SILVERSTONE (Reuters) - Force India gave their new Formula One car its track debut on Friday with only one driver, Britain’s Paul Di Resta, confirmed for the season and mystery surrounding the identity of his eventual team mate.
Germany’s Adrian Sutil, a former Force India driver, and Ferrari-backed Frenchman Jules Bianchi, last year’s reserve, have both been linked to the vacant seat but the team were in no rush to make a decision.
“Paul’s here,” grinned deputy team principal Bob Fernley, representing the absent aviation and liquor baron Vijay Mallya who co-owns and runs the team, when asked what the situation was with the drivers.
“The shareholders will make their decision in due course. We know who is on the short list. We are trying to put together the programmes that are going to really take the team through a longer period than just one year,” he added.
“We need to be very careful where we are going and the shareholders will take as long as necessary. I suspect that we will probably announce the two remaining drivers (race and reserve)...before Barcelona”.
The first of three pre-season tests is in Jerez next week with the second in Barcelona from Feb 19. The season starts in Australia on March 17.
Di Resta, who will have his third different team mate in three seasons after partnering Sutil and then Nico Hulkenberg, will do most of the Jerez testing with Britain’s James Rossiter having some time in the car to provide a benchmark for the simulator work he will be doing.
The choice of second driver ultimately is likely to favour whoever can bring most sponsorship, or other forms of backing, with them.
In the absence of news, the car was the star - with the black cover coming off the VJM06 on a cold and damp morning before the Mercedes-powered car was wheeled out of the garage to be fired up for the first laps by any team this year.
It immediately stood out for its ‘nose job’ - a ‘modesty panel’ turning what was a stepped nose last season into a smooth and flowing front end.
Lotus, the first of the teams to show off their new car on Monday, eschewed such cosmetic surgery on the grounds that it was only added weight but Force India technical director Andrew Green said it was there for performance as well as aesthetics.
“Our’s is purely performance driven and really the performance is not on the top of the chassis, it’s what you can do underneath,” said technical director Andrew Green.
“And by pushing the chassis to its limits it allows us to get the aerodynamic performance. Putting the panel on top cleans up the flow over the top of the chassis. It’s a small thing but to us it’s important.”
Green said the car was new from the ground up, even if an evolution of the one that took the team to seventh place overall last season, with a lot of tweaks to the suspension. Di Resta said it looked sharp and felt fine on the shakedown laps.
”It’s cold,“ the Scot declared after the first run. ”But I‘m very comfortable in the car.
Flying solo at the team, he said, also had its benefits.
“I‘m quite enjoying the attention,” said Di Resta, who will be one of four Britons on the grid this season now that rookie Max Chilton has joined Marussia.
“It’s a strange feeling obviously not to have a second driver and a reserve around but it’s not hampering my preparations in any way.” (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Tom Pilcher)