A DAY LATER
and both Force India drivers have left the tranquillity of the countryside and are back in bustling Mexico City, which is to host a grand prix this year after an absence of 23 years. With trafc buzzing in all directions and buildings adorned with colourful mosaics and grafti, this is a vibrant city that is welcoming, friendly and very keen to have top-ight motor racing return. Some 21million people live in Mexico City and close to its historic centre, the Autódromo Hermanos Rodgríuez is undergoing a facelift.
But rst comes a trip to the other side of town. Both Hülkenberg and home hero Checo are visiting the spectacular Soumaya Museum, which contains more than 65,000 pieces of art – most of them owned by one of the world’s richest men, Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim. Among the items on display this warm January morning is the 2015 Force India – not the actual car that will race in the world championship, this season, but a 2014 machine clad in new-for-2015 livery.
The 2015 Force India carries Slim’s Telmex, reecting the company’s sponsorship of Sergio Pérez. And holding a lavish launch in Mexico City is a clear indication that this team has received a signicant cash injection, which some insiders are conservatively estimating at an extra £20million a year.
The livery launch is being broadcast online around the world and team owner Vijay Mallya addresses the assembled crowd – perhaps appropriately – from alongside Rodin’s famous sculpture The Thinker. By the way, if there were ever any doubt, this is an original. The sculpture looks down on Vijay and the glistening silver, black and orange Force India, as if contemplating the team’s prospects for the coming year.
Last year, the little Silverstone-based outt nished sixth in the constructors’ standings with their best-ever points haul. But despite the fact they started so well (remember Checo’s Bahrain podium?), the opposition closed the gap and points were harder to achieve by season’s end.
By the time the US GP rolled round, Force India had grown vociferous in their concerns about the rising costs for smaller teams, anxious to avoid the fate that befell Marussia and Caterham. But, since then, during the off-season, they have managed to secure Esteban Gutiérrez’s backing from Sauber (the other Mexican F1 driver on the 2014 grid is now conned to simulator work at Maranello) and have taken a seat on the all-important F1 Strategy Group.
Increased investment has already had a signicant effect on the team ahead of the new season. There’s been a boost in stafng (Tom McCullough from Williams; Tim Wright from Caterham), a doubling of the CFD capability (from 15 to 30 teraops), and, crucially, they will now use Toyota’s impressive windtunnel in Cologne, which will hopefully solve the aero problems inherent in last year’s VJM07.
This extensive windtunnel testing is the reason the 2015 machine isn’t yet ready to be shown off. That will remain the case until the second pre-season test in Barcelona in late February. What’s more, the delay in getting windtunnel parts onto the car means that, realistically, the major updates might not appear until as late as the Spanish Grand Prix in May.
“I think it’s going to be a mirror image of 2014 for us,” says technical director Andrew Green. “We want to put the performance on as the season develops and to be really strong in the second half of the season.
“The use of the windtunnel in Cologne is a signicant step up for us. We’ve been trying to shoehorn a 50 per cent model into the windtunnel in Brackley. But that was originally designed for a 25 per cent model, so we were limited in what we could do. Using Cologne has really opened up what we’re capable of achieving.” When the VJM08 does appear, Green reveals that the car will have rened sidepods (thanks to the additional renements in the cooling of the Mercedes-Benz power unit), new front suspension and a hydro-mechanical rear suspension that will give the team’s trackside engineers a new avenue in exploring set-up change. He’s also expecting a power improvement from Mercedes.
All of this suggests that Pérez and Hülkenberg should be in possession of a strong car by the time of the Mexican Grand Prix, which is currently scheduled for the last weekend of October. A day after the livery launch, F1 Racing accompanies a small number of invited media outlets to take a look at the construction work being done to revive the old circuit.
In the early morning sun, dazzling rays of light shine through the trees on the start/nish straight just as they do at Monza. And, like its Italian counterpart, the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez (which is named after the legendary Mexican racers, brothers Pedro and Ricardo) is situated in a park, so when driving out onto the track you catch glimpses of joggers and goalposts as the local folk make good use of the public space. But unlike Monza, Mexico’s very fast, long, right-handed nal corner has been emasculated. The notorious Peraltada corner has given way to a new, slow, twisty section – as per the Champ Car race that took place here from 2002 until 2007.
That part of the track will run through a former baseball stadium that will house 25,000 people (total capacity at the track is expected to be 110,000) and they will have easy access from the city since the park is served by two metro stations. The loss of the Peraltada will be saddening to many, but Pérez insists he can’t wait to turn his VJM08 into the stadium section and see 25,000 fans rise to their feet, cheer and wave ags. He’s got a point.
During our visit, a lot of work was still to be completed, including most of the new track