The Sahara Force India F1 team have made a relatively strong start to the first half of the 2016 season, twice reaching the podium, as their talented drivers push the VJM09 to its limits and make the most of the more than adequate machinery they have at their disposal.
The Silverstone based squad sit just fifteen points behind the Williams Martini Racing team in the Constructor’s Championship, and with their form looking more consistent than the Oxfordshire based squad this year, Force India will be aiming to overtake them in the second half of the season.
TCF take a look at how drivers Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg, one of the most overlooked driver pairings in F1, fared in comparison to each other at the halfway point of 2016, in our head-to-head report.
Who the better driver is of Perez and Hulkenberg has long been the subject of many a F1 debate, both are highly rated-rated drivers that many believe deserve the chance of promotion to one of the major teams. Opinion has tended to lean towards them being very evenly matched, but the statistics (which do not always paint a true picture of course), show a clear leader over the last season and a half.
Having outscored Perez quite easily in 2014, Hulkenberg began to lose ground to the Mexican in 2015. Never finishing higher than sixth in last year’s campaign the German struggled to match the form of his team-mate, with the former McLaren man able to achieve four top five finishes, which included a visit to the podium in Russia.
This trend has carried on into 2016, with the Mexican already starting to edge ahead of his German team-mate, taking the only two podiums achieved by Force India so far this year, at the Monaco Grand Prix and in Baku, with stand-out drives on both occasions. That achievement signalled the first time Force India have made the podium on more than one occasion in a season, to confirm the solid progress the Silverstone based team have made over the last few seasons.
In Monaco Perez expertly kept the challenging Scuderia Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel at bay for almost the entire race, a well-earned third place finish his reward. Hulkenberg meanwhile had to settle for sixth, after a wrongly timed pit stop meant he was stuck behind Vettel and the Williams of Felipe Massa for the early part of the race, hampering his progress up the order. That was Hulkenberg’s best result so far this year, in stark comparison to the two third places achieved by Perez.
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At the European Grand Prix in Baku, Perez was not that far off taking pole position, ending the qualifying session in second place behind the Mercedes AMG PETRONAS of Nico Rosberg. A big shunt at the end of FP3 however, saw him need a new gearbox and a five place grid penalty was served. Had the Mexican not demolished the VJM09 in that incident – who knows what could have been!
Nevertheless, although he now started from seventh place on the grid, Perez was able to remain near the front of the order for the majority of the race, coming home in third, to claim his second podium in quick succession. It was a performance that left people wondering whether he would now finally start to see his career moving forward, and entice one of the big teams to take a chance on him in 2017. Hulkenberg meanwhile finished ninth, in what was a relatively quiet afternoon for the German, to cap off on some uncharacteristic, mediocre displays from Hulkenberg in previous races.
Following F1’s foray to the distant shores of Azerbaijan, the strong performance seen from the Force India team at the start of 2016 has started to waver, with a double DNF in Austria the low point of their season. Its drivers have also become closer in their competitiveness, with Hulkenberg coming out on top against his team-mate in the final two races before the summer break. Are the tides about to turn at Force India? Will the German start to show some of that 2015 24 Hr Le Mans winning spirit?
In terms of qualifying results, Hulkenberg has the upper-hand, starting higher up the grid on seven occasions to Perez’ five, but he has been unable to convert them into as positive finishing positions as his team-mate. In the Driver’s Championship however, it is Perez that has stolen a march on the German, but will that edge continue in the latter half of the season? From what we have seen so far this season, I would say Yes!
Hulkenberg has already confirmed he will be driving for Force India in 2017, and although the team are adamant that Perez will be too, the Mexican has made no definite plans as yet, and appears to be keeping his options open until the very last moment.
Click on the link to read our Williams Martini Racing report!