Sahara Force India F1 Team could of left Mexico with a podium if it wasn’t for the Virtual Safety Car, deputy team principal Robert Fernley believes.
Both Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez were in positive positions at the beginning of the race. With the Frenchman sitting in third and The Mexican in fifth. But Perez was under pressure from the charging Scuderia Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, forcing the Silverstone team to box Perez in early on lap 18.
Ocon followed two laps later but the strategy would back fire when a Virtual Safety Car came out due to Scuderia Toro Rosso‘s Brendon Hartley‘s retirement, allowing Raikkonen to make a free stop.
The Finnish driver manage to leap-frog both Force India’s and find themselves quickly passed by Raikkonen’s team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who was flying in a bid to save his championship hopes.
Despite both Ferrari’s passing, Ocon managed to finish fifth whilst Perez ended his home race in seventh, falling behind from Williams Martini Racing‘s Lance Stroll.
But Robet Fernley told Motorsport.com that he believed the strategy was right to pit both cars in early in.
“We were going for a podium. Normally when we’re racing, we’re looking at not worrying about Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes because we can’t beat them” said Fernley.
“Here was an opportunity so we roll the dice, and in rolling the dice, it also comprises, when it goes wrong, the pace. It was worth doing. It was a good effort but in the end, we didn’t quite have the pace to hold back the Ferraris.”
Whilst the decision to pit in Perez was sensible, question marks were raised over why pitting in Ocon a few laps later, having been far up from his team-mate.
Force India COO Otmar Szafnauer said that his team were tricked by Ferrari in boxing in early, with the Scuderia not pitting in Raikkonen.
“Raikkonen was coming up behind us. His team came out of the pitlane with tyres ready to undercut us.” said Szafnauer.
“We pit, he doesn’t pit and now it is us on fresh tyres and him on used tyres, which one’s faster? Does he get us or doesn’t he get us.”
“As it turned out, what happened is that he stayed out so long that VSC happened and he gained about 12 seconds because when he pits under the VSC he comes out 10 seconds ahead.”
“You’re doomed if you did, doomed if you didn’t. Virtual safety car completely screwed us.”