Force India produced encouraging signs in the qualifying ahead of Sunday's Australian Grand Prix at the Albert Park track in Melbourne. German Nico Hulkenberg qualified in ninth place, while Paul di Resta will start the race from 15th. That's not a bad start at all for a team striving hard to get better results.
Hulkenberg’s best time in Q3 was an impressive 1.26.451, though Di Resta was disappointing with his time of 1.27.086 in Q2, which brought them down a peg or two. Comparing this with the times of the top three, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton (1.24.922) and Jenson Button (1.25.074) and Lotus' Romain Grosjean (1.25.302), it's clear the Vijay Mallya-owned team has a long way to go. Nevertheless, it can take a lot of heart from its performance ahead of the all-important season-opener.
When Hulkenberg, who spent 2011 as a reserve driver with the team, replaced Sutil for this season, there was a plethora of questions as to whether the new driver would be able to deliver the goods. The 24-year-old, who started his Formula One journey with Williams in 2010, was unlucky not to have got an extension from them. Despite driving Williams to their first pole in five years in his debut season, he was shown the door after the season got over.
But on Saturday, he looked like a man on a mission and showed what a terrific prospect he can be for Force India. Prior to the qualifying, many had ruled the team out for a finish in the top 10, so a great many eyes will have widened with the results. The VJM05 surprised one and all with its pace, and the team looks likely to improve on its performance of last year.
Since their debut in 2008, Force India's graph has been on the up. That season they ended 10th in the Constructors' Championship. The next season, they finished ninth, with Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella coming close to a win on a couple of occasions. In 2010, they finished seventh, with Sutil and Vitantonio Liuzzi taking care of the driving duties, while last season they went one better to finish sixth, with Sutil and Di Resta behind the wheel.
To make sure that their upward curve continues this year as well, they will need podium finishes this time around as the competition level has gone up a great deal.
With many developments having taken place on the car since the season-ender last year in Brazil, and after reasonably good show during the pre-season tests this year, the expectations among Force India fans have rocketed and Saturday's qualifying results vindicate their expectations.
That said, despite Hulkenberg's promise, Di Resta’s failure to progress to Q3 has taken the gilt off the gingerbread. The British driver blamed the traffic in Q2 for an unsatisfactory show. But still, there are more positive than negatives for the team right now.
With the likes of McLaren, Red Bull and Mercedes ahead of them on the grid, there are little chances that they can pull off a podium finish, but a place in the top 10 would be more than welcome for them.
The improvement on the car goes on round the year and a few points in the kitty is what every team is looking at in the season-opener. No team wants to start empty-handed and Force India are no different. At present, they seem to be in the hunt for that.
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