#11 – Sergio Perez – Mexico – 10 Starts (1 DNS), 29 Points, Best Finish: 3rd (Bahrain), Championship Position: 11th
#27 – Nico Hulkenberg – Germany – 11 Starts, 69 Points, Best Finish: 5th (Malaysia, Bahrain, Monaco, Canada), Championship Position: 7th
The Sahara Force India team have been impressive pretty much all season in 2014, and returned to the podium for the first time since the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix with a third place finish in Bahrain for Sergio Perez, who joined the team at the beginning of the season having left McLaren.
Team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, who returned to the team after a year away at the Sauber team, has scored points in all but one race this year, but bafflingly has still yet to claim his maiden Formula 1 podium finish.
The season began pretty well for the team from Silverstone, with a double points finish in Australia. Hulkenberg was able to compete all afternoon for points, and eventually took seventh that became sixth after Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified from second. Perez inherited the final point after the Red Bull Racing driver’s DQ but overall it was a positive start.
Bahrain was the high point for the team; both Hulkenberg and Perez were in the fight for the podium the whole way through the race as the Mercedes-powered teams flexed their muscles. Ultimately it was Perez who took the third place behind the two Mercedes drivers, but he had to withstand the pressure of Ricciardo over the final few laps. Hulkenberg was able to finish fifth, himself remaining ahead of the other Red Bull of reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel.
Hulkenberg scored points all the way through to the Hungarian Grand Prix, where his run came to an abrupt end in the barriers at the final corner after misjudging a manoeuvre on his team-mate. Unfortunately for Force India, Perez also ended up crashing out, hitting the pit wall after running wide exiting the final corner and putting his tyres onto the wet Astroturf.
Perez also retired at Monaco after a first lap clash with the McLaren of Jenson Button, and at Montreal when he clashed with the Williams of Felipe Massa while set for fourth place in the race on the final lap. The Mexican was deemed responsible for the crash and was handed a five-place grid drop penalty in Austria.
While the team have impressed, some times they have missed the opportunity for an even best result. In Bahrain they took the podium, but other good chances to score big have gone begging, none more so than in Canada with Perez. The team have had a good season, and they have been one of the best teams with tyre usage, often making one less stop than their rivals to gain track position. They have the power advantage of the Mercedes engine, and are in the fight for fifth place in the championship with the similarly powered McLaren team.
They should take heart from their season, but they need to continue to push. This season might give them the best opportunity yet to claim more podium finishes, especially with some power-circuits still to come, most notably Spa-Francorchamps and Monza, which should suit them and their Mercedes power units.
As for their drivers, everyone knows about Hulkenberg, and he remains one of the most consistent and reliable drivers in the field as well as being one of the fastest. As for Perez, his move to Force India has revitalised him, but he continues to make a few mistakes on track that costs him better results. If he can eliminate those errors, then Force India potentially have one of the quickest driver pairings on the grid. I do not have any doubts that both Hulkenberg and Perez will be on the F1 grid for many years to come.