While the Formula 1 field takes a well-earned moment to rest and recharges its batteries ahead of the second half of the season, the RichardsF1.com team has taken the opportunity to review each driver and team and their performances over the first eleven rounds of the season.
Today we look at Force India’s impressive fight against its much better-funded rivals, and examine whether the privateer team can continue its momentum for the rest of the season.
Midway through the 2014 season, the Sahara Force India F1 Team is just 11 points shy of equaling the 109-point haul it landed in 2012, the team’s highest-scoring season in its history. All the while, its performances has again seen it punch well above its weight.
As was the case last year, the team was quick out of the gate. It took advantage of its superior Mercedes power units and an early understanding of this year’s Pirelli tyres to claim a brace of points’ finishes, often off the back of having to stop one less time than its rivals due to being gentle on its tyres – a trait that its cars enjoyed last year as well.
The podium finish for Sergio Pérez in Bahrain was an early high point – for both team and driver – while Nico Hülkenberg’s run of nine successive points’ finishes underlined the star qualities of the driver rejected by Ferrari for being too heavy. Both have been largely error-free, although Pérez was rather unfairly blamed for his clash with Felipe Massa in Canada, while Hülkenberg made a rare blunder when he collided with Pérez at Hungary – the Mexican later crashed out when he caught a damp patch.
But there have been slightly worrying signs of late. As was the case in 2013, the team’s competitiveness has waned in comparison to its nearest rivals, meaning it has been overtaken in the Constructors’ Championship standings by Red Bull Racing, Ferrari and Williams.
It’s now just 1 point in front of a steadily resurgent McLaren, and the focus of the remainder of the year will be on whether it can rebound to challenge those ahead while keeping McLaren at bay. Fifth place in the standings would be a mighty achievement.
RichardsF1.com Rating: 8/10
|Rank||Constructor||Races||DNS||Poles||Wins||Podiums||FL||Laps Led||Laps Raced||DNF||Pts.|
|5th||Sahara Force India||11||1||0||0||1||1||11||1152/1262||4||98|
It remains one of Formula 1’s great shames that Nico Hülkenberg continues to find himself mired in a midfield team – Force India would undoubtedly argue otherwise – but the German has again been a model of consistency, showcasing why he clearly deserves a frontline seat.
His point-scoring streak finally came to an end with an ill-judged move against teammate Pérez last time out in Hungary, but prior to that he’d claimed six top-ten finishes.
That’s a hugely impressive feat considering the team’s resources, showcasing a combination of his impressive tyre management and an ability to judge when to attack or defend.
As Force India found itself steadily overtaken by a number of rival teams, Hülkenberg has found it harder to consistently mix it at the sharp end of the field.
But the best comparison is against ex-McLaren man Pérez, whom he has outqualified an impressive nine times and outscored by 40 points.
RichardsF1.com Rating: 8/10
It’s been a whirlwind couple of years for Sergio Pérez, who has enjoyed something of a rebirth after a troubled one-year hit-out at McLaren. But the Mexican has demonstrated something of a turnaround back in more familiar surrounds in a smaller team.
A return to the podium in Bahrain came courtesy of great tyre management – a Pérez trait – and he showed further ‘David vs Goliath’ form with strong showing in Canada (ultimately ruined by his last-lap tangle with Felipe Massa) and Austria, where he again made his low tyre-wearing skills apparent.
That being said, it’s a skill which can only go so far. The VJM07 doesn’t have frontrunning pace and – to be fair – neither does Pérez, who’s been thumped in qualifying by Hülkenberg where his gentleness on tyres has generally been his undoing in a period where building up rubber temperature is a must.
The danger of qualifying in the midfield has left him vulnerable to incidents with other drivers: he tangled with Esteban Gutiérrez in Australia and had similar first-lap incidents with Jenson Button in Monaco and Jean-Éric Vergne at Silverstone. He also failed to take the start at Sepang after a technical failure on his reconnaissance lap to the grid, although he was obviously blameless for that. Those – and his heavy accident at the Hungaroring – have cost he and the team crucial points, which could be the difference in where the team lands up in the Constructors’ Championship standings.
RichardsF1.com Rating: 7/10
The 23-year-old Spaniard was announced as the team’s reserve driver at the start of the season – a deal which came courtesy of a long association with the team’s engine partner, Mercedes – and has enjoyed his maiden Friday practice outing at the British Grand Prix. More practice outings are planned this year.
Juncadella has also had several in-season test outings with Force India, where he has generally acquitted himself well.
Whether these drives will translate into something more permanent is very much an unknown question, and an outcome that will no doubt be determined by Mercedes. Juncadella is also competing with the three-pointed star in the DTM series for a second year, however his 2014 campaign to-date has been decidedly underwhelming. He sits 22nd in the Drivers’ Championship standings, and along with ex-F1 racer and series debutant Vitaly Petrov, he has failed to claim a points’ finish to-date. Unless he can show a dramatic uptick in form, his F1 career prospects could be over before they even begin.
RichardsF1.com Rating: 6/10
Images via XPB Images