Formula 1Season Review

2016 Season Review: Sahara Force India F1 Team – Feel the Fourth

11 Mins read
Credit: Sahara Force India F1 Team

#11 – Sergio Perez – Mexico – 21 Starts, 101 Points, Best Finish: 3rd (Monaco and Azerbaijan), Championship Position: 7th.

#27 – Nico Hulkenberg – Germany – 21 Starts, 72 Points, Best Finish: 4th (Belgium),Championship Position: 9th.

The 2016 Formula 1 season has been a mixture of success and disappointment for Sahara Force India F1 Team, especially with their battle to finish fourth in the Constructors’ Championship with Williams Martini Racing. The Silverstone based outfit finished the season in fourth, with 173 points, finishing one position higher than last season. As well as their best finish as Force India, when they were renamed for the 2008 season.

At the Australian Grand Prix, Nico Hulkenberg scored the first points of the season when he finished in seventh after starting in tenth. He had his race comprised by the red flag caused by Fernando Alonso and Esteban Gutierrez, as he stopped before the incident and lost vital track time. Even though Sergio Perez qualified in ninth at the Albert Park Circuit, he struggled with brake issues towards the end of the Grand Prix, he was only able to finish in thirteenth.

Despite the strong start in Australia, both drivers were unable to continue this into the second round in Bahrain, with both drivers dropping even further down the grid. Hulkenberg finished in fifteenth with Perez behind him in sixteenth, after they both had their race compromised following earlier track clashes. This was ahead of the final finisher of Rio Haryanto for Manor Racing MRT.

Hulkenberg had damaged to his front wing after a first lap incident, which meant he had to pit to change the wing, he tried to recover from this clash but was unable to. It was a similar scenario for Perez after making contact with Carlos Sainz Jr on lap two. Even though he was able to return to the track, like his team-mate he wasn’t able to recover.

In China, the team tried their hardest to recover their lost performance from Bahrain. Even though Hulkenberg had a great start as he climbed up the grid to fifth, he plummeted down the order to finish in fifteenth. During the Grand Prix, he was deemed by the stewards in purposefully slowing other drivers down in the pit lane, leading to a time penalty for Hulkenberg, something that was not helpful towards his already mediocre performance.

Perez had a similar run to Hulkenberg as he made a strong start, with him climbing up to third from seventh. But the safety car didn’t help him to continue this strong performance, meaning once he pitted he was back down into the pack. With the drivers around him on different tyres, it was hard for Perez to battle with them. The point finish slipped away from him in the closing stages of the Grand Prix, and he finished in eleventh.

Nico Hulkenberg had his first retirement of the season at the Russian Grand Prix Credit: Sahara Force India F1 Team

The season continued to spiral downwards for Hulkenberg, as he was eliminated from the Russian Grand Prix in a first lap incident with Esteban Gutierrez. The Mexican spun around Hulkenberg, along with Haryanto, and for a second consecutive year, Hulkenberg failed to finish the Grand Prix. On the other side of the garage though, Perez was able to finish in ninth. Eighth did look possible for the Mexican but Romain Grosjean held him off in the last quarter of the race.

For the Spanish Grand Prix, Perez finished in seventh, finishing a second consecutive time so far this season in the points. He felt that this was the best he could achieve, as the Circuit de Catalunya is a track that usually does not play to the team’s strengths. Hulkenberg’s bad luck from Russia continued two weeks later, with him retiring from the Grand Prix as his VJM09 suffered a fire.

When he reported to the team that he could see smoke, they immediately told him to retire near a marshal post with a fire extinguisher. The marshals were too slow in acting towards the fire, meaning Hulkenberg took the matter into his own hands when he wrestled them for the extinguisher to put the fire out. Monaco was a successful Grand Prix for both Force India drivers, as Hulkenberg finished in sixth, a position he took from championship leader Nico Rosberg on the final lap.

It was Perez’s performance though that allowed the team to celebrate, as he finished on the podium in third, behind the Red Bull Racing of Daniel Ricciardo. This was his first podium of the 2016 season, his last being the 2015 Russian Grand Prix. He was able to keep Sebastian Vettel at bay during the Grand Prix, despite the moves made by the German in an attempt to overtake him. His podium was the result of preserving his tyres for a total of 48 laps around the Circuit de Monaco.

The seventh round of the season in Canada marked another double points finish for the team, as Perez finished in tenth. With his team-mate finishing two positions ahead in eighth. Hulkenberg was disappointed with this finish, as he felt he could have finished higher. He was unable to keep up with his rivals ahead, along with losing some of the feel from his VJM09 from qualifying into the race.

Perez on the other hand, felt that the team went the wrong way with their strategy, which costed him a better result. On his final pit stop, he stalled the car, this cost him valuable time and put him under pressure from Daniil Kvyat. After the disappointment of Canada, Perez was able to put this behind him for the European Grand Prix as he finished on the podium in third. Throughout the Grand Prix he performed strongly, moving two places at the start and making his strategy work by passing a number of cars.

