While there was much to applaud about Sunday’s British Grand Prix, won outstandingly by local hero Lewis Hamilton, there was another significantly impressive performance a little further down the pit lane by Force India.
The team has endured a very tough pre-season build-up, being forced to delay the launch of its 2015-spec machine until last weekend’s race and having to run an updated version of last year’s car in the interim.
The reasons for this – most notably delays in paying its creditors – meant that the team missed almost the entire pre-season testing period, and it has spent much of the season to-date playing catch-up.
Running with what was effectively a year-old car at the start of the season meant that the team wasn’t expected to set the world on fire, but it was blessed with the advantages of a stable driving line-up and its chassis being mated to the almost bulletproof Mercedes PU106B Hybrid power unit.
Neither Nico Hülkenberg now Sergio Pérez set the stopwatches on fire first time out in Australia, but the troubles for their rivals meant that both finished in the points first time out: Hülkenberg grabbed a fine seventh, while Pérez had a more incident-filled run to tenth.
Their midfield rivals would quickly get their act together, and it wasn’t until the fourth round in Bahrain when the team graced the points again with Pérez finishing in eighth place. The Mexican grabbed seventh place at Monaco, two races later.
The more recent Grands Prix have seen the team enjoy something or a purple patch, with Hülkenberg finishing eighth in Canada – a circuit not suited to the VJM08’s inherent lack of straight-line speed, but both drivers finished well inside the points next time out in Austria, where the conditions were perfectly suited to their power units.
It was the swansong outing for their old car, and the team completed a productive in-season test at the Red Bull Ring with the first aero components of the B-spec VJM08, before launching the car in fully updated trim at its home track, Silverstone, last weekend.
Both drivers immediately hailed the improved pace and handling of the new car, with Hülkenberg, in particular, revelling with his new machine and still riding the crest of the wave after his shock win for Porsche in the Le Mans 24 Hours the month before.
After qualifying in ninth place, the German made what he described as “the best start I ever had in Formula 1” when he leapt into fifth place through the opening corners. He passed Carlos Sainz Jr., Daniil Kvyat, Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel before the Wellington Straight.
“My start was sensational – maybe the best I ever had in Formula 1,” Hülkenberg recalled after the race.
“I was able to keep them behind me for the first stint, but they had too much pace and were able to use the strategy to jump us by pitting early.
“When the rain arrived the track was very slippery. I was a bit unfortunate because I had just passed the pit lane entry when the rain became really heavy and I had to do a full lap before I could change to Intermediates.
“Overall, I think seventh place is a great result and we should be satisfied. A lot of the performance is down to the updates we brought [to Silverstone],” he explained. “It’s moved us in the right direction so I have to say a big well done to the team,” he concluded.
With Pérez giving the team its third double-points’ finish by finishing in ninth, the result marked the third race in a row where Force India has matched, our outscored fourth-placed Red Bull Racing in the Constructors’ Championship standings. The team now sits just 24 points behind the four-time World Champions.
There’s now a three-week break until the next round of the championship, the Hungarian F1 Grand Prix at the tight and twisty Hungaroring circuit on the outskirts of Budapest. It’s a track which doesn’t bear any similarities with Silverstone, but a circuit where the Force Indias could trigger an upset performance.
F1 betting site at William Hill is offering long odds on either Hülkenberg or Pérez giving the team its first win next time out, but such is the outfit’s rapid rate of progress, it might genuinely deliver its best performance yet in 2015.
Image via Sahara Force India F1 Team