Sahara Force India Week: Ten Years and Counting

Throughout its decade in Formula One, the Force India story has been played out by a cast of rookie drivers, rising stars and seasoned race winners, in cars ranging from back row starters to polesitters to podium finishers. As part of our Sahara Force India Week, we’ve taken a quick look back through the yearbooks at the Silverstone team to see how they’ve grown since their debut in 2008.

Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India F1 VJM01
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Japanese Grand Prix, Practice Day, Fuji Speedway, Japan, Friday 10 October 2008. Courtesy of Sahara Force India F1 Team

VJM01: Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella

With little more than an updated version of the 2007 Spyker F8-VIIB at their disposal, the chances for Adrian Sutil and ex-Renault signee Giancarlo Fisichella to put Force India’s maiden challenger into the points were slim at best.

Nevertheless, they did come close on several occasions—most notably Sutil running fourth in Monaco—as the team under Vijay Mallya put in place its philosophy of developing strategically and effectively throughout the year. A best finish of tenth for Fisichella in Spain and some promising displays elsewhere made 2008 a good foundation for Force India’s later success.

Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Force India F1 VJM02.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, Belgian Grand Prix, Race, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday 30 August 2009. Courtesy of Sahara Force India F1 Team

 

VJM02: Adrian Sutil, Giancarlo Fisichella and Vitantonio Liuzzi

Encouraged by its opening campaign, Force India now looked ahead to 2009, like many teams eyeing that season’s aerodynamics overhaul as an opportunity to shuffle up the grid. The team also signalled its intent this season by moving from Ferrari to Mercedes power—and not to mention, changing its 2008 Kingfisher livery to a striking new Indian flag-inspired design.

Of course, Force India’s ’09 season will always be remembered for Fisichella’s surprise pole and podium at Spa. But with points also and a fastest lap for Sutil at Monza and reliability greatly improved, this was also the year Force India started to establish itself as a true midfield contender.

Vitantonio Liuzzi (ITA) Force India F1 VJM03.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 18, Brazilian Grand Prix, Race, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday 7 November 2010. Courtesy of Sahara Force India F1 Team

 

VJM03: Adrian Sutil and Vitantonio Liuzzi

For 2010 Force India retained Sutil and resigned Vitantonio Liuzzi, who drove for them at the end of 2009 following Fisichella’s mid-season call-up to Ferrari. The season started well with points for Liuzzi in the opening two rounds and a string of six top ten finishes for Sutil in the European season; the team also recorded its first double points finish in Monaco.

Results tailed off towards the end of the season with Liuzzi taking the team’s final points of the year in Korea with sixth, but 68 points on the board and a best-ever constructors’ finish of seventh was still a huge step forward for a team still in its infancy.

Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India F1 VJM04.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monza, Italy, Saturday 10 September 2011. Courtesy of Sahara Force India F1 Team

 

VJM04: Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta

2011 saw a number of changes at Force India. Following the departure of James Key the previous year, the VJM04 was the first of the team’s cars to be designed by current technical director Andrew Green—it was also the first to be driven by Britain’s Paul di Resta, who was promoted from his reserve role to replace Vitantonio Liuzzi.

Initially, the new-look team yielded mixed results: there were points for Sutil and di Resta in the opening race in Melbourne, but further top ten appearances were sparse throughout the long European stretch. However, performances improved when F1 took to its Asian leg, and a string of points finishes in the final rounds—including in the team’s inaugural home race in India—meant that the Silverstone squad finished 2011 in sixth place overall, just five points shy of fifth-best Lotus-Renault.

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sahara Force India F1 VJM05.
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Saturday 3rd November 2012. Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE. Courtesy of Sahara Force India F1 Team

VJM05: Paul di Resta and Nico Hülkenberg

The build-up to Force India’s 2012 season was dominated by Adrian Sutil’s Shanghai assault trial, and by the team’s decision to replace him with their reserve driver Nico Hülkenberg—this was also the year that Jules Bianchi acted as the team’s test and reserve driver.

Unfortunately Force India never managed to match the podium success of midfield rivals Sauber, Lotus and Mercedes in 2012, and ultimately slipped to seventh in the constructors’ standings. But that’s not to say it wasn’t still a successful year for the team: particular highlights included Hülkenberg, in only his second season racing, finishing in fourth place in Belgium and leading the race in Brazil for almost thirty laps before coming home in fifth.

