18/08/2012

Half time report: The F1 boys

We already did a half time report for the non-F1 idols which you can read here. Today however, it's all about the F1 stars as we review the entire Sahara Force India team and Narain Karthikeyan.

Sahara Force India
(click to enlarge)

Darshan Chokhani:
The team looked super at the end of 2011 and it was presumed that 2012 will be a breakthrough year for the team. The car when revealed was much talked about with the technical advancements. And the rough times and runs during the winter suggested that the team will be challenging the top teams regularly while it stays ahead of the midfield pack.

The season so far has ups and down for the team as in some races the team looked class apart while in some it looked as you can say below average, a saving grace is it hasn't looked bad or worse at all. Although the season has been termed as a lottery, the team hasn't had its glorious moment on the podium like it's rivals Sauber & Williams. The best finish we have had is P5 by Nico in Valencia where a podium was looking a reality and a P6 position from Paul in Bahrain. If we talk about qualifying then the best position till now is P4 from Nico. Coming to the team's performance, we have scored 46 points in 11 races which is the best start we have had in the past 5 years. The reliability has been tremendous with just 2 DNF's, both caused by accidents, which means the car has been 100% drivable in all races. If we see the pace and speed of the car, it isn't bad at all because it has always stayed on par with the runners ahead. However, the Pirelli tyres hasn't worked out well for the team specially when the temperatures are high for which the team did lose some vital points & positions. The development is going as planned as upgrades being brought in all races, though we did read that they will concentrate on 2013 car more, it might just be sandbagging trick played off-track. I expect the car to do well in the second half with tracks coming which suits the car well. It is going to be a tough fight for P5 or P6 in CC.

Paul has had a good year compared to last year. He's already got 27 points to what he finished last season. He has matured as a driver and has shown brilliance in driving skills with some matured performances on track. In few races such as Bahrain, he got a strategy worked which looked a very difficult task to anyone. Of course there have been downs, but amazingly his worst performance is only P14. He is working well with the team I think and is shaping up well as a driver.

Nico on the other hand coming from a one year force hiatus has picked up well after a slow start getting up to the mark from the driving rust. He expected a slow but now he has picked up well and has been doing great till now. He has got that raw speed and ability to fight his way. The way he is working and driving, it doesn't seem like that this is his first year behind the wheel racing. He is matching Paul with speed and consistency which says how close it is.

Coming to Jules, he has driven in 6 FP1 till now. Seeing from his times and his own admission he needs more time in the car. His FP1 times hasn't been very impressive but considering the running he has had, it's a decent start with the team. Elsewhere he has been doing good in Formula Renault series.

Peter Santamaria-Woods:
It's been a mixed year so far for Sahara Force India. The best start to a season ever, but it's only good enough for P8 in the constructors championship. The difference between the Indian team and their close rivals is the win for Williams and the two podiums for Sauber.

Does this mean the team have a slower car? Certainly not. I had a discussion with a member of the team at the start of the season (can't say who to protect their contract) and we made our predictions for the season. We BOTH said that just before the summer break, the team would be in P8. Also, we both said the team would finish P5.

Obviously, if this were to come true, it would mean performances would have to improve in the second half of the season - but why would they? Well first off, Force India's developmental policy means that they're always stronger in comparison to others in the second half of the season. Nearly all F1 teams work on their baseline car package during the winter and then focus on developments from race one. They then begin shifting focus to next seasons car at around the summer break. Sahara Force India are different. They work on their baseline car package during the whole of winter & during the first four flyaway races too. Then they bring developments from race five. Whereas focus doesn't shift to next seasons car until the current season is over. It's more of a long term game plan. While others will begin shifting focus at about this time in the season, Sahara Force India will keep pushing with this seasons car, sacrificing the first four races of 2013 to once again be stronger towards the end of next season.

Why do they do this? It's playing to their strengths as nearly all the circuits in the final part of the calendar suit the car better; another reason why results should drastically improve post-summer break. You may disagree with the unique development system, but it has had a 100% success rate, the team achieved their goals every season so far. It's worth noting that while we did hear the team state they are shifting focus to 2013 already, i am pretty sure this is just mind-games with other teams.

The team may not have a slower car in comparison to Sauber & Williams - however our car is harder on the tyres. During the Canadian GP, the team had great pace but could only manage 11th & 12th due to extremely high tyre degradation. However the team say they learnt a lot from that race, so let's see if they can put this knowledge to use in the last half of the season.

As for the drivers, they're all having great seasons. Nico & Paul have both maximised the cars potential at nearly every race (with a few small mistakes that they're learning from). Additionally both drivers have shown an impressive ability to drive defensively when required.

Elsewhere Jules Bianchi has done well too. Sometimes off the pace in the FP1 sessions he's done for the team, but he's not there to drive fast as Jakob Andreasen (chief engineer) explains: "Generally, a third driver will focus more on long-term development work, backed up by work in the simulator. They will concentrate on development associated with the next three to six months and while you could call it the donkey work, it's good as they'll set the direction of new components or new aero characteristics. It's the theory and concept work". When he has needed to be fast (in Formula Renault 3.5), he is! Third in the championship with one win, two pole positions, five fastest laps and unfortunately, lots of bad luck. There's no doubting he's quick enough for the title though!

Narain Karthikeyan
(click to enlarge)

Darshan Chokhani:
It was disappointing when he was replaced last season midway but he came back strongly in the Indian GP and that possibly secured his 2012 drive. He and his team had a difficult start as they missed the pre-season practice and then couldn't qualify for Australian GP. But since then the team has improved a lot and even Narain been doing pretty well. He has achieved the best result for the team with P15. He has been doing well in the races and his matching his speed to a certain extent with his teammate and the Marussia drivers. He is behind by a small margin in qualifying and he has admitted that. His main aim will be to improve his qualifying performance. Both he and de la Rosa have been working well as a team. I am happy with his performance and we can see that the team his improving race by race which is a good sign. Looking forward in the second, I would say the Narain would want to finish as many races he can and finish stronger and ahead of de la Rosa and perhaps the Marussia drivers.

Peter Santamaria-Woods:
In my opinion it's important that there is an Indian driver in F1 as well as an Indian team - that's why i have alot of respect for Narain. Not always the most consistent driver, but when he's on it, he's really on it! For instance, if F1 had a race with everyone in the same car at Brands Hatch, i'm sure Narain would be on the podium.

He's had a decent season so far. He hasn't manage to out-qualify his teammate, de la Rosa, so far this season; but when it really counts, in the race, he's done well. In fact, he has the teams' best finish of the season (15th in Monaco).

The aim for Narain going forward is to keep putting in consistent race results while trying to bump up his qualifying pace a bit. It's pretty hard to see Narain moving up the pecking order for 2013 as he's limited by his machinery and he's not getting any younger. However he's doing a solid job and he should be immensely proud of his achievements so far.

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