Force India had their best start to a season in 2013 with the team consistently scoring points and qualifying in the top 10. But a mid-season change in tyre compounds ended their dream run and the team has only managed to score 3 points in last five races. We analyze how much Force India lost due to the tyre change and what lies ahead for them in last six races of the season.
How strong was Force India during the first half of the season
Force India turned out to be the dark horse in first half of 2013 season starting where Sauber left in 2012. The VJM06 was quick at every race and managed to score points in each of the first seven races bar Malaysia where both their cars were forced to retire after a wheel gun issue. Even at that race, the Force India duo was within top 10 in each of the three practice session and Adrian Sutil raised few eyebrows in the paddock when he clocked the third fastest time in the final practice session on Saturday. But rain during qualifying exposed Force India's weakness and team couldn't qualify particularly well. Race didn't go to plans either.
The USP of Force India was its ability to manage its tyres better than others. Force India, alongside Lotus and Ferrari had developed their cars around the new tyres and the benefits were visible on the timesheets. Paul di Resta took tyre management to another world when he completed a 56 lap stint on the medium tyres in Canada.
During these 7 races, the team managed to score 59 points at an average of 7.4 points per race. It was this consistency that helped the Silverstone based squad to run fifth in the championship ahead of McLaren.
What went wrong?
At the British Grand Prix, F1's official supplier Pirelli made changes to tyre bonding process with some unexpectedly bizarre results. The race saw a number of tyre failures with the whole steel belt coming out of the car. Pirelli were forced to react quickly and they did so by introducing new tyres for the forthcoming German Grand Prix.
These new tyres had the same Kevlar belt construction of 2013 along with the 2013 tyre-structures. This combination of 2012 compounds and 2013 tyre structures brought unprecedented changes to performance of each team, however, the degree of variation in performance differed from team to team. Force India were worst hit by this change.
To add to their misery, teams were now not allowed to swap their tyres from left to right as they did before. Usually, a track is more demanding on one tyre, say right tyre than the left. After qualifying, teams swapped their right tyre for the left tyre in the race so the more degraded tyre is put in a position where it will face less degradation while the other tyre with little degradation will be put to higher loads. Force India was one of the teams which used this method to perfection but after Britain, they weren't allowed to take advantage of this tactic.
Six races after British GP - How much have Force India lost?
In two words - a lot. From a regular top 10 contender, Force India has now managed to score just 11 points points in last six races(three in the last five). Their points average is down from 7.4 per race to just 1.8 per race. Paul di Resta's average grid slot has dropped from 12th to 14th while Sutil's average qualifying performance has dropped from 9th to to 12th.
Accordingly, Force India lost to McLaren in their fight for fifth in the championship.
Where would Force India have been without the mid-season tye change?
With an average of 7.4 points per race, Force India would have managed to score 140 points in total by end of this season. That's 31 points more than what the Anglo-Indian team managed to score in 2012 with one more race on the calendar.
During the first seven races of the season, McLaren scored points with an average of 5.2 points per race. This would have taken them to about 100 points by end of the season.
Hence, Force India would have easily finished ahead of McLaren in the championship. But McLaren, unlike Force India have gained because of the mid-season tyre change and the progress they've made in understanding their radical car meant they've improved their per race average to 6.5 points.
Talking about specific races, Force India might have been on the podium in Belgium, Italy or Singapore. Force India has always been strong with their low downforce package in Belgium(remember 2009 Belgium GP where Fisichella started the race from pole and finished second) and Italy while they've recently done well at Singapore. Paul di Resta finished sixth and fourth in the last two Singapore Grand Prixs and would have loved to continue his streak.
Instead, the team managed to score only three points in these races - two in Belgium, one in Singapore.
What lies ahead for Force India?
Force India can do little after their mid-season slump. They operate on a smaller budget and cannot afford to develop two cars - certainly not when they are massive changes in the upcoming season. Therefore, the team has completely shifted focus to their 2014 car from August. But they are still working on understanding the new tyres. They are the worst hit from the tyre changes and many of their rivals have gained from them.
They need to continue work on understanding their tyres without losing focus on 2014 car. Their aim should be to consolidate sixth position in the standings as their chances of beating McLaren for fifth in the championship look rather bleak.