A force to reckon with : the rise and rise of Sahara Force India Formula One team
Force India are an impressive and consistent unit. The Hulkenberg-Perez unit has become a resurgent side. We recollect their F1 journey.
A look at the team
They may not really be there yet, but they are not too far behind. They may be promising, but are not really delivering on the promise of holding everyone's nerve with ecstatic performances.
They are not really the team to beat, but also one that none of the current Formula One teams would want to take lightly.
Ferrari and Mercedes have their own scores to settle and their own stars constantly juggling between the top podium spots, but certainly the likes of Red Bull, Toro Rosso, McLaren Honda and Renault wouldn't appreciate this steady outfit, packed with grit and gusto to squeeze them in the spectacle of thrill and speed.
Without a single race victory since their debut year, 2007, but now armed with two courageous and rising talents in Formula One, there's something about the Sahara Force India Mercedes team that surprises us all.
Better still, it makes the Formula One fan as also its most caustic critic take cognizance of a close-knit unit that holds so much potential.
Here is a team that is waiting to exhale.
In the utterly competitive grind of Formula One, now in its 66th season, where mega stars like Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are once again at the forefront of an intense rivalry, masking the bitterness, at times due to the German's sense of humor and the inner turmoil that drives Lewis and Nico to outdo one another, you won't really find many takers for the Sahara Force India F1 team.
But, this doesn't mean that they are a hopeless unit. Certainly not.
That magical 2009 drive
Way back in 2009, Giancarlo Fisichella, who can today be found promoting Ferrari's sporting and commercial events in the picturesque parts of Northern and Western Europe, was a man upto his ears in drives. Having joined the former Jordan team a year before and failing to score any points, ‘Fisi’ was a busy man.
Chasing the Iceman, Kimi, in his Sahara Force India VJ M02, Fisichella was competing with the Finn for the final spot at the revered Belgian Grand Prix.
Disenchanted by Kimi's visibly superior Ferrari that managed to bag the top of the podium, Giancarlo Fisichella drove home Force India's first ever points, finishing in P2 just seconds behind Raikkonen.
But the day was special as was its stellar outcome.
Nevermind the erstwhile KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) which significantly upped the ante of Raikkonen’s 2009 Ferrari, Fisichella, in his Mercedes-powered Sahara Force India gave a really tough fight.
Those were the first ever points scored by the Vijay Mallya-backed racing outfit and ever since their induction into the sport- in 2007- also their best finish thus far.
Scoring points: the Sutil-Liuzzi days
Starting 2009, German driver Adrian Sutil was a constant figure in the Sahara Force India camp apart from Fisichella, who would be relieved of his duties in line with signing up for Ferrari as a test driver.
Sutil, who is currently fighting a mega court battle with past employers Sauber F1, would try his luck in scoring points for the newly formed outfit, alongside Italian driver Vitantonio Liuzzi.
2010 was an exciting year for a team notorious for its constant shuffle in driving pairing.
Liuzzi, the newcomer at the Silverstone based outfit would help the side to score impressive points at the Bahrain Grand Prix, finishing with 2 points at P9 (his first points since the Chinese Grand Prix of 2007).
In an era of V8s and KERS, Sutil was still struggling to find his mojo while other teams were going strong owing to the consistency of at least one star driver in their camp; picture Mark Webber for Red Bull and Kimi Raikkonen for Ferrari.
But luckily for Force India, Sutil had the support of a consistent teammate. Liuzzi would go on to finish 7th in Australia, 9th in Monaco and a career best qualifying at P6 at Canada, which would further improve to P5 following Mark Webber's Red Bull's gearbox failure. Ending the race at P9, Force India Mercedes gave Massa's Ferrari a tough charge at Canada.
With moderate support from Sutil who would continue to suffer in qualifying, it was Liuzzi who finished with a career best 21 points under the auspices of the Sahara Force India F1 team in '10.
Despite a valid contract, he would be replaced for the 2011 season by young scot Paul di Resta.
2011 onward: gaining prominence if not momentum
Paul De Resta jointed the Vijay Malaya owned outfit in 2011 and would be the charming face that would heighten expectations from the young racing team.
