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Force India on the move, says new boss
Alan Baldwin | March 20, 2009 10:22 IST
Simon Roberts compares himself to a soccer player sent out on loan, joining Force India from McLaren [Images] to help their new Formula One partners move up the standings.
Four months into his new job as chief operations officer, effectively overseeing the Silverstone-based team's day-to-day workings for billionaire owner Vijay Mallya [Images], he is convinced they are set to go places.
Force India failed to score a point last season, their first since Indian aviation and liquor tycoon Mallya took over Spyker and renamed the team, but a five-year engine and gearbox deal with McLaren and Mercedes has raised their hopes.
Roberts, formerly McLaren's director of operations, is part of the package.
"To get some points is the number one objective here," he told Reuters in an interview before the start of the season in Australia [Images] next week.
"Certainly on some days in the two tests we've just done we were definitely in that sixth, seventh spot. Sometimes we've been quicker.
"The car's fast, which is good. We know that we've got to do some work on downforce and if we can get a bit more downforce then we are definitely in that middle ground."
Mallya told Reuters this month that, although the team had to score regular points in 2009, he was not expecting miracles early in the season. Roberts agreed.
"I think in all walks of life, people always achieve more when they think they can," he said. "So I don't have any problem with Vijay's ambitions for the team.
"He's been realistic, it is a building process and you can't just throw a switch and turn a Formula One team into world champions. But its good that he's pushing us and has got high expectations."
He said the aim was to progress to the point where next year they could compare to Toro Rosso last season, able to finish on the podium and even win a race if someone else made a mistake.
Force India, one of three teams using Mercedes engines, had expected the German manufacturer's partners McLaren to be their benchmark.
However, the eye-catching pre-season form of Brawn GP, Mercedes-powered heirs to now departed Honda who had spent since early 2008 working on their car, and McLaren's performance problems had changed their thinking.
"It was a shock when we saw the Brawn in Barcelona, it was a real 'Oh My God moment' when that thing came out of the garage and was just quick," said Roberts.
"I guess, like everybody else, you go through a bit of denial about how they are doing that," he added.
"And then you sort of rationalise it and come back and think well they have been at it for 18 months. If we had been doing that for 18 months, we'd probably be a lot closer than we currently are.
"In a way its good, it changes the mindset of the team. We stop aiming for the target we used to have and now have a new target. A bit like McLaren, really."
Force India's factory is in a very different league to McLaren's gleaming headquarters, and the team employ just 260 people compared to more than twice that at Woking, but Roberts said he felt at home straight away.
"Culturally, it feels very like McLaren before we moved to the new factory," he said.
"It is a small team, it is funded in a different way but I didn't really want to have any pre-conceptions about who the guys were or how they'd work. I've been really pleasantly surprised, the guys have made it easy."
The team showed what they could do when they re-designed the car to take the Mercedes engine and gearbox, an effort that required changing the wheelbase and bodywork, and had it on track in the space of 108 days.
Roberts, quiet and meticulous, is a very different character to Mallya, a flamboyant extrovert dripping gold jewellery and enjoying a lavish lifestyle with private yachts and jets. But the chemistry works.
"It would be boring if there were only people like me around so people like Vijay and (former team owner) Eddie (Jordan) are great because they create the spirit," he said.
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