I will never forget the spectacle Force India’s Giancarlo Fisichella put on for us at Spa last year. It was almost puzzling to see the incredible speed acquired by that car. Qualifying on pole was an achievement well worth marking down in your notebook under ‘substantial improvements.’ Giancarlo was flying.
At times qualifying pace isn’t a clear indication of race pace. More than a handful of times, we witness a train of cars stuck behind a car that happened to qualify in the top five. Jarno Trulli in a Toyota was often that man. Giancarlo could have easily been the train-maker in Belgium, and all the importance would have dwindled.
Evidently, Jarno was sitting perched and proud in second place, set to build another train to the finish line. The rest of the order down the grid was quite unusual: Heidfeld’s BMW in third, Barrichello’s Brawn in forth, Kubica’s BMW in fifth, with Kimi’s Ferrari in sixth. Glock’s Toyota sat in seventh and Vettel’s Redbull in eighth.
The only top guns in that top eight were Rubens, Kimi and Sebastian – making things even sweeter for Giancarlo and his start.
The race unfolded and the Force India did fine maintaining his position. Kimi managed to peel through the field and eventually snatch first place from Giancarlo for the win (Giancarlo finishing 0.9 seconds off), but we need to applaud the relatively new team’s improvement – drastic improvement.
After joining in 2007 and without scoring a point until a podium position by Giancarlo, 29 races later (approximately a year and a half), Force India have removed themselves from a back-marker/occasional midfielder to a top ten contender.
This season, Vitantonio Liuzzi (having replaced Giancarlo after the midseason steal from Ferrari) has scored points in all two races this season. Vijay Mallya, FI Team Owner, expects his driver’s to finish in the points regularly. This surge of confidence in his team is due to the vast improvements of 2009.
“We finished 2009 on a real high note – our first-ever points, a podium and one place up in the Constructors’ Championship,” said Mallya in a team preview ahead of the first race of the season in Bahrain (Autosport.com).
Their ultimate goal this season is to finish fifth in the Constructors’ Championship – quite a jump from last year’s ninth place (out of ten teams). In the current constructors’ order, Ferrari lead from McLaren, Mercedes, Renault and Redbull. Force India follow in sixth. That means, for FI to accomplish their goal, they’ll have to knock out one of the top teams. Well, Renault isn’t quite the top team – however, after Kubica’s podium, FI have quite a job on their hands. If they can pull it off, the Force really is with India.