Force India's Bob Fernley says they could have earned a top-five finish at Malaysia
Wheelnut problems lead to double retirement at Sepang
By Mike Wise. Last Updated: 25/03/13 3:10pm
Di Resta already looking to China
Force India's Bob Fernley reckoned a top-five finish was on the cards for the team prior to their double retirement from Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix.
A weekend that had started rich in promise ended with bitter disappointment for the Silverstone-based outfit, with both Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil forced out of the race because of wheelnut problems.
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Force India have developed their own version of the captive wheelnut this year. According to Fernley, however, their bid to improve pit stop times "backfired" as both di Resta and Sutil instead spent long periods stationary.
In the end, they were both pulled into Force India's garage - di Resta on lap 22 and Sutil five laps later - with the team suffering their first double DNF in four years.
"It's extremely disappointing. It was probably one of our most competitive race weekends in terms of sheer pace and now our most disappointing weekend in terms of a double retirement," Force India's deputy Team Principal lamented.
"It was a captive nut problem. At the beginning of the year we moved to the captive nut process, and all through Jerez testing, Barcelona testing and Australia we had no problems.
"Something's obviously happened here - heat or load or a combination of the two - which has jammed the sleeve on one side.
"Obviously it happened to us twice and there was no point in taking the risk for the drivers for it happening for a third time, so we retired the cars."
Fernley said that it was an easy fix, however, adding: "The design team have already called been called in. Our Technical Director Andrew Green is already on top of it, even as we speak."
The double retirement was particularly galling for Force India because they had shown genuine pace throughout the weekend, particularly in dry conditions.
Sutil was fastest in Saturday's first qualifying session before settling for ninth on the grid after a rain shower hit.
Di Resta, too, was well up the order before being caught out by the change in conditions and spinning out of Q2. As a result, the Scot qualified 15th.
"I think we definitely would have had two strong top ten finishes; both of them there and possibly at least one of them in the top five or six," Fernley said.
But with Force India having already scored a double points-finish in Australia, Fernley thinks their VJM06 can maintain its speed at the next race in Shanghai.
"Pace-wise, hopefully you don't lose performance: you build on it. The car performed well in Australia, it's performed exceptionally well here and there's no reason why that shouldn't be the same for China," he said.
"We're optimistic we can hold the pace. What's going to happen is that, as we go through the season, it's where the development comes from the other teams as well."
McLaren, who have struggled so far this season, are the team most likely to jump ahead of Force India.
"They'll come back - they're too good as an operation not to come back. I was hoping that we could capitalise on their problems and we had a number of our own. So it backfired on us slightly," Fernley added.
"Hopefully we'll continue to do that if they haven't resolved their issues. The key is to maximise before they can."