Sergio Perez celebrates his third position in parc ferme at the European Grand Prix Credit: Sahara Force India F1 Team

On the final lap, he passed Kimi Raikkonen to take the podium position away from the Finn. Hulkenberg on the other hand, had a tough Grand Prix as he survived a first lap incident with Gutierrez. This incident compromised his Grand Prix after he lost a few positions, he then started to struggle with oversteer. Even with this battle, Hulkenberg was still able to finish in the points in ninth, leading to a double points finish for the team.

Heading into the Austrian Grand Prix, there was high expectations that Force India could claim another huge points haul, this wasn’t to be as both drivers retired from the Grand Prix. Perez had been running eighth but ended his Grand Prix in the barriers after brake failure, with only two laps remaining. Heading into Turn 3, he ran out of brakes and lost control, ending with a heavily damaged car.

Hulkenberg had a great start in Austria, as he qualified on the front row in second but as the Grand Prix unravelled, he had to retire with brake issues. Earlier on he dropped down the order, along with struggling with grip levels. He was also issued a five-second time penalty for speeding in the pit lane. Heading into their home Grand Prix at Silverstone, the disappointment of Austria was on their mind. But the team put this behind them to finish a double points finish.

Hulkenberg finished in seventh, gaining one position from his starting position. In the closing stages, the German did show better pace than Perez, but it wasn’t enough to finish ahead of him. With Perez finishing in sixth, there was only 0.771 seconds separating the duo. Perez started to lose track time near the end of the Grand Prix as both Ricciardo and Raikkonen were able to easily clear the Mexican.

The next race was in Hungary, where Perez just missed out on points as he finished in eleventh. There was a miscommunication on the pit wall for his second pit stop, when he entered the pit lane the team failed to have his tyres ready. Until this point, his Grand Prix was running to plan, with this mistake though from Force India, Perez lost valuable time. This was of course a massive setback for the team, especially after such a good home Grand Prix.

Hulkenberg finished in tenth, as he held off team-mate Perez. If the mistake during the pit stop didn’t happen for Perez, he would have finished ahead. During Hulkenberg’s second pit stop, he kept the clutch turning while his tyres were being changed, meaning a longer pit stop. This resulted in the German losing a place to Jolyon Palmer. If it wasn’t for the Briton spinning afterwards, Hulkenberg would have lost the valuable point.

Nico Hulkenberg on the drivers parade for home Grand Prix Credit: Sahara Force India F1 Team

The team finished on a reasonable high heading into the summer break, with Perez finishing in tenth in Germany, a Grand Prix that won’t be present on the 2017 calendar. Perez was running a lot faster than Valtteri Bottas but ran out of laps to knock the Finn down to tenth. He was able though to claim the last point on offer, his team-mate finished in seventh. This was a good position for Hulkenberg as he was able to recover from a grid penalty after the team returned the wrong set of tyres before qualifying.  He dropped to eighth on the Hockenheim grid after this mistake by the team, he made a late race pass on Bottas to claim seventh.

After the three week summer break, the F1 championship headed to Spa-Francorchamps. Force India had a great Grand Prix, as both drivers finished in the top five. Hulkenberg secured fourth for Force India, equalling his best ever result in his F1 career. Perez followed Hulkenberg as he finished in fifth, this finish from Force India enabled them to leapfrog Williams to fourth in the Constructors’ Championship for the first time.

Despite a successful return to the championship, Force India were unable to continue this into the Italian Grand Prix as both drivers finished down the bottom of the top ten. Perez finished in eighth along with Hulkenberg taking the final point in tenth. Perez felt he got the maximum performance out of his VJM09, his top ten finish was important in the Constructor battle with Williams.  For Hulkenberg he was disappointed with his result, as he felt he could have been more competitive if he wasn’t held up earlier in the Grand Prix.

Perez rated the Singapore Grand Prix among the best races of his F1 career, he climbed from seventeenth on the grid to finish eighth. He was penalised a combined eight-place grid penalty after two yellow flag infringements in qualifying. He was also able to make a single set of Soft tyres last 36 laps after his second pit stop was on Lap 25.

Despite a strong performance from Perez, his team-mate could not match this as he had to settle for retirement. He was spun around by Sainz as they both attempted to pass the slow starting Max Verstappen. With this contact from Sainz, it resulted in him hitting the wall as he lost control of his VJM09. Sainz was able to continue his Grand Prix but Hulkenberg was forced to retire on the spot, this was all before reaching the first turn.

The sixteenth round of the championship was in Malaysia, it was a reasonable good race with Perez and Hulkenberg finishing sixth and eighth respectively. In the opening laps, Perez ran as high as third for the Silverstone-based outfit but with drivers pitting behind the virtual safety car, this affected the running order. Despite this he felt recovering to sixth position was a good result.

