Q & A: Szafnauer on Force India's form

After a very promising first half of the season, the Force India team has somewhat faded in the past few races

Q & A: Szafnauer on Force India's form

The Silverstone-based squad, however, remains adamant about its progress and is aiming for a stronger season in 2011.

AUTOSPORT talked exslusively with the team's CEO Otmar Szafnauer about this season and what's in store for next year.

Q. What is your verdict on the season so far? It started very strongly, and looked like you had carried over the momentum from last year early in the campaign, but since then things have tailed off a little bit.

Otmar Szafnauer: I think we started the year in a good position. We thought that an aggressive target would be fifth in the championship, and a realistic one would be sixth or seventh - not knowing where people like us, Williams, Renault or even Scuderia Toro Rosso and Sauber would be. And that is right where we are.

We had some races that favoured us, and some races that did not so much. But I think all in all, our peaks were not as high as last year, but the lows were definitely not as low.

There were only a couple of peaks last year, whereas now we are consistently in the top ten and scoring points - which is what we wanted to do. It is tough in the middle, so to hold Williams back is hard - they are only four points back and four points are easily achieved these days with the new scoring system.

Q. F1 teams always go through cycles when coming from the back. It is quite a quick process to get to the midfield but progress slows the nearer you get to the front. What do you feel you can do to keep up the momentum then?

OS: Next year, with the resources that we have, we will target to do better than we did this year. So if we are fifth next year with potential podium finishes, that is where we want to be. And it is a tough ask. There are a lot of good teams and to finish fifth, you would have to displace one of them. So that means beating either a Renault, a Mercedes GP, a Red Bull Racing, a McLaren or a Ferrari. They are all good teams and they are much bigger than we are. Even Renault has probably got twice as many people as we have.

So, how do you do that? By continuing doing what we are doing. Being a bit more innovative. We have some restructuring and our main development tool is still the wind tunnel and CFD - so we have been maximising our wind tunnel usage and adding to our CFD capacity. Those are the types of things we have to do.

As far as other stuff goes, we have to maintain what we are doing. We have to do a good job in pitstops, we have to make sure that we don't have any drop offs in building the cars. Our power train is a good one, and next year KERS is coming, a moveable rear wing is coming, the double diffuser has gone, so there is a lot of change as well.

And we are good at reacting to change. With all that, a good KERS system, a good engine, and doing a good job in learning the tyres quickly, also with a good job on the aero, we have got a chance.

Q. And your Mercedes-McLaren technical partnership continues, doesn't it?

OS: Yes. So it means gearboxes, for example, we don't have to worry about. That is nice, because it means you can focus your resources on other things.

Q. KERS-wise, will you be developing your own or will you take the Mercedes-Benz unit?

OS: It will be a Mercedes-Benz KERS system. I think we will be running it, although it is not definite yet. But the plan is to run it.

Q. What do you think about the job your two drivers have done this season?

OS: They have done a decent job. They have both had some good races; they have both had some not so good races. But I think overall they are both competent drivers, and had bad luck in some instances - but also some really good races in others.

Tonio sometimes did not qualify well, but has raced well. And Adrian sometimes had the likes of Lewis Hamilton behind him for 15 laps and held him off. So I think they have done a good job.

Q. Is it not frustrating as a team though that you have two guys who on occasion can show you flashes of brilliance, but are not able to do that all the time?

OS: Yes, but I don't know if that is really a reflection completely on the drivers. Ultimately it is a team effort. There are places we can improve, and we will do that in the future. Especially next year we are going to have to learn the tyres quickly, and sometimes it is the fact that tyres do not get into the right operating range, and you cannot blame the drivers for that kind of stuff. So we are still learning about start performances, and how we manage all that - and the drivers are all a part of it.

Q. When we had third drivers a few years ago, they would often get a new set of tyres and a low fuel run at the end to show what they could do. This year things are different, so your third driver Paul di Resta has never been able to chase headline grabbing times. So how have you rated his performance?

OS: You are right; it is totally different now because we don't give him any tyres. His role is really to learn the circuits. I think he has done a good job, and he hasn't had too many excursions off track for example, hasn't broken the car, his feedback is very good, and he is a nice person on top of it all. So he has done a good job for us.

Q. So what is your feeling moving on then? Tonio has a contract for next year, but Adrian has not yet made his mind up what he is doing?

OS: We never talk about contracts...

Q. But it appears you have three drivers and two places...

OS: Yes. And we haven't made any decisions yet on where we go. I think we have got the luxury of being able to assess the situation and make a decision. But there is a seat available.

Q. What timescale are you looking at to make a decision?

OS: Probably about in a month's time.

Q. And what about your own position? It was announced almost 12 months ago that you would be joining Force India. How have you settled in?

OS: It takes time to learn the systems, learn the people. What you don't want to do, and I've said it all along, is come in and just make changes for the sake of change. Some people do that so that they are seen to be doing something.

I think you really have to learn deeply why some things are the way they are before you change it, because often these things are routed in history. You get to a certain position by refining, refining, refining, and then if you come in and change it you don't understand the refinement and how you got to where you ended up at. So you have to understand that first.

But there are things that we could be doing better. Like I said - since I've come we now run the wind-tunnel 24/7, we've added an entire group to the wind-tunnel, we have doubled our CFD capacity and we are looking at increasing it some more. So those are the types of fundamental changes that we are doing.

We have also reorganised the group and we will reorganise it again before the end of the year. We are going to establish some groups within the organisation to look at performance and that kind of thing. So I think it is those big things that you do, and you don't do them straight away, that help you get to where you are going. That is what I am trying to do.

Q. With the Indian Grand Prix on the calendar for next year, what difference will that make to this team?

OS: We need a strategic plan - and it won't come from us, it will come from India - as to how we exploit the Indian GP. I think what it will need is perhaps, once the marketing group in India have a plan, doing some things differently. What that is, I don't know - because the plan has not been set yet.

Q. Will an Indian driver be vital to your plans?

OS: Vijay [Mallya] has always said that we need the best drivers we can get because we are here to do the best we can. If an Indian driver is the best we can get, then the more the better. But first and foremost, we are looking at drivers - like any other member of staff - to find the best. In a month's time we will see where we get to.

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