2017 expectations v reality
Force India’s excellent fourth place in the constructor’s championship in 2016 surprised a lot of us but it underlines the steady but relentless progress that the Silverstone outfit have made since entering the sport in 2008. They still have Mercedes muscle in the back of their cars but have lost Nico Hulkenberg to Renault, have had trouble with their owner and have had to adapt to a big regulation change. This all threatened to displace them from their lofty position in the pecking order but so far, they’ve continued exactly where they left off last year.
The Pink Panthers have consistently proved to be “best of the rest” behind the top three teams of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull and, given their level of funding, that’s the best they can realistically achieve. I think that Force India have so far at least matched, and probably surpassed, fans’ expectations for 2017.
Prospects for the rest of 2017
With the high-speed circuits of Spa and Monza the next two Grands Prix on the calendar, Force India will be looking to capitalise and close the gap to Red Bull in third. Their nearest challengers for fourth, Williams, have less than half of their points total, so Vijay Mallya’s team will be understandably looking up. Red Bull have a significant advantage in both pace and resources to improve their performance but if Force India can put the pressure on, the Austrian team could slip up.
If we’re honest, though, that is pretty unlikely, as Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen will be expected to simply have too much pace in the higher-downforce tracks in Singapore, Malaysia and Japan, amongst others, during the remainder of the season.
|Grand Prix||Sergio Perez||Esteban Ocon|
R: Ret (Collision)
A quick glance at the above table would give you the impression that Sergio Perez has performed much better than his younger teammate. While Perez has largely had better results through the season, their gap in the drivers’ standings is only 11 points after as many races. When you consider that Esteban Ocon is only in his first full season of Grand Prix racing, the Frenchman has done a superb job.
Qualifying has been a different story, with Ocon struggling to put his one-lap pace together, although he has put in more consistent Saturday performances post-Monaco. The only issue with the pairing has been their on-track spats, which have occasionally boiled over. In Canada, the team arguably threw away the chance of a podium when they allowed Perez to defend his fourth place from the much faster Ocon. This allowed Sebastian Vettel, who was recovering from an early setback, to catch and overtake both of the pink cars. Had they let Ocon go by, he could’ve challenged Ricciardo for his first podium in the sport. That team decision was debatable, but what happened in Baku was definitely an avoidable incident.
At the following round in Azerbaijan, after a couple of safety car restarts, Ocon was challenging Perez for fourth place after seeing Felipe Massa sweep by the Mexican. Ocon showed his inexperience, running too tight into turn 2, clipping the kerb and forcing Perez into the outside wall, damaging both cars in the process. With Hamilton, Vettel and Massa all having troubles later in the race, it seemed like this would’ve been a 1-2 for the team, the first in their history. However, the team did not waver in their stance, and stated that they will allow their drivers to continue to battle out on track without team orders.
Driver review: Sergio Perez
Sergio Perez had already established himself as one of the best Formula 1 drivers to not race for a top team before this season, having achieved several podiums in cars that had no right to be in the top three. This is his fourth season with Force India, having previously driven for Sauber and McLaren. and he has so far been vindicated in his decision not to join the Renault works team during the winter. It’s surely only a matter of time before the Mexican will get his shot in a front-running car, but for now, he’ll no doubt continue to give his all to move up the grid. At worst, Perez will be in pink overalls again next season, he’s done more than enough to earn his place.
Driver review: Esteban Ocon
Like Perez, Esteban Ocon has a bright future ahead of him. You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who is critical of the 20-year-old’s driving, especially when you consider his only prior experience of Formula 1 was the second half of last season for the struggling Manor team. Aside from his collision with Perez in Baku, the Frenchman has been faultless, regularly producing drives that you would expect from a seasoned veteran and certainly not from a relative rookie. In addition to this, he’s also a Mercedes reserve driver and has arguably outperformed the Silver Arrows’ other youngster, Pascal Wehrlein of Sauber, this season.
How do you think Force India will fare in the second half of the season? Will they maintain this form or will the likes of Williams and Toro Rosso put them under pressure? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
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