The strength of Force India’s comprehensive upgrade package for this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix will determine how quickly the team switches focus to the 2017 regulations.
The VJM09 will “look visually different”, according to chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer, as it will be sporting a new front wing, floor and associated bodywork, including sidepods at Barcelona.
If the package proves a success then Force India will continue to develop it, if not then the team will soon start to focus more heavily on the major changes due with the 2017 rules when the cars will be significantly different aerodynamically.
“The decision-making process is to see what this package yields, and also to see what would be required to improve it – a big program or a little program,” Szafnauer told Autosport.
“If there are improvements that can be made without taking up too much resource for a team of our size then we will have further improvements this year. But the definitive decision will be made after we see how it does, and probably after the Barcelona test [on May 17-18] during which we can instrument the car properly and see exactly what the aero package is doing.
“So there is still stuff to come, but what it is and how much we won’t be able to assess until after that test.”
Szafnauer concedes whether the upgrade package works is hit and miss.
“Usually we get good correlation between the wind tunnel, CFD and reality,” he added. “But I’ve been in this game 18 years now and for more than 50 percent of the time you put stuff on the car to improve performance and it doesn’t happen.
“Sometimes you put stuff on the car and you don’t get the gains you thought you were going to get straight away, but over time you learn how to adjust and how to set the car up differently, and then the gains do come. It’s hard to know, when you hit the ground running, whether you are going to be quicker or do we need to tune it to get quicker? It’s really hard to predict.”
Following a tough start to the season, with Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez plagued by bad luck, Szafnauer feels the team needs the package to work straight away.
“We hope it makes us a few tenths quicker than we have been,” said Szafnauer. “But our luck just needs to change because the underlying pace of this car has been good. For Checo to go from 18th and last after his pit stop [at the last race in Russia] to ninth was testament to the performance of the car.
“Overall, we’ve not seen the best of our car this season because of the four races we’ve had, in two of those both cars have had first-lap incidents.”