Our F1 drivers’ assessment continues with a look at the Force India pairing.
In 2017, Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon were one of the most exciting driver duos on the grid. Neither shy of internal team rivalries, both did not leave much room for the other as they competed hard and frequently made contact. Ocon even accused Perez (via Twitter) of trying to kill him after a very heated race in Spa.
Eventually the team stepped in and imposed team orders on the drivers to ensure that the team finishes as 'the best of the rest' (fourth) in the constructors' standings.
This year, however, has been a more respectable story for the two drivers.
The 2018 season so far
Perez 17 - 1 Ocon
Qualifying Head to head
Perez 2 - 3 Ocon
Race Head to head
Perez 3 - 2 Ocon
The points statistics above are misleading as Sergio Perez secured a podium in a rather chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix when Esteban Ocon was unlucky to have collided with Kimi Raikkonen and registered a DNF in the same race. This was the only race where Force India looked competitive enough to score major championship points.
However, both drivers continue to be evenly matched in qualifying and on race day. The only difference is that Perez has had a slight edge in terms of consistency and in making sure his car sees the chequered flag on a Sunday.
Sergio Perez has been in F1 for a few years now and that experience is showing on race day. The Mexican has finished every race this season despite Force India struggling to find pace to compete with their other mid-grid rivals Haas, Ferrari, McLaren and Renault. This combination of consistency and experience also resulted in a well-earned podium place in Baku as he drove fantastically in the last few laps to keep Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel behind.
“I think today I did the best two laps of my whole career,” Perez declared after a roller-coaster afternoon that started when he was shunted from behind by Russian rookie Sergey Sirotkin's Williams on the opening lap.
Even when Force India has lacked pace, he has compensated with some smart driving.
Ocon was a revelation of sorts in 2017 as he consistently challenged his veteran teammate and frequently outclassed him. It made for a rather Red Bull-esque driver pairing with a mixture of youth and experience in the garage.
The Frenchman has maintained that reputation this year thanks to the head-to-head qualifying statistics above. Where Ocon has been a tad unlucky, however, has been on race day.
The Mercedes-Benz development driver had a great chance of performing well in Baku, but a bold move on the outside of Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari ended in contact and enough damage to end his race prematurely. In Spain, a pit stop error and an oil pressure problem meant that he had to retire his car when he was well on his way to secure some crucial championship points for himself and the team.
A car that performs well further raises the level of performance of its drivers. It will be fascinating to see how Force India progress and develop their car over the next few races and more so how their drivers cope with those upgrades.
Fair to say, no driver will leave any room in terms of performance to get assigned as a number two driver in the team. Both will continue to perform competitively and make the most out of the teams 'we let our drivers race' policy. What will be exciting to see however is if the relationship between the drivers takes a downward slope again as the stakes get higher in the championship battle or will they work together to ensure that they put their team first?
So far, both drivers seem united in ensuring that a Force India team with a limited budget and resources continues to go above and beyond in their quest to regain the 'best of the rest' tag again.
Can Force India emerge as the pick of the midfield teams? Or will they be outclassed by their rivals? Share your opinion with us!
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