for best, odd podium and 5th in constructor, quite possible

  8. This is going to be one of the most interesting team-mate battles which I believe will have a clear winner: Nico Hulkenberg.

    Putting the freak pole position aside, I thought Hulkenberg was very impressive in his first season before being dropped due to money. Yes there were mistakes, but it was his rookie season and no-one makes mistakes in their rookie year do they… well…

    Di Resta is the exception to the rule. His driving was assured and consistently ‘just above average’ which to me means that he doesn’t have that much more to give and probably won’t improve that much. That’s why I think Hulkenberg will beat Di Resta because once he matures as a racer in his second year he has so much more to give.

    I guess many may disagree but hey, can’t wait to find out if I’m wrong!

    1. Totally agree. Di Resta is good, but the phrase just above average does come to mind. Nothing special. I think if hulkenberg has matured a little he will wipe the floor with him.

  9. FI’s driver line up transformation and particularly their new car have definitely won me over as a new fan.

  10. I’m so happy with FI’s line up. They’ve finally put some talent in the car. Fisi was a great driver for an underdog team but apart from him they’ve never had a really punchy line up (except when Paul came along). The inexperience might be a hindrance in some areas but these two could genuinely be the next big thing and would be their best shot at snatching a mad podium or whatever. It’s a risky and ambitious line up and I love it.

    1. I like the risky and ambitious approach, but I really do not see any of these drivers wanting to stick around at FI if they have a stellar year.

      Di Resta is being groomed for a Schumacher exit, and the Hulk seems like he would take advantage of all the hype and jump ship as soon as he can.

      Honestly, I do not think either of these two drivers will deliver results as strong as Sutil did, and their lack of experience could see FI struggle. Nonetheless, this is my pick for the most interesting teammate battle for the year.

  11. OmarR-Pepper (@)
    6th March 2012, 14:01

    If you see Force India as a business it’s clear why they were bought by Sahara as a good investment. They are a young team which have always been better than the previous year. If that ratio continues the obvious thing for this year would be to be fifith.
    Of course Formula 1 is not an exact probabilities or calculations thing. When it comes to driving Force India will have to prove themselves they are becoming stronger this year as well

  12. Since 2010, when I first heard of him, I was a fan of Hulkenberg. Before he took pole in Interlagos.
    I similarly support di Resta because I think he has talent and I think he’s a great person, but I can’t warm with him as I do with others.
    This driver pairing is amazing and I expect great things from the duo.

  13. I am torn regarding my support for Force India. As an Indian, I want to be a supporter of the only Indian team. However, I do not approve of Vijay Mallaya.
    I support Paul Di Resta and like him a lot. He genuinely seems to be fast and experience is going to make him better.
    I am not too concerned about Hulk and find him over-hyped. 2012 could well be the year when he is found out.
    Two in favor, two against! :(

  14. The 2012 car looks decent and as the tests suggest appears to be well balanced as well. From the tests it seems that Lotus and Force India are just 2 or 3 tenths apart but with the field looking so tight it could be the difference that matters. The key for the team would be to continue bringing solid updates as that is where I feel they can really capitalize.

    In terms of drivers I really hope Paul can cut out those rookie mistakes of last year. While at a few places he was unlucky with the magnitude of punishment, he should really cut them out this year. As far as Hulkenberg is concerned, I really don’t rate him either way and can only hope that he can make a positive impact.

    Realistically, Sauber look closer on pace to Force India than Toro Rosso but that mid-field fight will be to tough to call early on.

  15. Well, I’m not convinced by Di Resta. He’s fast when he’s on form, but he’s a clumsy overtaker and often gets into bad situations. I feel Hulkenberg will take him to the cleaners this year as he has better race craft + proven qualifying speed. Let’s not forget his 2010 Brazilian pole in a crappy car.

    I would say Force India could be leading the mid-field pack this season. But my hope is there won’t be much of a midfield and all the cars will be close together in relative performance.

  16. I think development could become their problem area.
    Money is scarce and even more so for Mallya. I hope they survive, but I fear for them.

  17. Paul di Resta has go to be the most bland driver on the grid this year. I just dont understand why anyone would like him :/

    1. He’s an outright professional and a good one at that. Reason enough!

      1. Reporter “So paul whats your thoughts on that race”
        Di Resta “mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm as captin boring zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzi have no interesting thing to zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz say”

  18. Force India are going to have it tough. They’re the best midfield team but fundamentally I think they just lack that bit of something to break beyond where they are.

    No doubt they will snatch some good points and offer some impressive drives, but I’m not sure if they will be able to keep up when it comes to development. Who knows what investment from Sahara will bring though.

    Certainly two of the best drivers to keep an eye on this year.

  19. Going to miss Sutil in FI, at least for first couple of races ! Hope Hulk gets up to the pace early on, because I have the notion that he will score more solid points than Paul.

    Can’t wait for Melbourne saturday !!

  20. I personally am in favor of this line up because in Di Resta we’ll probably see some sensible driving and we can expect a little bit of flair from Hulk. They’ve definitely taken a risk, but a very calculated and smart one.

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