Formula 1

Why Force India could be next big team in Formula 1

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Vijay Mallya's team have scored three-quarters of their 2013 total in just 4 races (©GettyImages)
Vijay Mallya's team have scored three-quarters of their 2013 total in just 4 races (©GettyImages).

Now in their seventh season in the sport, Force India appear to be finding their feet towards the front of the F1 grid.

With the best power unit on the grid as well as two of the best young drivers, in my opinion, Vijay Mallya’s team could be set to reach heights they have never reached before.

Sergio Perez’s third place at last month’s Bahrain Grand Prix was the second podium in the team’s history, following Giancarlo Fisichella’s impressive drive to second behind Spa specialist Kimi Raikkonen at the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix.

Though the Silverstone-based team have nothing like the funds of the major front-running teams, few are betting against the VJM07 leaving the battle at the head of the midfield any time soon.

In many ways the rise of Force India follows that of one now established as one of the sport’s top teams, nearly 10 years ago Red Bull entered the sport as a fully fledged outfit for the first time after years of Sauber sponsorship.

Such was their pulling power they brought in the recently departed McLaren driver David Coulthard into the team alongside one of their own young prodigies, Christian Klien.

The team enjoyed little success to begin with, but was able to establish a position in the midfield. After four years of largely poor reliability and now with Mark Webber and another young upstart in their midst, a 21-year-old Sebastian Vettel, the Milton Keynes team took advantage of major rule changes with design genius Adrian Newey and vaulted to the head of the field as another midfield team also shot ahead as Honda became Brawn GP.

Fast forward five years to 2014 and Force India has done something very similar.

Becoming the first group to have serious aspirations taking over what was originally Jordan, Vijay Mallya bought what had become Midland and then Spyker to create the team it is today.

In the team’s first year, in 2008, the selling of F1′s perennial backmarkers, Minardi, to Dietrich Mateschitz’s energy drinks giant and the pulling out of fellow strugglers Super Aguri had left Force India languishing at the back of the grid.

There were some moments most will remember, like when Adrian Sutil was taken out from fourth by Raikkonen in Monaco and how Fisichella briefly featured in the classic that was the Brazilian Grand Prix as an early switch to dry tyres promoted the Italian up to the front of the field.

The team took advantage of the rule changes in 2009 to leave the back of the grid and featured more heavily in the midfield before really showing it’s strength at the low downforce circuits of Spa and Monza, indeed Fisichella started on pole in Belgium before going on to take the aforementioned podium.

From then on the team followed very much of a Red Bull style existence in the midfield, scoring decent points and featuring nearer their venues that better suited their car.

This year, however, things have improved further. The Mercedes V6 is the best on the grid and with the returning Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren refugee Sergio Perez the team has a pairing that could rival any in a few years time.

Both have scored points in every race they have entered, though Perez did fail to make the start in Malaysia, and the team has already amassed around three-quarters of the points total they achieved last year in the first four races.

Foundations are being laid for the future with a young driver academy being created along with a tie-up with Hilmer Motorsport in GP2.

While financially the team remains far off those they are currently battling with but new sponsors are being found, including a deal with drinks company Smirnoff announced just last week.

The biggest hurdle facing the team is to maintain its current form as those around them keep developing, Mercedes and Red Bull are clearly gone with Ferrari not far behind, but there is a huge battle brewing with fellow Mercedes customers Williams and McLaren, as well as the improving Lotus and Toro Rosso teams.

The battle for fourth in the Constructors Championship will be one that goes all the way to Abu Dhabi, where the controversial double points will likely have a major say on the outcome.

Where they come in that battle could be crucial in just how good Force India could be in the longer term.

If they can get the money that would come from a fourth place finish as well as the sort of sponsors that could also be enticed, then the future looks very bright for Vijay Mallya’s team.

Retaining and choosing drivers based on talent rather than income could also play a key role, particularly with Hulkenberg.

While the success that Red Bull have enjoyed would be very hard to match, I wouldn’t rule out seeing the black, orange, green and white colours of Force India continue to climb up the ladder and maybe start battling for wins from next year, but that will depend on the team getting it right for the rest of 2014.

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