Force India had shown very promising form in winter testing - and Adrian Sutil proved that pace was real by breezing through to Q3 in the first qualifying session of the season in Bahrain yesterday.
AUTOSPORT heard his thoughts afterwards.
Q. That was a pretty good performance from Force India in qualifying. You must be pretty pleased?
Adrian Sutil: I am very happy. Saturday was a good day for me. For the whole team I think we have done a great job with both cars. One car is very close to the top ten, I am in the top ten and the only one on the hard tyre - which is a bit of a surprise. It could be a little bit of an advantage for the race.
Q. Did you expect such strong pace after testing?
AS: Yes. I thought the top ten would be possible, but I wasn't 100 per cent sure because it was a big guess during the winter who was using which fuel loads. Also on Friday, the times did not show the whole truth. It became pretty clear on Saturday morning that we had a fuel/tyre problem in the morning, but we were sure we could get into Q3. We did a very good qualifying. The pace was very good on the soft tyre - for sure a bit harder on the medium tyre but that was our strategy anyway.
Q. How important has the Mercedes-Benz engine been to your speed?
AS: I think it is very important. We were very strong last year with the engine, and the whole package was very, very good. It was easy to drive and there was a lot of power. We still think it is the best engine in the field right now. Very close to Ferrari's engine I think - but the package is right.
Q. How straightforward was the decision to start on the harder tyre?
AS: I hope I have a benefit. For sure the life is much longer on those tyres. It depends on the grip situation in the early stages of the race. I am expecting a little bit of a bad circuit for the first five to 10 laps, as in the past it was always tricky. But then it should be okay to drive and then the supersoft will work.
But the critical area will be the first few laps where you can lose or gain quite a lot if you overheat the tyres - the supersoft especially. They degrade pretty quickly and start graining.
Q. So you think you will have to make some moves early on in the race?
AS: Yeah. The strategy of your own is very important. You have to calculate everything into the race. It is the tyre that wins the race in the end, and you don't need to push like hell at the beginning. It is more to be gentle on the tyre at the beginning and then extend it longer and longer until the last laps before your pits. The last stint is the one where you can attack a little bit more, once your position is taken.
Q. With the three new teams this year, it suddenly feels like Force India feels more established now?
AS: Yes we had a great step in the last few years. So this year is the strongest start for us - and I am proud of what we have achieved. We came from the back end of the grid, and made ourselves looks very good last season already. It was a little bit up and down and not consistent, so therefore we want to improve on that front.
But we did a great job over the winter no question, and we are one of those teams who everyone expects to be in the top ten - which is a great achievement from last year where we were 16th here on the grid and probably far off the pace.
Q. Do you think the other new teams can do what you did that easily?
AS: If you see how long we took to be where we are right now - it took us three years. So they have to be patient. F1 is not an easy business and you can the gaps they have right now - they are five seconds plus. It is a long way to go but we are not sleeping, we are developing our cars as well and they have to also. So I am expecting them not to be really strong this season. They will probably pick up a little bit - but it is more a three year plan.
Q. There have been some senior personnel changes at the team. Do you think it will affect things?
AS: No. I think we are still strong there. The biggest change was that James Key left our aerodynamic department, but it was his decision. We still have a really good guy there, Mark Smith, and he has experience with our team and knows what is important in the team. I don't think and I don't expect any problems during the season. We are on a good way and the car is on a good baseline and we know how to improve.