A delighted Sergio Pérez has described qualifying eighth-fastest for Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix as one of the best performances of his Formula 1 career.
The Mexican made the top-ten shootout for pole for the sixth successive Grand Prix, but earlier looked to be at short odds of being knocked out in Q1 after struggling for pace in practice.
Having sat out FP1 in favour of the team’s well-funded reserve driver Alfonso Celis Jr, Pérez was already behind the eight ball and ran off the pace in FP2 and FP3, where he was among the slowest four runners in both sessions.
“It wasn’t ideal, the preparation up to qualifying,” he explained afterwards. “It’s a relief that you manage to come back and do such a strong qualifying. I would never be expecting us to be fighting for Q3.
“It’s probably one of my best qualifying [sessions] in my whole career just because of the way we turned it around with the team.
“I am very happy. I think we’re going to be in a good position tomorrow because my race pace should be really strong.”
Esteban Ocon qualified just 0.069 seconds slower to claim ninth on the grid, but the Frenchman was left frustrated at being denied a shot at improving his time thanks to yellow flags triggered by Romain Grosjean and Max Verstappen late in Q3.
“I am not completely happy with ninth place, given all that happened in the session, but it’s still a good starting position,” he said.
“My fastest lap in Q3 was set on used tyres, but the yellow flags meant I couldn’t finish my attempt on fresh tyres. I feel I could have been a couple of places higher up, but it’s the way racing goes sometimes – you have to take your chances when you can.
“We improved a lot since yesterday and the feeling I have with the car is much better now than it was during practice. I enjoy this track and it’s a place where you can overtake so hopefully we can bring home some good points tomorrow.”
While he may have qualified one spot behind his teammate, Ocon will start two places adrift due to Pérez benefiting from Lewis Hamilton’s five-place grid penalty that drops the Englishman to eighth and promotes Pérez to seventh.
With the team’s chief rivals, Williams, qualifying poorly on the penultimate row of the grid, Force India will need a solid haul of points to further cement its fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship standings.
“The team has done an incredible job to get on top of the balance issues we had during yesterday’s practice sessions and the car is now much more to the drivers’ liking,” Deputy Team Principal Bob Fernley explained.
“The yellow flag towards the end of qualifying meant we didn’t necessarily maximise the session with either car, but we can’t be disappointed with the outcome of today’s qualifying session. It sets us up nicely for a strong race tomorrow knowing that we have a competitive car with solid race pace.”
Image via Sahara Force India F1 Team