Confident Mallya sets Force India top three target

The team that keeps on punching above its weight promised more of the same at a windswept Silverstone on Wednesday.

On a day of cloudy skies and big dreams, the Force India team owner Vijay Mallya said he hoped his outfit could mark their 10th anniversary with a bid to break into the top three.

A month ahead of the season-opening 2017 Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park, he was not making any promises, but merely hinting that the team’s fourth place finish in 2016 was not enough to satisfy their ambitions.

"Many commentators have said that we punch well above our weight,” said Mallya. “It speaks volumes for the passion, creativity and talent of my team and everyone at factory.

“But this passion is only going to get more intense and the passion to improve further is going to be pretty relevant in 2017.

"If we did not dream big, we would not have finished fourth in the World Championship last year.

“We have never even had conversations in private that we cannot break into the top three. That is our objective and we are going to give it our best shot."

The hard-working and focused Force India team launched their new VJM10 car 24 hours after Renault had led the way and Mallya was glad to have an opportunity to contradict Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul’s warning that teams like Force India would struggle in the 2017 ‘arms race’ under new technical regulations.

“Good luck to him,” he said. “But he might have to eat his words…”

Force India go into the new season with a new car and a revamped team following the arrival of young Frenchman Esteban Ocon alongside Mexican Sergio Perez. Both admitted they had trained harder than ever before to cope with the anticipated G-forces expected with the faster cars of the new era.

“I couldn't have such an easy winter, I had to start very early working on my physical condition,” said Perez. “It's going to be a lot more demanding, the G-forces with these cars are going to be quite high.

“I am sure the first day of testing is going to be exhausting!"

Ocon, who has succeeded German Nico Hulkenberg in the Silverstone-based team, said: "It has been the most intense winter I ever had - two months, plus five kilos…

"But you never know what to expect. It will be much quicker, so you need more physical development.”

Mallya oozed confidence in his drivers.

"Checo [Perez] has been brilliant,” he said. “He is a true racer, He has lots of talent and has been very successful for us.

"Esteban is a very, very talented youngster. We spent a lot of time thinking who we could hire. He is young. He is talented. He has limited experience, but he is willing to learn."

For Perez, the new cars will create conditions that are, he said, “like going from GP2 to F1.”

Looking at the VJM10, he said: “It will be a nice challenge and put all the drivers into a massive stress so I am looking forward to it.

“I had to start quite early working on my physical [fitness] – the new generation of cars being so much faster is like going from GP2 to F1. It’s another step.

“Basically it will be a lot more demanding, the G-forces in the races we will develop with these cars are going to be quite high. So, I have worked quite a lot in all these aspects.

“You have to have endurance and strength… so we do a lot of neck exercises, a lot of training and endurance – cycling and running, all kinds of things…”

Force India’s fourth place finish last year was their best in Formula One

"If we did not dream big, we would not have finished fourth in the world championship last year," he said. "To be in the company of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari is a huge accomplishment in itself.

"The 2017 regulations have meant that everybody has to start with a clean slate.

 “I don’t think we will know the pecking order, or likely pecking order, before the test in Barcelona.

 "I know we have to continue to develop the car right through the 2017 season. There is no stopping because we are starting from scratch, all teams will be doing the same – we have planned for it and we are very excited."

Ocon has been training 12 hours a day in a bid to build up the muscular strength he will need to handle the high-speed new era cars.

"It's a lot of work, instead of going two weeks in a training camp, I'm doing two months,” he said. “So I'm not coming back home until almost the first race of the season.

“The days are mega-, mega- long. It's from nine to nine and double, double the intensity of the work.

"It's to put muscle on and to put weight on. The cars are going to be so hard to drive that this will be needed. It's going to be mega impressive now in corners, it's going to be so quick!”  

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