Paul di Resta (GBR) Sahara Force India VJM06.
Korean Grand Prix, Friday 4th October 2013. Yeongam, South Korea. Courtesy of Sahara Force India F1 Team

VJM06: Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil

For 2013, Hülkenberg moved across to Sauber, freeing up a seat for Adrian Sutil’s return to the team. His and di Resta’s car for the season was the VJM06, which had ditched the “platypus” nose of the previous year as part of a complete chassis redesign, aimed at overcoming Force India’s slight drop in form in 2012.

Suffice to say, it worked—finishing seventh and eighth respectively, Sutil and di Resta gave the team its best start to a season yet in Melbourne, and the VJM06 went on to score points in every round bar one between Australia and Great Britain. More points later in the season, including two double hauls in India and Abu Dhabi, allowed Force India to retake sixth in the constructors’ with a comfortable twenty-point gap over Sauber.

Sergio Perez (MEX) Sahara Force India F1 VJM07.
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Sunday 23rd November 2014. Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE. Courtesy of Sahara Force India F1 Team

VJM07: Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Pérez

2014 saw Force India embrace F1’s new turbo era with some changes of its own: having replaced Sutil and di Resta with the returning Hülkenberg and new signing Sergio Pérez, the team also exchanged its longstanding white livery for a darker, more aggressive look.

As with many of its long-nosed rivals the VJM07 was not the most visually-pleasing interpretation of the 2014 chassis regulations—but it was competitive nonetheless. Getting off the ground with a double points haul in Melbourne, the team went on to record a total of 27 top ten finishes across the season, including a podium for Pérez in Bahrain and a run of ten races in the points for Hülkenberg, that culminated in Force India’s best campaign to date.

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sahara Force India F1 VJM08.
Brazilian Grand Prix, Sunday 15th November 2015. Sao Paulo, Brazil. Courtesy of Sahara Force India F1 Team

VJM08/ VJM08B: Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Pérez

Having scored a team-best 155 championship points in 2014, expectations were high for the following year. But with numerous R&D delays throughout the winter holding back the development of the VJM08, Hülkenberg and Pérez began the season lacking the downforce needed to fight for more than the few points they scored in the opening rounds.

But at the British Grand Prix, Force India introduced a B-spec VJM08, complete with distinctive “cobra” nose, and was immediately rewarded with a double points finish in the race. More points came in all but one of the remaining rounds as Pérez especially took to the new car, dicing with Lewis Hamilton for the lead in Belgium and taking his second podium for the team with third in Russia—the end result being Force India improving yet again to end 2015 as the fifth-best team overall.

Sergio Perez (MEX) Sahara Force India F1 VJM09.
European Grand Prix, Sunday 19th June 2016. Baku City Circuit, Azerbaijan. Courtesy of Sahara Force India F1 Team

VJM09: Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Pérez

Like most of the 2016 grid, Force India’s VJM09 was little more than an evolution of the previous year’s car, as the team turned its focus ahead to the major rules changes coming in 2017.

But given how competitive the VJM08B was at the end of 2015, the team was not hurt by sticking with the design. The car was especially strong during the European leg, where Pérez hustled his way to a brace of third places in Monaco and Baku, and its combined speed and reliability led to double points finishes in every race bar two between Germany and the end of the season. After the final round in Abu Dhabi, Hülkenberg and Pérez had gathered a monumental 173 points for Force India, more than enough to beat Williams to an outstanding fourth in the Constructors’ Championship.

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Sahara Force India F1 VJM10.
Monaco Grand Prix, Sunday 28th May 2017. Monte Carlo, Monaco. Courtesy of Sahara Force India F1 Team

VJM10: Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon

With the remarkable success of its most recent campaigns, Force India certainly has a lot to live up to in 2017. But while many expected the team to struggle for resources in the winter development race, they have instead had their strongest start to a season since 2014.

Outfitted with a bold new pink livery, the VJM10-Mercedes has been turning heads with its performance just as much as with its looks. Taking points finishes in five of the six races so far, and missing out on a perfect run only through bad luck in Monaco, Sergio Pérez is currently leading the team’s charge with seventh in the Drivers’ Championship, whilst new signing Esteban Ocon has been delivering solid results for the team right off the bat—his current best being a fifth place in Spain—despite having made only nine F1 starts prior to the season.

With the team currently holding fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship, on almost double the points of next-best Toro Rosso, 2017 already looks set to be another fitting chapter to the extraordinary Force India story.

James Matthews, Deputy Editor

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