Force India still driver-less, and will start testing with old chassis

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It would appear our drought of Formula 1 news should end during the last week of the month.

We already know that Ferrari and Sauber will be unveiling their cars ahead of the first pre-season tests, and now comes word that Renault also will be lifting the veil ahead of the tests in Valencia from Feb. 1 to 3. (Look for its livery to be shown before then… with some possible F1B live coverage, from from I’ve gleaned from our weekly meetings.)

Renault’s plan is to show the car off the day before the tests on Jan. 31.

But that’s not the interesting car news. Oh no. That prize today goes to Force India. (Yes, the same Force India that still thinks the season is 400+ days off.)

Force India will be testing both at Valencia and again in Jerez from Feb. 10 to 13. But at that first test the team will be using its car from 2010. Here’s a bit from Reuters:

“We’ve carefully considered our plans for the start of the season and the introduction of the new Force India, the VJM04,” chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer told Reuters in an email.

“The team will participate in all four pre-season tests and we will use the VJM03 for the first test in Valencia (starting Feb 1) before the VJM04 makes its test debut in Jerez the following week.”

The decision sets the team at odds with most of their rivals, who have already drawn up plans to launch their new cars either on the eve of the opening Valencia test or on the first day at the eastern Spanish circuit.

However, 2010 champions Red Bull delayed their launch last year to gain the maximum amount of development time, as well as allowing their rivals less scope to react to closely-guarded innovations.

“Starting a test later with the new car gives us a couple of weeks more wind tunnel time when we are at our most productive to get the parts released for the new car,” Szafnauer said.

“There is always a trade-off between running the car early and getting increased information for the aero department and we believe it will work to our advantage, given our size and resources.”

Note that Red Bull mention? Nice reference, but do any of us seriously think Force India is going to come up with something so innovative the team would need to hide it from the rest of the grid? Didn’t think so.

The Reuters story also repeats the main rumor about the Force India drivers line-up, but maybe mucks it up even more than I’ve seen elsewhere — albeit not at any site that all of us (you included!) generally consider reputable:

Force India have yet to name their 2011 driver line-up and gave no details about their plans.

However, experienced German Adrian Sutil is widely expected to be retained and Briton Paul di Resta tipped to graduate from the reserve role to a full race seat.

Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi remains under contract, however, and is also expecting to race.

German Nico Hulkenberg, replaced at Williams by well-funded Venezuelan rookie Pastor Maldonado despite taking pole position in Brazil last year, is also in the frame to join as reserve driver.

Sound crowded? I just don’t see how that all can happen. How does Force India have the money to employ four drivers, even if some of them are bringing cash? That just doesn’t add up.

My best guess is that Liuzzi, who is under contract, ends up the reserve driver — unless he’s somehow got it in writing that he gets to race. And then maybe he does some races, ala HRT this past season. (How could Force India pay him not to be involved? I just can’t imagine that.) And that then leaves the two drivers seats, which will go to whichever of the other three can bring the most sponsors.

But someone will end up seat-less, or worse: at HRT.

Anyone see a different scenario playing out? And what — if anything — do you make of the announcement about the team starting testing with its old chassis?

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