The much-hyped McLaren-Mercedes engine driven Force India car had its first outing this year and clocked sixth fastest timing among eight runners at the track here during the official test session.
Vijay Mallya’s Force India team is hoping to get among points in the 2009 Formula One Grand Prix series commencing later this month. The optimism stems from the partnership deal the team signed up with World champions McLaren-Mercedes for supply of engine, gearbox, hydraulic systems and the all-important KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System).
At the 4.423 Km Jerez track Sunday, Force India’s lead driver Giancarlo Fisichella put in 31 laps with a best of one minute, 21.584 seconds that was way off the pace set by Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing (1:19.055). Ferrari's Felipe Massa was second in 1:20.330.
Force India is racing against time to get their 2009 package in competitive trim and it is expected that the VJM02, as the new car is dubbed, would get up to its pace only during mid-season.
Interestingly, Fisichella was only a wee bit quicker than the McLaren’s test driver, Pedro de la Rosa (1:21.831) who weighed in with 94 laps.
McLaren, however, were focusing on testing the 2010-spec Bridgestone rubber conforming into the new regulations for the next season that prohibits pre-heating of tyres and a heavier fuel load keeping in mind the ban on refueling.
On the first day of the Jerez test, a Force India press release said: “Given the relatively late debut of the car, today's programme was designed to give as much running as possible, complete systems checks and accumulate the maximum possible amount of data going into the start of the season.
“Although the predicted rain stayed away for the majority of the session, the day was not without interruption following frequent red flag periods.
“The VJM02 also experienced some downtime when an issue with the fuel system developed following initial runs.
“Giancarlo was however able to complete 31 laps and was encouraged by the improved performance of the 2009 challenger.”
Fisichella will be on testing duties on Monday while Adrian Sutil takes over on Tuesday.
Commenting on his performance, Fisichella said: “It is a bit frustrating as we could only do 31 laps today, especially as it is very important to try and get as many as possible as we are already late compared to the other teams.
“I'm am however quite surprised and happy about what I felt with the behaviour of the car today. It's very promising and I felt much more consistency, even under braking, and more stability in the high speed corners. The lap time is good and I am quite pleased as we did it with one set of new tyres.”