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F1 Racing - - INSIDER -

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 trafc buzzing in all di­rec­tions and build­ings adorned with colour­ful mo­saics and grafti, 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, reect­ing 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 signicant 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 outt 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 conned to sim­u­la­tor work at Maranello) and have taken a seat on the all-im­por­tant F1 Strat­egy Group.

In­creased in­vest­ment has al­ready had a signicant ef­fect on the team ahead of the new sea­son. There’s been a boost in stafng (Tom McCul­lough from Wil­liams; Tim Wright from Cater­ham), a dou­bling of the CFD ca­pa­bil­ity (from 15 to 30 teraops), 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 signicant 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 rened side­pods (thanks to the ad­di­tional rene­ments 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

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