Vijay Mallya had a dream to own an F1 team. So in October 2007 he and Michiel Moi bought the defunct Spyker team for €90 million. Over the winter the VJM01 was designed and ready for action in the 2008 F1 season.
However, if anyone doubt’s this first creation was a woeful beast, ask Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil. The Italian retired from 7 races that year, whilst the German suffered 11 retirements in the 18 Grand Prix. Neither scored a point and Force India were 10th in the F1 constructor’s championship.
Only Super Aguri were ranked below the India licensed team, but they completed just the first four races of the season before going out of existence.
Things improved in 2009 and Fisichella scored the team’s first points with a stunning second place finish in Belgium. These were the Italian’s last points in F1 before he became a Ferrari test driver in 2010. Sutil followed Fisichellas success up with a fourth place finish next time out in Monza and his VJM02 also set the fastest lap of the race.
Force India finished the season in 9th, one place ahead of the Mateschitz owned Toro Rosso and just behind the Renault works team.
Between 2010 and 2013, the Silverstone based team plateaued finishing 7th, 6th, 7th and 6th and with the advent of the new V6 hybrid turbos, Force India were set well with their all-conquering Mercedes power unit. Given the performance of the Ferrari and Renault PU’s, Force India were disappointed to finish just 6th in the constructors’ championship again. Bob Fernley and the crew then set about putting this right in 2015 – finishing the season strongly to retain 5th place ahead of Lotus, Toro Rosso, Sauber, McLaren and Manor F1.
The Williams team are in a way F1 royalty and Frank has been there, seen it and done it all in terms of time served and honours won. History shows that Williams lie second in the all-time list of F1 constructor wins with 9, behind Ferrari with 16. Yet the team from Grove fell on hard times many years ago.
Whilst Force India was slowly climbing the table, Williams languished year after year closer to the bottom than the top. From Force India’s inaugural year until the end of the V8 era, Williams’s average finishing position was P8, while new kids Force India were ahead in P7.
Enter the V6 Turbo hybrid era, and everything changed for Williams. In 2014 their scoring strike rate was an impressive 73.68%. The last time Williams bettered this was towards the end of the Williams’ glory days, back in 2003. That year Ralf Schumacher together with Juan Pablo Montoya brought the team home second in the F1 constructors’ championship.
A Ferrari resurgence in 2015 prevented Williams from achieving their ambition set out by Claire Williams in Melbourne. “We finished third in the championship last year which was such a major achievement for us, but our goals this year are to improve on that. We want those wins this year and Felipe and Valtteri on the top step of the podium.” Pastor Maldonado at the 2012 Spanish GP delivered Williams last win.
The two teams have had quite different run ins to the end of the season. Force India have scored 54% of their annual tally of constructor points whilst Williams form dropped, scoring just 27% of their total for the year.
Force India had financial difficulties at the start of 2015, together with switching their wind tunnel programme to the Toyota facility in Cologne. They modified the VJM07 to be compliant with the 2015 regulations and soldiered on until their 2015 car was ready at Silverstone. Williams hit the ground running far better than Force India, though the realisation that they were getting close to the end of where they could take the FW37 forward meant they stopped developing the car soon after the summer break.
Valtteri Bottas gave his opinion on the matter at the Mexican GP when he revealed. “We have some tools to try to cool the tyres and create temperature, but we are at the limit at the moment. We can’t do any more with the brake ducts or anything to make the tyres even more cool. We know it’s not enough but at least for this season there’s nothing more we can do.”
When pressed, Valtteri confirmed fundamental change was required for next year which means the Williams’ FW38 will be more ‘revolution’ rather than ‘evolutionary’ concept. Following the Abu Dhabi GP, Rob Smedley revealed “The car we have in the wind tunnel for 2016, and the 2015 car at the end of the season, are significantly different – so we could not do anything this year from an aerodynamic point of view.
“In terms of other parts of R&D, and mechanical design, yes we have been trialling things all the time, and you need a package of upgrades with the mechanical car to see if there is any lap time improvement.
“But all our significant lap time improvement is back in the wind tunnel in Grove.”
On the other hand, Force India have a car that is just hitting its sweet spot. This was evidenced in Abu Dhabi by the P5-P7 finish for both cars – the best 2 car result of the year. The car design regulations change little for 2016 and Force India will use the strong platform of the VJM08 at the start of next year. ‘Evolution’ will be the focus of Bob Fernley and the Silverstone crew.
Whether with big changes promised for 2017, Force India will again launch a new car part way through the year is at present uncertain. This is understandable given that the 2017 regulations are far from agreed, but will require unanimous agreement if they are to change after the WMSC meeting in March 2016.
Despite the uncertainty of Mallya’s future as team principal, the hope of some kind of deal with Aston Martin, the Silverstone based team whatever they be called should be in a strong position to challenge Williams if their revolution is anything like the one McLaren underwent between 2012-2013.