Q & A with Force India's Mark Smith

Conducted and provided by the Force India press office

Q & A with Force India's Mark Smith

Q. Aside from the aero regulations, what are the principal differences from the 2008 season for Force India?

Mark Smith: From Force India's perspective the main change we have had from 2008 is the new engine from Mercedes-Benz and the gearbox from McLaren. When we confirmed the partnership on 10 November 2008 we had to adapt our plans fairly significantly.

It's not just a case of getting the new parts and installing them; when we changed the gearbox, it had slightly different suspension mountings and when we changed the rear suspension there was a necessary change on the front. Other areas subject to change were the fuel cell, and the cooling system. All have been challenges in their own right, but not day and night differences as you've seen on the aero side.

Q. As you say, the deal was announced on 10 November. Has the timeframe been the biggest challenge?

MS: Adapting to a new engine and gearbox is not actually fundamentally difficult, the biggest factor has been the timeframe we have worked with. We had got a fair way down the line with our 2009 plans at that point and then had to adapt them to the new suppliers. Normally you would have started in August, so we have had to compress everything into five months. Everyone has really worked hard to make it work and we've got a potentially better package, so the change has been a positive rather than a negative.

Q. What exactly does the McLaren-Mercedes partnership comprise?

MS: The package announced comprises the supply of engines, gearboxes, hydraulics systems and KERS to Force India.

Q. Will Force India run KERS this season?

MS: Our car is fully KERS compliant but whether we run the system will be decided jointly by Force India, McLaren and Mercedes.

Q. And this year sees the return of slick tyres. Has this had a major impact on design?

MS: Running a new tyre compound does have some impact, especially as we have had limited running on slicks. There are a number of solutions you can apply on camber and suspension, or factor some items into the geometry. At this stage however we are dependent on the previous running or data we have received from Bridgestone, but the impacts at this time are quite subtle.

Q. Have the new partnerships had a real impact on the workforce? Have you restructured the team in anyway?

MS: We haven't seen the whole benefit just yet as we have been working flat out on the car but so far everything has been positive. The relationship has been very good and we have gelled very well given the limited amount of time we have worked together. The big talking point has been how we approach development, how we track test items, how we introduce significant updates. The process works well.

Q. Obviously with the car launching so late, testing is going to be even more crucial than ever. What will the plan be?

MS: We will have eight days of testing, plus two shakedowns. The first shakedown, which took place at Silverstone on 25 February, allowed us to determine and fix any major issues, check the systems and so on, and then the Jerez test will be to identify the aero load on the car and get some feedback on handling. Following this test, we'll see where we are, assess any outstanding problems and then try to fix a set up for Melbourne. The next test will be in Barcelona from 9 - 12 March.

Q. Will the late debut be a problem?

MS: Ideally you would have more testing, but it isn't a major issue. One of the biggest disadvantages will be knowing what the life of the new parts is. Normally in pre-season testing we would put more life on each part than it would be subject to under race conditions, but with only eight days we won't be able to do this. It will just put a greater onus on rig testing and Grands Prix Fridays.

Q. Now that testing is banned in-season, is this going to hamper development for teams such as Force India that have debuted late?

MS: With no mid-season testing it does make life more difficult, but you should never be in a situation where you put a part onto a car and have a doubt about it. Really you would use a test to check the reliability and the life, rather than whether it works.

It does mean we will have to be smarter with regards to reliability and also that Fridays at a Grand Prix will be more valuable than ever. I think we will see real work conducted, so car set up, development and mileage rather than simple tyre comparisons. It will certainly make the weekends more exciting.

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