Don't underestimate The Force
We examine the Force India-F1 team and their change in fortunes following not-so-stellar performances earlier this year.
The embattled team, which is seeing the best results in its short history so far with teammates Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, had a rocky start to the 2015 Formula One Season. Although their performances have dipped significantly since last season, there is a definite visible upswing following engine upgrades by Mercedes, whose power units are used by the Vijay Mallya-owned team.
Both had a difficult start to the year; the inaugural Grand Prix in Australia ended in points for both drivers, but the team floundered thereafter. Of the next four races, three ended in no points for either driver, with Hulkenberg retiring at the Shanghai Grand Prix.
Mercedes, which makes the engines used by Force India, announced upgrades ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix across all its power units, and Force India have responded resoundingly positively. At the recently concluded Austrian Grand Prix, both drivers finished with points – Hulkenberg in 6th ahead of teammate Perez. The German is fresh off a very successful run at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, in which he competes simultaneously during the Formula One season.
Force India are known for starting off slowly and picking up pace later in the year, which teammates Hulkenberg and Perez did during the 2014 season as well. Among the two drivers, there has been only one retirement this entire season - Hulkenberg, who had then had gearbox issues.
Their reversal in fortunes seems to have come following a dismal performance at the Spanish Grand Prix, where both finished near the bottom of the grid. However, between the Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal and the recently concluded Austrian Grand Prix, Hulkenberg, who also competes in the World Endurance Championships, participated in and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Team Porsche, a victory he shared with teammates Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy.
Although performances this year by Hulkenberg and Perez can more or less be equated, it is often argued that the World Endurance Championships are a greater test of driver skill and endurance in addition to motor engineering than the Formula One Championships are, and that the win is a strong display of Hulkenberg’s prowess. He is currently third in the overall World Endurance Championship standings as well.
Hulkenberg’s results last year are proof enough of the German’s immense skill – he had a points finish for 15 of the 19 races he drove last year when he made his debut for the Force India team. Two of the 19 were races Hulkenberg retired his vehicle instead.
The connection between the two Force India drivers goes back to 2013, when Hulkenberg, who had previously been with Force India, moved to Sauber to replace Perez, who had, at the time, signed with McLaren.
“The Hulk” finished higher than ever in Austria, although some have put this down not to his victory at Le Mans or driver skill, but Mercedes’ engine upgrades ahead of the race. “Hulk” later clarified in an interview on German TV, however, that Force India still had the old car, and would receive B-spec components ahead of the Grand Prix in Silverstone next week.
Team officials had earlier expressed a desire to see the team in 5th among the constructors, and this has now been fulfilled – the team is now 24 points behind 4th-place Red Bull, and although they have no hope of winning the championship, Hulkenberg, who is 9th among the drivers’ standings, could see a definite move up the rankings if he is able to keep up his increased level of performance. ombined with an upgraded power unit that has shown concrete results for all other teams on Mercedes
Mercedes’ upgraded power unit has shown concrete results for all other teams on Mercedes engines – Williams have deprived Ferrari of two podiums on the trot, in Montreal and Austria, and this, combined with the boost in performance and morale among drivers heralds good things to come for all at Force India.