A seven-point haul at the Australian Grand Prix was, by Force India’s on expectations, a miraculous result, and the Silverstone outfit is under no illusions that the remaining flyaway races in Malaysia, China and Bahrain are unlikely to deliver the same sort of results.
Nico Hülkenberg finished seventh in the season-opener at Albert Park – teammate Sergio Pérez claimed the final point after an incident-filled race – and the German has warned that the team cannot afford any complacency while it works to recover lost ground after limited pre-season running.
The team’s 2015 challenger, the VJM08, wasn’t run until the last three days of the final pre-season test while it sorted out paying outstanding debts to its contractors and creditors. While the new car didn’t set the timesheets alight, it has run with near-faultless reliability and that allowed the team to capitalise by getting both cars into the top-ten in a race where just 15 cars started.
With those factors in mind, Hülkenberg was not going to predict a repeat result at this weekend’s race at Sepang, a location where searing heat and humidity typically tests the field’s reliability. The 27-year-old has spent the time after the Australian race in Indonesia to acclimatise to the sort of conditions expected this weekend.
“We knew the VJM08’s reliability was one of our strong points and we were able to play that card well,” he said in the team’s preview of Sunday’s 56-lap race.
“We didn’t make any mistakes and we had a good strategy, and that helped us capitalise on a day when others ran into trouble. We need to keep our feet on the ground, however, because we know the circumstances in which we got this result and we know the next races will be tough.
“The track is quite challenging and very different to Melbourne, [while] the high temperatures and humidity add to the challenges.
“However, I’m feeling in good shape for this weekend, and am really looking forward to getting back to action at Sepang after a fairly positive start of the season.”
Those were sentiments echoed by team principal Vijay Mallya, although the Indian was predictably a little more bullish about his squad’s chances.
“Despite scoring well in Melbourne, we know the VJM08 is only just beginning its development journey and that we need to add performance if we want to finish consistently in the points. There will be some small tweaks this weekend before bigger steps can be made during the European season,” he added.
The team had mixed fortunes at last year’s race: Hülkenberg had a strong race and finished fifth, while Pérez failed to take the start thanks to a terminal failure on his reconnaissance lap to the grid.
“Malaysia is an interesting track for us,” Mallya added. “We had a good race there last year with Nico and it’s a track that generates good racing. The hot weather usually plays to our strengths and the risk of rain can add another dimension to the strategy. Hopefully we can capitalise on these elements to be competitive and come away with another strong result.”
Image via Sahara Force India F1 Team