With opening practice just around the corner for Force India’s Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon, the pair came across to Melbourne Park – home of the annual Australian Open tennis tournament – with world’s fastest tennis server, Sam Groth to polish up their tennis skills.

While the pair certainlty shouldn’t abandon their day jobs for a career on the open tennis circuit, Pérez felt comfortable in admitting it’s not one of the strongest skills he holds.

“I’ve never played tennis really, this was my first time,” he admitted.

“I’m really happy to be here at Melbourne Park and learning from such a good tennis player. I’m more comfortable in the car though, at least I know what to do there. Here is a bit more difficult!”

The real difficulty will occur as the midfield battle ramps up this season with teams like Haas and Scuderia Toro Rosso showing strong reliability and McLaren entering the season with brand new Renault power units. All could potentially knock off last year’s midfield frontrunners, a mantle Force India has held for the past two seasons.

“The pressure doesn’t change coming into this season. You are always looking at your maximum with whatever car you have,” Pérez added.

“I’m aware the competition is going to be really, really tight especially in that midfield pack. I always say, it doesn’t really matter where you start in Melbourne, it’s where you finish in Abu Dhabi. It’s a long season so (I have) plenty of hope and plenty of opportunities this year and I believe good things are coming up.

“I felt (testing) went alright, we have plenty of hope though for our new package we introducing this weekend in Melbourne so basically we are really hoping for that. It’s going to be a different game to Barcelona this weekend. We were struggling so much with tyre temperatures [in the first pre-season test] and there were different issues that we encountered.”

Sergio Perez, Force india Mercedes VJM11 - 2018 Formula 1 pre-season testing

Force India’s position at the top of the midfield looks set to be threatened in 2018 as McLaren, Renault and Haas all look set to challenge. More worryingly, the VJM11 struggled with tyre warm-up and didn’t set the timesheets alight in pre-season testing.

“Coming into Melbourne it’s a different circuit, different tyre compounds, everything. It’s going to be a whole new challenge and I’m really optimistic for this year and really hope after testing that we identify our problems to work on and be in really good shape.”

Pérez also weighed in on the continuous Halo debate stating that he got used to quickly, but it still has its complications.

“The only time I think about it is when I get into the car because it is a little bit more complicated than before.

“But other than that, when you’re driving, you don’t really think about the Halo and you can’t really see it.

“If you think about the halo how many lives it could have saved in the past years, I think it would make more sense to have the halo on than not having it at all. It’s a great implement (sic) on safety.

“I think after three or four races everyone is going to get used to it and we will move on from there.”

With Pirelli introducing two brand new tyre compounds this year and implementing softer rubber overall, the possibility of the tyres returning to a point where they’ll need to be managed a lot more could play to the Mexican’s strengths given he is a known conserver of tyres.

“This year is going to be a bit more [about] looking after the tyres. With hotter track (temperatures) we might have a bit more of a tyre issue. The tyres are new too so there is plenty still to learn about,” he explained.

“I think there will be more looking after the tyres though than last year. Although last year was a good improvement, we kind of lose something from the show. Saturday’s became more about the tyres so hopefully Sunday’s can become more important for the result.”

The coming season also creates more strategic headaches for teams who are only permitted to use three power units under the new sporting regulations for 2018.

Nonetheless, the Mexican argues that he and the team are in safe hands with Mercedes regarding the new tough regulations.

“I think if there is a manufacturer that can do something special with this area of hybrids it’s Mercedes. I hope that our engines are a good advantage in terms of driver ability for us and hopefully we can be quite strong with our components.”

But most importantly, if Force India want to be strong in 2018, their duo must work together well and make sure there’s no repeat of the on-track incidents between the teammates seen numerous times last year.

“We had a couple of incident’s last year,” he added.

“We came out on top of that with the team and towards the end of the year, there was good atmosphere [between us], we were working together and I think that’s the priority for us.

“We are going to be really competitive and close the whole season, but the most important thing is that we push the team forward especially now that the competition is really high. I think we are working well and we have to keep the same working relationship for the rest of the year.”

Images via Force India F1 Team

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Luke McCullough

Melbourne Based - 17 Grand Prix attendances and counting in Australia, Singapore, Canada, France, Austria and Great Britain.