Force India took its best ever constructors’ position in its history this year. Darshan Chokhani looks at just what makes the Silverstone outfit potentially the best value-for-money in Formula 1.
Eight years ago, flamboyant Indian business tycoon Dr. Vijay Mallya wanted to put his country’s name on the motorsport map – something he achieved by leading a buy-out of the struggling Spyker team in late 2007.
India could thus boast of having its own team at the pinnacle of motorsport, as Mallya rebranded his new acquisition ‘Force India’ and set the express goal of developing home-grown talent.
After a learning year in 2008, the team had its first real taste of success in 2009 with Giancarlo Fisichella’s famous pole and a podium finish at the Belgium Grand Prix. The Italian veteran’s second-place finish still remains the team’s best result after 150 races.
The upward trend continued in the following seasons, as Force India progressed from seventh to fifth in the constructors’ standings between 2010 and 2015.
Although 2014 remains the team’s best points haul with 155 points, it was only this year that Mallya’s operation finally managed to break into the top five of the constructors’, even challenging Red Bull for pace late in the season after the arrival of its dramatically improved and innovative ‘B-spec’ car.
To go from 10th to fifth in eight years may seem like a long time to some, but while the likes of Williams, Lotus and even McLaren have suffered wild variations in form, Force India has shown remarkable consistency, as can be seen in this graph.
Moreover, beating teams like Williams and McLaren on an annual operating budget of about £85m is no mean feat, especially as Force India does not have the luxury of receiving FOM "historic” payments like some of its closest rivals.
Financially, the team has never been one of the most secure, but it has never allowed this to herald a significant performance dip in all these years – showing what matters is smart investment, rather than the size of the team’s wallet.
Indeed, the team can stake a valid claim to being the best value-for-money outfit in F1 today. But how have they managed to achieve this?
The first foundations were laid in 2009, when Force India switched from Ferrari to Mercedes power, initiating a long-term partnership with the German manufacturer that has paid major dividends since the sport’s adoption of the V6 turbo hybrid formula in 2014.
Another important aspect has been sound driver selection. The team has been able to rely upon some polished and consistent performers through its history, including Fisichella, Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta, all of whom managed to come close to extracting the maximum from the machinery at their disposal.
Force India’s current line-up of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg is arguably among the strongest on the grid, the former having delivered the team its second and third podium results and the latter proving a very solid points-gatherer without reaching the peaks of his younger teammate.
The philosophy of avoiding the temptation to hire an out-and-out “pay driver” to bolster the balance sheet has brought the team rich benefits, in turn helping to attract a healthy portfolio of commercial sponsors.
Earlier this year, the team also took the tough decision of switching to using the ex-Toyota F1 windtunnel at the TMG base in Cologne, deciding it had gotten everything it could from its own in-house facility.
It reaped immediate results when the team got its B-spec car running midway through the season, ultimately allowing it to secure its best ever constructor’s position and become a regular top 10 presence.
What has also helped the outfit is the longevity of key personnel within the team, the likes of technical director Andrew Green, sporting director Andy Stevenson, deputy team principal Robert Fernley and COO Otmar Szafnauer having all stayed on board long enough for the team to have been able to develop and mature in a constant fashion.
While there is every reason for Force India to celebrate its success, there is little time to bask in glory in F1, which for the teams is just as much of a race off the track as it is on it.
But with the technical regulations remaining relatively stable in 2016, and with financial boost brought about by its best-ever finish along with new sponsors - and that potential tie-up with Aston Martin - the team could begin to take on Williams and Red Bull and pose a challenge for third place in the constructors’.
And if they do so, it will be with the added satisfaction of having spent considerably less money than the boys at Grove or Milton Keynes.