Vitantonio Liuzzi has been running well in testing for Force India. It's a rather different situation to the one he found himself in last year, when he was thrust into the team half-way through the season.
AUTOSPORT caught up with the Italian at the end of day one of the Barcelona test yesterday to see what he thinks of his 2010 challenge.
Q. How did the first day at Barcelona go? Were there any problems?
Vitantonio Liuzzi: Today, once we realised in the morning that the track was really green and slippery, we concentrated on different work, not about understanding the car, but about getting the team up to speed with pitstops and race preparation.
Tomorrow we'll concentrate on putting the car together regarding set-ups and race pace.
Q. Do you feel the car has made the step forward from last year that you wanted?
VL: We believe we've made a really big step forward for this year. That's not a question mark, that's for sure. The only thing we have to see is what others have done over the winter - looking at the times it's difficult to judge where the other teams are - you see other cars become competitive and then on other days they are off the pace.
We know we have made big progress. Last year we were maybe the strongest team in development during the season and I think they kept doing a really good job in the wind tunnel and the factory. To say we have a winning car would be an exaggeration - it is difficult, but our target is to be consistently points scoring. I think, from what we understand from the three tests, we are not that far from that region.
Q. The team has changed technical director just weeks before the start of the season - does that affect the way things are going.
VL: No, I don't think so. James Key has been a big support for the team in the past and it's a shame he left because I liked to work with him. But there is change in every team and I think we have a really good structure with Mark Smith and everyone at the windtunnel and technicial side, who are not just working on the 2010 car but on 2011.Everybody thinks we are such a small team, but in the end we have big people working in the background so I don't think we will suffer that much.
I wish him good luck, but this is part of the business. It is a small paddock and this sort of move often happens.
Q. In the past Force India was the bottom team on the grid. Do you think now that the gap between the new teams and the other teams is similar to the gap you had to the others in the past?
VL: I don't think so. You say Force India was at the bottom team, but everybody at Toro Rosso was at Red Bull at the beginning. Everybody when they begin they has to start from zero. If you don't have a strong base or strong past it's difficult to start and be a winning team.
I think Force India made a really good debut - even if we were at the back of the grid we were not that far behind in terms of lap time. They came into F1 in the toughest period because from the first to the last car there is 1.5 seconds or 1.8, so the car was already quite good. Just three or four years before it would not have been a car at the back, it would have already been in the middle of the field.
Force India also showed that they can be a really strong team because we made really huge develpment in 2009 and at the moment, looking at the lap times and what has been happening at the last test, I think maybe Virgin and Lotus have to work a bit harder to get closer because the gap is much higher.
Also it is different now because there have been a lot of changes in regulations so maybe this has made their life even harder, but I think we started in a different position.
Q. Do you think the gap between Force India and the championship-winning team will be very small again, like last year?
VL: I think we have proved we have got closer, which is why we expect to be a consistent points-scoring team. It is difficult when you fight with big manufacturers like Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren. They are always on top, but I think the gap will be smaller than last year. As I said before, this year will not depend just on the one-lap pace gap, it will depend a lot on the race pace because it could make a big difference on the final result.
Q. On your debut last year with Force India you had a good performance even though you were away from F1 for so many months. How much more ready do you feel now?
VL: I feel like a proper driver. Last year I just had the opportunity to jump in the car and I couldn't miss it - I had been waiting for so long. I never gave up - I was always racing in my mind and thinking as though I was driving. This year we have 100 per cent preparation, even though there is much less testing than in the past. Now I have to show what I can do. Last year we started strongly because the car was performing really well at that type of circuit. Hopefully this year we will start in a similar way in Bahrain.
Q. Which team do you think is the strongest right now?
VL: It is difficult to say about the other teams because with the fuel tanks being so big you can have different teams hiding pace - it is quite complex. For sure teams like Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes we expect will be fighting at the front for first race, and maybe even Red Bull. It is difficult to say - we keep working on the telemetry and thinking about what the others are doing, but it is difficult to be sure so we won't know until we are in Bahrain.
Q. Do you think Fernando Alonso's Ferrari will be the pacesetter?
VL: Fernando with Ferrari is the strongest combination you could have because I have always had a lot of respect for him. I think Ferrari are starting with different pace compared to last year so I think they could be the benchmark of the season, but I'm sure they won't have an easy time.
Q. With the banning of refuelling, the pressure is on the teams this year to get the tyres changed in the pitstops as quickly as possible - has it changed pitstops for drivers at all too?
VL: In the past it was different because you could relax a little bit longer in he pitstop - you had more time to relax as there was the time for the fuel. Now you don't even have time to breath. If you push neutral you already have to put it in first gear so I don't think you will have any relaxing time.
I think the race for the driver will be much more stressful because there are many more things to think about. Last year, racing was just about being like in qualifying every time, but this year you have to think about the tyres and the fuel consumption. If you drive a bit more cleanly using a little less throttle, you can save fuel and it could help a lot at the end of the race.
Q. Do the new, narrower front tyres make it easier to drive?
VL: It's easier because it makes the car a little weaker at the front so the reaction is a bit lazier. But for us, this is the best car I have driven in my career. That's why I can say we have made a huge step forward - even with the bigger fuel tank and smaller front tyres the car is reacting really well. I was pretty amazed with its change of direction.
The tyres are a weaker point, but our car has absorbed a lot of the weakness and I think this will be important for a lot of the teams, to try and balance everything. Even though the tyre has made a big change in the balance of the car I think we are pretty on top of it.