The opening race of the 2008 FIA Formula One World Championship season will be a landmark in the history of Indian sports: the debut of India's first-ever Formula One team. When the Force India Formula One Team's distinctive red, white and gold cars complete their first-ever laps of the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, it will be the first time an Indian-registered team has ever competed at the highest tier of motorsport.
The team's journey started back in October 2007 when Dr. Vijay Mallya and Jan and Michiel Mol bought the team from Spyker Cars N.V. The Australian Grand Prix will mark the race debut of the first Force India car, the new VJM01. The car, which is based on the Spyker F8-VII B-spec chassis, has completed over 6,000km in its pre-season testing programme with an average 368km per day - more than one race distance - without any major problems.
While last year the team had realistic expectations of performance relative to the rest of the field, this season the team sets out to stay with the midfield and pick up positions wherever possible. With increased budgets for the start of the year, a sustained programme of aerodynamic and mechanical developments, a strengthened technical structure and a blend of experience and youth on the driver front, the team aims to make strong progress this season.
The team will be led by Giancarlo Fisichella, one of the most experienced drivers on the current F1 grid with 12 F1 seasons and a massive 267 points to his credit. Adrian Sutil will start his second F1 season in 2008 after scoring his first-ever F1 point in a rain-lashed Fuji Speedway in October last year. Testing duties will be upheld by Italian Tonio Liuzzi, who will also be the team's reserve driver throughout the season.
Dr. Vijay Mallya, chairman and managing director: "To be one of 11 teams participating is itself is a matter of great pride. Not everyone can say we own an F1 team and we are on that grid. It takes a lot to be there in the first place. You're effectively competing at the very highest level in the world, for the World Championship, and you're one of the chosen 11.
"But in 2008 and 2009 it's going to be a gradual process. One is extremely pleased by the excellent testing times we've had. Fisichella was fourth one day. But am I going to hang my boots on it and say we're going to be among the top five? Absolutely not. We have a lot of work to do, but we're moving in the right direction very positively, and in a very determined manner."
Colin Kolles, team principal: "I have been with this team through some difficult times over the past three years, but with dedicated team owners, a realistic budget and high ambitions, I can now see a long-term future for us. We are here at the start of something incredibly exciting - a new market to capture, a new spirit in the team and increased resources to really deliver. Having the strong driver line-up of the experienced Giancarlo Fisichella and the very promising Adrian Sutil, backed very ably by Tonio Liuzzi, was the first sign that we are not just happy to be at the back anymore - we are looking forward and laying down stones for the future.
"I see Force India with a great optimism, and I am eagerly anticipating this year. I really think we can join the midfield group this season and with it being so competitive, we could be in a position to be a regular points finisher."
Mike Gascoyne, chief technical officer: "The feeling in the team is one of excitement and the atmosphere is very optimistic. Times have been very hard for this team over the last five years, with various owners and false dawns, but I think now with a realistic budget and an exciting driver line-up we can really start to do a good job. As a result everyone is excited about the future. We are under no illusions that we are starting from the back, but I think we can look at this year as the team really starting to build itself up as a competitive unit, so there is a very positive feeling.
"I think it is always difficult to judge from pre-season testing, but you can see that we have taken a step forward. We are starting from the back, so how far that step will take us we will have to wait until Melbourne. We have set our aims to get into Q2 and to get race finishes. I think one thing is very clear from testing though: we are no longer the team lapping around at the back."
Giancarlo Fisichella: "Since I joined Force India two months ago it's been a very exciting time, both for the team and for myself. I feel totally at home here, with both the engineers and the mechanics. It feels as if I have been at Force India for a long time!
"Australia is a good place for me to start the season and my Force India race career. I won the race in 2005 and started in second place in 2006 and with a car that was not as competitive as we would have liked, I finished in fifth last season.
"I feel confident for this first race with Force India. My first target is to get into Q2, but then the final hope is to score Force India's first point in the championship. You can see that every test we have moved forward and made some good progress - at the last test in Barcelona in particular where our lap times confirmed we are going in the right direction with the car. I did two longer runs at the final test and was very pleased with the balance and consistency. The results matched our expectations and we found about half a second, and we know there is more to come, so everything is very positive.
"We have maybe another two to three tenths to come from new developments we have in the pipeline, which could mean a step forward and another few places on the grid. Looking at the other teams, under race conditions I do not think they will get away from us that easily."
Adrian Sutil: "The winter period was quite busy with two trips to India and then some busy tests with full programmes.
"As we are using the same chassis as last year and are familiar with how it behaves, the focus has been on getting the new electronics to work with the car, understanding how the car works without traction control and trying to find the stability on entry and exit into the corners. We took some time trying to find the limit, but I am not worried about having the last tweaks so close to the start of the season; it just gives us more time to get it right in development.
"This year we have a very good driver line-up, with a lot of experience. Having Tonio as the test driver too means we can make some good progress between races. For me it's a positive challenge to have Giancarlo in the team as he will push me, which is important for the future. It will be difficult, but this is what I need, as if you are pushed, you have to put in your maximum effort.
"You can see that the team is better structured this year, and everything seems to be going in the right direction, there is more budget, and we can develop the parts we wanted to last year, but couldn't because of resources.
"My goals are to do everything possible to be better this year; to make fewer mistakes and get a few points. I want to help the team move forward."