Not armed with sufficient experience and persisting with an out of form Sutil, perhaps their best find during the time, Force India.
Looking way more comfortable than the German ever did, quick and efficient in his handling of the beautiful white, gold and tungsten liveried car, di Resta looked every bit the guy who could stoke the inner genius of a team raring to go.
He looked impressive right from the beginning of the season opening Australia, followed by Malaysia and Hungary where he scored valuable points. Continuing good form at Italy, Korea, Abu Dhabi and Brazil, di Resta rescued Force India from a seemingly powerful bias of the 'car that may never make it' by scoring a personal best 6th place finish at Singapore.
The best for the team, however, was to arrive in 2012.
2012: the Hulk joins
Now in their 5th consecutive year into Formula One's dizzying heights, Force India were a team that still marveled at the idea of having a driver who could give able support to, and perhaps outscore di Resta.
German drivers as they have so often done in the past are like dependable warhorses that can give you the true worth of your last quarter in pocket. And thus came about the time of a young driverwho continues to impress today despite having not scored a single podium finish since his entry into Sahara Force India in 2012.
They call him the German Hulk. Nico Hulkenberg, 28 joined forces with Paul di Resta after outscoring the Briton in the practice run organized at Spain by the team.
The best was to come at the end of the season. Hulkenberg scored 63 points in total, going 17 better than teammate di Resta's 46 in his very first year.
Time for a transition: Nico meets Checo
Leaving Force India for Williams for 2013, Hulkenberg would return to where it seems he belongs: the Force India outift for 2014.
With di Resta released from the team, Hulkenberg was to partner young Sergio Perez, not exactly Kimi Raikkonen's best friend in Formula One.
Not that Perez would reciprocate the feeling given the 2013 Monaco Grand Prix.
The young toughie, who continues to fight hard every single race would lead the charge for Force India in their utterly competitive 2014 and 2015 seasons. It turned out, Force India had been keenly following Checo since his rise from the ranks at Sauber (his debut team) and McLaren, where he partnered established star driver and 2009 World Champion, Jenson Button.
2014 and 2015 - Force India solidifies its position
Having an interesting driver line up with the supremely confident German, Nico Hulkenberg teaming alongside the passionate and gutsy Mexican, Sergio Perez would finally settle down an outfit hitherto craving for consistency and a rock solid platform.
In the era of the turbo powered hybrid engines, where the level of competition severely dipped, making F1 a sport where drivers battled for supremacy to becoming a racing fest where technology prevailed, the biggest gainers were the underdogs like Sahara Force India.
The utterly one-sided seasons of 2014 and 2015 would see the Silver Arrows conquer the World Drivers’ and constructors’ titles twice in a row, with Hamilton standing out on top, loud and clear of the mediocre catching up of arch-rivals Ferrari as of his partner, Nico Rosberg.
But, in the lower end of the ladder where competition often looms between the guile and surprises of marginally strong teams when compared to the head honchos at the front-grid, Williams, Red Bull and Force India created an evenly balanced spectacle for fans.
Hulkenbeg scored 96 points, his personal best for Force India in 2014, compared to Perez' 59. The 37 point gap was marked by the "Hulk's" impressive showings at Malaysia, Bahrain and China. At the conclusion of 2014, Force India, lost out to Red Bull, clearly the 4th best runners in the constructor's standings.
Never a man who likes to be bogged down, Perez put up a tough fight over teammate Hulkenberg in 2015, where he was quick to change the tall order.
At the conclusion of the season, marked by Ferrari's resurgence, gathering 13 podiums in total despite the Lewis onslaught, Perez scored 78 points to Nico's 58, the German finding himself at 10th in the season.
Interestingly, Force India, who had always wanted two equally competitive and fiery talents at the helm, saw the very best from their Mexican recruit, who scored the team's third ever podium, taking P3 at Sochi, in Russia.
In a season where he excelled on raw pace and scored heavily in the last 9 rounds of the contest, Perez, who finished 9th on the constructor's sailed in aggression, better car handling and consistent point scoring, the important tenets defining his impressive 2015 showing over Nico.
But this is Formula One, where none can ideate race results or create winners. Heroes rise out of a fiery contest of nerves and skill.