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Next race: Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo
Midfield Monitor
Christine Blachford

Christine became an avid follower of Formula One after getting a taste of the action way back in 2003. Today, you'll find Christine putting her experience to good use as writer and producer of the news show F1Minute, and editor of community F1 site Sidepodcast.

Pull it together // How Force India can build their year with a little bit of teamwork

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Last time we checked in with Force India, they were coming off the back of a double points finish in the season-opening Australia, followed by a double DNF in Malaysia. Consistency was something the team were in desperate need of, and after the highs and lows of the first two races, it was time to find their feet.

Our expectations for Force India weren’t set too high, particularly after losing the quick skills of Nico Hülkenberg to Sauber. The returning Adrian Sutil had a year of driving dust to shake off, and Paul di Resta was still reeling from being overlooked in favour of his teammate.

Scrub forward three months, and where are Force India now? With six races completed, the team have 44 points and remain ahead of McLaren in the championship standings. They sit a very comfortable 5th, although the gap to those ahead is stretching with each event that goes by. With Monaco in the rear view mirror, and the tricky Canada approaching rapidly, there’s work still to be done at Force India. Monaco was a race that spoke volumes about the state of the team, and the very different attitudes on both sides of the garage.

Shaky foundations

Adrian Sutil overcame some significant demons to finish a spectacular fifth around the streets of Monte Carlo. You don’t have to have a long memory to vividly recall Kimi Räikkönen’s 2008 accident in the principality, where he crashed into the back of Adrian Sutil in the Force India and knocked the German from a career high position of fourth place. The team were visibly crushed as they called their driver in for retirement, and Sutil later described it as “a pain in my heart.”

Sutil's best Monaco result to date
Credit: James Moy Photography

For 2013, there was a lot to prove. In the intervening years, he’d finished an escalating 14th, then 8th and then 7th in Monaco, and it was time for some retribution. A late crash in final practice on Saturday put the pressure on the mechanics for qualifying, but Adrian secured eighth place on the grid. A storming drive saw him overtaking not one, but two World Champions, as he snaked past Jenson Button at the Loews Hairpin, and then repeated the exact same move on Fernando Alonso a few laps later.

Sutil crossed the finish line in fifth place, not quite a career high, but his best Monaco result to date. More importantly, the result comes after two 13th place finishes, and two retirements. In Bahrain, he suffered at the hands of the pit crew, as a wheel nut failed and left the car steaming in the pit lane. In China, an errant Esteban Gutiérrez collided with the Force India, forcing him out of the race on lap 5. For the next two events, Sutil at least saw the chequered flag, but he was out of the points. Monaco is his first top ten finish since the first round in Melbourne.

We all knew that the underlying performance has been there, but when you have three or four races where it keeps falling apart for you, from Adrian’s point of view, he needed it for his confidence. The team has never thought any less of him, but his luck needed to turn.

- Bob Fernley, Team Principal, Force India

While team relations on Sutil’s side of the garage may be getting stronger, Paul di Resta still appears to be keeping his crew at arm’s length. The British driver made no secret of his desire to move on to a slightly faster team, but equally, he has had a determined look about him - to make the best of the situation he’s in, and show those teams what they are missing.

Four what it's worth

Since Malaysia, Di Resta has finished in the points at each and every of the four following races. The Bahrain Grand Prix was a particular highlight, as a fourth place finish heralded a heap of points, and Paul was only inches away from his first podium in the sport. Their qualifying position was flattered by some penalised drivers, but Di Resta had the pace to remain with the leaders and fight for position. Robbed by Romain Grosjean after the final pit stops, Di Resta was still plenty happy with his second career fourth in Formula One.

Di Resta went on to finish in the points
Credit: James Moy Photography

With the points pouring in, it looked as though there could be a thawing of the ice between Paul and his team, but qualifying in Monaco put paid to that. A bad tyre call saw Di Resta remain on old rubber when all those around him pitted for fresh tyres, leaving him down and out in Q1. The immediate reaction on the radio from Paul was: “You’re joking!” and we all knew there was no humour in the situation. Given the nature of the Monaco circuit, it’s impressive that he went on to finish in the points, but after qualifying on Saturday, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it was the end of the world.

There'll be a few people in the team kicking themselves. I'm not going to say too much because I'll say something I shouldn't. There was a clear thing we should have done... Probably the most painful experience I've had in qualifying. Qualifying's a big part of it, today was a key to make sure we tried to do something and we failed to achieve it.

- Paul di Resta, F1 driver, Force India

It’s not the first time that Di Resta has been so openly critical of his team, and whilst understandable in the circumstances, it just reinforces the view of a deep-rooted unsettled feeling this year. Drivers these days are coached to talk favourably about the team game, win-together, lose-together, and blaming those around you isn’t going to make them want to help you get what you want.

Force India are circling on the edge of what could be their most successful season in Formula One so far. They have an experienced driver lineup, with both signings eager to prove their worth on track. They’ve got a car with some clear pace to it, and where other teams are struggling with the tyres, Force India don’t seem to be as restricted as those around them. Their pattern of finishing each season one place higher in the championship standings was thwarted in 2012, but so far they are on target for their best season result. It’d be easy to sit back and get complacent about the way this year is turning out, but what Force India really need to work on is their team game.

Whether it is keeping driver and crew in perfect harmony, or working out a way to ensure the pit stop problems don’t ruin yet another great Grand Prix, there’s plenty that can be done to create a better atmosphere, which should lead to better results. McLaren may not have experienced the quick development catchup we’d thought, but the pressure is on from behind, and Force India need to make sure they have the full package at each and every race weekend - that all areas of the team, from driver to pit wall to catering to public relations, are pulling together to make 2013 the best yet.