New Delhi: Force India take to the track in the Formula 1 season opening Australian Grand Prix this weekend confident of their financial future and a coveted podium finish -- the travails of their co-owner Sahara's Subrata Roy notwithstanding.
Expectations are high from Force India who have spared no efforts to become a mid-field force since their first season in 2008. They showed reliability in the pre-season testing of the sport's turbo engine era, recording the second highest number of laps in the final test in Bahrain last week.
The Silverstone squad is well placed for the race at Melbourne Park, having a Mercedes engine, which proved more reliable than its rivals Ferrari and Renault during testing.
The biggest off-the-track challenge for them would be to take their minds off the happenings in India where the Supreme Court sent Roy to jail for non-payment to investors and another co-owner Vijay Mallya struggling to keep his shrinking business empire afloat.
Deputy team principal Robert Fernley assured IANS over the phone that the midfield outfit will be focused on the job at Albert Park.
"We are saddened with what is happening in India and hope the situation improves soon. However, I can assure you that it won't have any impact on our performance. I am sure the owners too would expect us to give our best. The team is in good shape for the season and the aim is to regularly challenge for podium finish," Fernley told IANS ahead of what he calls the biggest technological change he has seen in his three-decade-old motorsport career.
Asked if the team was facing any funding crunch, Fernley said: "If we had any issues of that kind, than we would not be out on the track."
Force India finished sixth last season ahead of Sauber and Williams and were leading McLaren until changes in tyre composition post the Silverstone blowouts derailed their campaign.
"We would have got a podium had the tyre changes not happened and we also had our moments in 2012 when Nico Hulkenberg (in pic - left) led the race in Brazil before finishing fifth," recalled Fernley.
He is confident that the team will make up for the lost opportunities and has its best chance of bagging a top-three finish in the initial rounds.
"I think we will have to wait at least till the second race in Malaysia to see who has adjusted to the changes better, though the unpredictability gives us a chance to surprise the top teams."
Fernley ruled out the possibility of the cars not finishing the race. Reigning champions Red Bull struggled to keep their car on track during testing, prompting their four-time champion Sebastian Vettel to say that the team would be content with "some more running" in Melbourne.
"I know most teams have reliability issues but the idea of none of the teams finishing is a little far fetched. The Mercedes-powered teams have started well but it is only a matter of time before top teams like Ferrari and Red Bull bounce back," he said.
Force India have one of the most promising drivers' line-up in Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez.
Which driver is more likely to give them their first podium since 2009?
"Both are very capable and it all depends on how the race unfolds. I reckon qualifying and race will be two different aspects and we should do better in the race," summed up Fernley.