One of the quieter success stories of the first half of the season has been the gradual improvement of Force India.
An effective programme of development has brought real progress, and the team has finally begun to get cars beyond the first segment in qualifying.
They’ve come tantalisingly close to scoring their first points – but it hasn’t happened yet. Can they make that breakthrough soon?
There’s been three big signs of their progress so far, but a mixture of luck and mistakes has often served to mask their progress:
Chinese Grand Prix
Adrian Sutil has often shown a knack for driving in the wet, and at Shanghai his skills shone as he pulled the VJM02 up to sixth place having started 18th.
Unfortunately, with six laps to go he lost control of his car at one of the few places on the track where the closeness of the barriers meant he wasn’t going to get away with it.
Read more: Sutil crash costs Force India first point
Monaco Grand Prix
This time it was Giancarlo Fisichella’s turn to shine – although Sutil played a useful role in helping his team mate.
On a day when the longevity of the super-soft tyre was suspect, Sutil ran into trouble with them on lap eight. He allowed Fisichella, on the harder tyres, past, but delayed the chasing pack.
Fisichella, meanwhile, latched onto the rear of another group of cars that had been slowed by a driver struggling with super-soft tyres: Sebastian Vettel. By making a later pit stop Fisichella was able to jump up the order to finish ninth at the chequered flag, less than two seconds behind Sebastien Bourdais.
In truth, the way the race unfolded probably exaggerated the strengths of the VJM02 on that day (they only set the 14th and 16th fastest laps) – but it showed that if events go in their favour they are ready to get that first top-eight finish.
British Grand Prix
Friday practice for the British Grand Prix ended with the two Red Bulls at the top of the times sheets – and Adrian Sutil an utterly unexpected third.
Sutil had been running new parts straight from the factory, just a stone’s throw from Silverstone’s gates. The extensive upgrade included a new front wing, barge boards, bodywork and a revised floor.
But on Saturday disaster struck: Sutil’s brakes failed as he tackled the Abbey chicane and he crashed hard into the barriers. His qualifying session was ruined, and Fisichella was a lowly 16th.
Despite that, Fisichella again made progress on Sunday – making a crucial pass on Nick Heidfeld – to finish tenth. Once again, he was two seconds away from a place in the points.
The next step?
Force India are clearly already in the position where they only need a little luck to get that first points finish.
And a points score ‘on merit’ could be on the cards too. At Silverstone Fisichella beat a Williams, both Renaults and both BMWs without any help from fortuitously-timed safety cars, unusual weather conditions or the like – it was down to pure pace.
Also left in Fisichella’s wake were both the McLarens – the team which are providing Force India with gearboxes and other parts this year, as well as sharing an engine supplier. The thought of taking on and beating the mighty McLaren with substantially similar parts must bring tremendous cheer to the Silverstone squad after several uncertain seasons with different owners.
Sutil’s home race is next on the calendar. Can he – or Fisichella – give Force India their long-awaited maiden score next weekend? What other races on the calendar offer them a good opportunity for them?