Force India admits third place already out of reach

Force India deputy team boss Bob Fernley concedes any hopes of fighting for third place in the Formula 1 constructors' championship this year have already gone.

Force India admits third place already out of reach
Sergio Perez, Sahara Force India F1 VJM10
Sergio Perez, Force India VJM10
Sergio Perez, Sahara Force India F1 VJM10
(L to R): Andrew Green, Sahara Force India F1 Team Technical Director; Sergio Perez, Sahara Force India F1; Dr. Vijay Mallya, Sahara Force India F1 Team Owner; Esteban Ocon, Sahara Force India F1 Team; Robert Fernley, Sahara Force India F1 Team Deputy Team Principal, and the Sahara Force India F1 VJM10
Sergio Perez, Sahara Force India F1 VJM10
Sergio Perez, Sahara Force India F1 VJM10
Sergio Perez, Force India VJM10
Sergio Perez, Sahara Force India F1 VJM10

The Silverstone-based squad enjoyed its strongest season to date in 2016, finishing in fourth position, ahead of better-funded rivals like Williams, McLaren and Renault.

Team chief Vijay Mallya had said at the launch of its new car that the goal for Force India was to break into the top three.

"If we did not dream big, we would not have finished fourth in the world championship last year," he said. "We will always dream big, we have never ever had conversations, even in private, that we are not going to break into the top three. That is certainly going to be our objective."

Following pre-season testing, however, Fernley is convinced that Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull are too far ahead to consider third place a realistic goal.

"I don't think there are any surprises," said Fernley. "Well, there are a couple of surprises, in so much as I think that I think that Ferrari have come out of the blocks much better than I thought.

"I think as a result of that, I think it has also dragged Haas up a little bit from where we thought they would be. I think Renault have done a good job, better than we thought they would be, and McLaren are worse than we thought they would be.

"Obviously our primary aim is to retain that fourth place, so we always assumed that the top three would be unobtainable unless one of them made a mistake – and they haven't. So, that solves that problem.

"There is still probably a question mark over some of the power unit issues – the one from Honda, and I think Renault also have a couple of issues. Early races will be about finishing and getting both cars home."

Fernley reckons the gap to the frontrunners is around 1.5 seconds at the moment, and he fears it is likely to increase as the season progresses.

"I don't think that [1.5s gap] is unreasonable – and it could go more during the season," he said. "It is just the ability of those top teams to spend.

"There is no way anybody else below them can match with it. I think probably McLaren would have an opportunity to do that, but without the power unit they are obviously lost.

While Force India has enjoyed a rather low-key pre-season, Fernley says the new car is performing as well as expected.

"The performance is where we thought it would be really," he said. "I think we could do with a little bit more on the qualifying trim.

"It is not that far off and is going to be very close between the Renault, Toro Rosso and the Williams/Force India – with Williams having slight advantage at the moment.

"Race pace-wise I think it is maybe a different picture, and that is the area we are working on."

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