It was Formula One’s own version of the ugly duckling maturing into a graceful swan as Force India shed its backmarker’s tag to rub shoulders with the F1 bigwigs in what was nothing less then a heady fairytale season for the Silverstone-based outfit.
Those who dismissed the Vijay Mallya-owned rookie outfit as just another fad of a billionaire with love for fast cars were in for a rude shock by the time the F1 caravan reached its second half.
By the time the season was into its 12th leg, the Formula One world had got its rags-to-riches story of the year with Giancarlo Fisichella — one foot in the Ferrari camp by then — beaming on the podium in Belgium.
It was a heady August weekend at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps and Mallya could have been tempted to roll the seven km track and bring it back as souvenir after Fisichella earned the team’s first pole and then returned to drive one of the most mature races of his illustrious career for a second place finish.
It broke a 29-race jinx and Mallya proved he had not been talking through the hat when he promised points in 2009.
“If you remember, we had promised to be among points in 2009 and be on the podium in 2010. So we have actually delivered on our podium promise in advance,” Mallya said.
And then Adrian Sutil’s fourth place finish in the very next leg at Monza proved Italy was no flash in the pan.
The inklings of a revival in fortune was more than evident in the rain-swept Chinese Grand Prix where Sutil raced sixth, ahead of Lewis Hamilton, with six laps to go before he aquaplaned.
The voodoo could have been nixed in Germany also but Kimi Raikkonen — who has made quite a reputation as Sutil’s perennial bogeyman — rammed his Ferrari onto the German’s VJM02 when he was just three laps away from a fourth place finish.
Raikkonen did apologise after the race but it was hardly a solace for Sutil who could not hold back tears.
It, however, did not take long to bring back the smiles and Fisichella’s jaw-dropping race in Belgium marked the coming of age of an outfit, which operated on a shoestring budget and still dared to compete with its deep pocket elder brothers.
As Fisichella and Sutil showed time and again, VJM02 was among the fastest cars and the slew of aerodynamic updates since the Valencia leg made them such a formidable opponent, especially in low downforce circuits.
Force India’s success despite its modest budget made it an interesting case study and the F1 paddock was left pondering if this was the success model to follow in the wake of the financial meltdown.