It’s always heartwarming when a small team achieves success in Formula One. The 2012 Formula One season was a perfect example. Both the Williams and Sauber F1 teams achieved podiums that season, all through varying circumstances. In 2009, a similar situation occurred with Force India at the very circuit we find the field competing at this weekend.
In that year, Force India had barely been Force India for any time at all. In its infancy, the Silverstone-based squad had already shown a lot of promise. While never consistently scoring points, the team showed flashes of great potential. No flash that year was brighter than in Belgium.
In a sensational turn of events, Giancarlo Fisichella snatched pole position in his Force India. Now, pole position from a small team back in the era of refuelling was not unheard of. It just meant that they would be starting the race with much less fuel than everyone else. A neat trick on the day, but not a substantive representation of actual pace.
That couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only was Fisichella able to compete with the frontrunners, but he should have been able to beat them. The only substantive reason the Italian lost the race for was a lackluster restart after a safety car period. We’ll never know now if Fisichella had what it took to keep the charging Kimi Raikkonen behind.
Little did Force India know, however, that at the very next race in Italy, Adrian Sutil, their second driver, would start on the front row and finish the race in fourth. A whirlwind two races for the small team then has created something of a unfortunate set of expectations.
Every year since that 2009 race at Spa, everyone goes into the event thinking that this will be the race where Force India will spring a surprise, and that this will be the race Force India gets their second podium.
Everyone has good reason to believe that. Generally, when a car goes well at a certain track once, the subsequent years at that track are also fruitful. Car characteristics don’t change all that much year on year, so similar results can be expected. However, it is a bit unreasonable these days to think that a podium is just around the corner just because of, frankly, a fluke a few years ago.
The overwhelming restriction placed on Force India these days is fuel strategy. There is no more refuelling in the sport and, as such, cars do not qualify while carrying the amount of fuel with which they will race. This means that all the cars qualify on equal footing.
There are no weight advantages anymore. That is the reason Fisichella qualified on pole that year. Yes, the car and track made a good match, but had all the cars qualified while running on fumes as they do these days, the result would have been vastly different.
When qualifying began at Spa this morning, everyone was waiting for something thrilling from Sutil and Paul di Resta. When the latter sat at the top of the time sheets in Q3 with all the top drivers coming into the pits for intermediate tires and the rain picking up ever so slightly, that tiny twinge of hope was triggered.
If you were watching qualifying this morning, you would be forgiven for having thought that di Resta had pole in the bag. That wasn’t to be. In the end, fifth place on the grid is an outstanding performance from the team, and with di Resta’s recent luck in qualifying, it must be a relief that he finally gets to actually keep the place he qualified in.
The fact of the matter remains, though. That small miracle four years ago has turned into something of a minor curse for Force India. Hopes for Force India, only for them to be dashed by the harshness of reality.