Sergio Perez at the Malaysian Grand Prix, a double point finish for Sahara Force India Credit: Sahara Force India F1 Team

At the start of the Grand Prix, Hulkenberg lost ground after he avoided the clash between Rosberg and Vettel. Despite feeling he had the stronger car, he was unable to get ahead of Jenson Button after falling behind him earlier. He eventually jumped the Briton and was able to assist the team in extending their advantage over Williams in the Constructors’ to three points.

From Malaysia Force India headed to Japan where yet again the team-mates finished behind one another. Despite running as high as third, Perez was unable to hold onto this after a good getaway, finishing the Grand Prix in seventh, only 1.682 seconds ahead of Hulkenberg. Perez felt there was nothing more that he could have done. With Hulkenberg finishing in eighth, they move to a ten-point advantage over Williams.

Like Perez, Hulkenberg was happy with his pace but did feel if he had endured a better qualifying performance, he could have finished ahead of Perez. The battle for fourth became apparent for Hulkenberg, as he knew it was important that both drivers finished inside the points for the remaining races to keep Williams behind them.

At the United States Grand Prix, Perez dropped as low as seventeenth after a first lap spin when hit from behind by Daniil Kvyat. He was able to recover massively to finish in eighth, while Kvyat was penalised with a ten-second time penalty for his part in the incident.

Hulkenberg though endured his fifth and final retirement of the 2016 F1 season, after a dual collision with Vettel and Bottas at turn one on lap one an early retirement was on the cards for the German. After he damaged his suspension, the stewards did look into the incident but deemed that no action was warranted. Although Hulkenberg believed Vettel should have been less aggressive with him running out of space as he got sandwiched.  Hulkenberg had showed strong pace throughout the weekend, along with qualifying in seventh so he was disappointed to end his race so early on.

During the Mexican Grand Prix, Hulkenberg made one set of Medium tyres last for 57 laps with him taking the car home in seventh. There was a moment with him and Raikkonen earlier in the Grand Prix, with them getting close to touching, Hulkenberg spun allowing the Finn to over take him. With the gap to those behind big, this incident did not result in him losing any further positions.

Despite appearing to have the quicker car, team-mate Perez was unable to make a pass on Felipe Massa, leaving the Mexican frustrated. He finished his home Grand Prix in tenth for Force India, a massive drop on his recent strong performance. The last time he was this low on the grid was in Germany before the summer break. This finish meant the team out-scored Williams by one point, with two rounds of the season left, they extended their advantage to nine points.

Nico Hulkenberg and Jenson Button battle for position at the Brazilian Grand Prix Credit: Sahara Force India F1 Team

Perez finished the Brazilian Grand Prix in an impressive fourth, Verstappen denied him though of a third podium finish of the season, after overtaking him with a couple of laps remaining. There was tricky conditions in Brazil that tested all the drivers to their limits, which allowed Perez to be pleased with his finishing position. Hulkenberg struggled during the Grand Prix after forcing to pit due to a puncture, he was running fourth.

The puncture was from running over debris from Raikkonen crashing, this saw the German dropping to the back of the field. With the front wing of the SF16-H hitting Hulkenberg’s own front wing, the impact resulted in a part of Raikkonen’s wing being lodged. Hulkenberg drove superbly though afterwards to recover to seventh for Force India. This finish meant the team sat twenty-seven points ahead of Williams, but at this point anything could happen with one race remaining.

The team were able to achieve a double point finish in Abu Dhabi to finish ahead of Williams in the Constructors’ by 35 points. Hulkenberg finished in seventh, ahead of team-mate Perez in eighth, this was enough for them to keep Williams behind them in the Constructors’ as Bottas retired and Massa finished ninth. Perez broke through one hundred points for the season as he clinched seventh in the Drivers’ Standings. He had a mostly quiet Grand Prix, it included a battle with Hulkenberg early on and fending off the challenge of Massa.

Hulkenberg felt it was quite a straightforward afternoon, with him finishing seventh for a third consecutive race. He managed to survive a first corner clash with Verstappen, damaging the floor, despite this he was able to finish best of the rest. Even outpacing his team-mate in the process, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix marked the end of his career with Force India, as he is now moves to the Renault Sport Formula 1 Team for the 2017 F1 season.

Hulkenberg clinched ninth in the Drivers’ Standing with a total of 72 points, equalling his previous best position for the 2014 F1 season. With Hulkenberg leaving, it has given the chance to Esteban Ocon to be promoted up the grid, after performing well since replacing Haryanto at Manor. Will Ocon be able to show the team that he can perform well to score points for them, with failing to reach the points for Manor. The closest he was all season was in Abu Dhabi where he finished in thirteenth, although his performance in Brazil was a standout.

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