Team Talk: Force India’s half term review

It may be a one-horse race up the front of the grid with Mercedes winning every race so far this season (minus Red Bull’s Max Verstappen’s heroics in Barcelona), but overall it has been an interesting season for Motorsport fans.

Red Bull are starting to show the form they were associated with a few years ago and Ferrari are looking strong too. Whipping boys Manor Racing have closed the gap at the back of the grid and look competitive again against struggling Sauber and Renault. However, it’s the middle of the grid that is so unpredictable. Depending on the circuit, teams such as Williams, Force India, Haas, McLaren and Toro Rosso will be separated by mere tenths of seconds and on race day will all be battling for points. All these teams have shown great promise at stages this season – especially Haas, who have exceeded expectations in their first year in Formula One – but the most interesting team to look at is Force India.

Story of the Season (so far)

They have come a long way since their debut season in 2008 where they failed to score a single point. The following year, Giancarlo Fisichella scored the team’s first points when he finished second at Spa after claiming pole position in a race that seemed to change the fortune of the constructor. After years of improvements, they sit in fifth place at the halfway stage, closely following Williams with their closest threats coming from Toro Rosso nearly 40 points adrift. Fourth in the championship at the end of the year would be their best constructor finish in a season.

But it hasn’t been all easy-going from the get-go. From their first three races, they only managed six points, coming from Nico Hulkenberg’s seventh-placed finish in the opener at Melbourne. Russia and Spain saw Sergio Perez pick up his first points of the season, but Hulkenberg’s bad streak continued with back-to-back retirements, making it four races in a row without points. Five races in, and the two drivers found themselves in the points three times between them. Not the ideal start the team would have expected.

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Hulkenberg’s points in Australia got the team off on the right foot.

Then again, just like good luck, bad luck can only last for so long. The famous Monaco GP in Monte Carlo saw Force India go from rags to riches with their first double-points finish of the season. To add to the celebrations, Perez found himself on the podium with a well-deserved third place after holding off three-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who was breathing down the Mexican’s neck in the latter stages of the race. Hulkenberg finished sixth after taking Championship leader Nico Rosberg in the final straight of the race. It was a masterclass from the drivers and the pit team alike. Their pit strategy worked wonders for Perez, who surprised many when he stayed out ahead of Vettel and overtook Rosberg. This wasn’t a one-off however…

After a second double-points finish in a row in Canada, the team would make this three when they came to Azerbaijan for the first time. Perez qualified on the front row in second – his best qualifying performance to date – but dropped to seventh for a gearbox change following a crash in Free Practice. However, Checo would end up finishing third for the second time in three races, recording his second podium of the season. Nico Hulkenberg recorded yet another points finish to consolidate Force India’s fifth place in the standings.

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Checo won his second podium of the season in Azerbaijan.

Austria was a disastrous day for the team as both of their drivers retired from the race. Hulkenberg was superb in qualifying, ending up on the front row of the grid, but suffered from brake problems after problems with graining throughout the race. Perez looked good for some minor points, but crashed on the final lap. Things have been on the up since then, showing that Austria seemed to be a minor blip. In the past three races, Force India have scored points five out of six attempts, with only Perez’s eleventh-placed finish in Hungary being unsuccessful. Force India sit just 15 points behind Williams in the Constructors’ Championship with Sergio Perez in eighth and Nico Hulkenberg in tenth in the Drivers’ Championship respectively.

The Stats

Some quick things to take away from Force India’s performance this season:

  • Sergio Perez has two podiums (Monaco and European Grand Prix).
  • Nico Hulkenberg’s highest position so far this year is sixth (Monaco GP).
  • The team’s highest qualifying position is second (Sergio Perez, European GP).
  • The team’s highest grid position is second (Nico Hulkenberg, Austrian GP (promoted from third)).
  • Nico Hulkenberg has been the King of Saturday, out-qualifying his team-mate 7-5.
  • However, Sergio Perez is 7-5 in head-to-heads on Race day.
  • Hulkenberg has scored points in every race that he’s completed (ie. not retired from) since China.
  • If Sergio Perez continues his form and finishes eighth or higher in the Drivers’ Championship, it will be his highest ranking since joining F1.
  • If Hulkenberg finishes tenth or higher, it will be his fourth year in a row finishing in the top ten.
  • If Hulkenberg is eighth or higher, he will – like Perez – reach a career high in the Drivers’ Championship.
  • Force India have failed to score points in three races this year (Bahrain, China and Austria).
  • Force India have had three races this year where they’ve scored double points (Canada, Britain and Germany).
  • Coincidentally, both drivers have 108 races under their belt, with Hulkenberg having 106 starts to Perez’s 105.

Now we head into the second half of the season later this month. Force India will have their eyes on snatching fourth away from Williams after their turbulent last couple of months on the track. The gap is now 15 points and the team have scored more points than their rivals in three of the past five races. To add to the optimism, the next race is at the famous Spa circuit. Perez was fifth there last year and when asked what he preferred between his home circuit of Monaco or Spa, Hulkenberg said Spa.

Things have been relatively successful for the team so far this season, but the cherry on top would be taking that fourth place from Williams. Will they do it? If form suggests anything, they will be a genuine threat.

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Williams vs Force India – bound to go down to the last race.

 

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