From the Jordan wonder years to the Force India renaissance

 

Photo courtesy of Rick Dikema

The factory at Silverstone that Force India call home has been under many guises and names since privateer Eddie Jordan entered Formula One back in 1991. What was then an operation to blood younger drivers such as Michael and Ralf Schumacher, Eddie Irvine and Rubens Barrichello has undergone no fewer than three identity changes since the Midland Group bought Jordan back in 2005. Since then, Midland, Spyker and finally Force India have been perennial underdogs in the Formula One paddock.

Their first season yielded thirteen points through the efforts of no less than five drivers in an era where only the top six finishers scored points. Alongside Andrea De Cesaris’ nine points, Roberto Moreno, Michael Schumacher and Alessandro Zanardi stood in for the jailed Belgian Bertrand Gachot. 1992 was less successful with the only point scored by Stefano Modena, while 1993 was little better amid another high turnover of drivers including Irvine, Barrichello, Thierry Boutsen, Ivan Capelli, Marco Apicella and Emmanuele Naspetti. If those two years were troublesome, 1994 marked a rise to the midfield that would last until 2003. De Cesaris, Barrichello and Irvine would score between them 28 points and see the team fifth, with a further 21 scored in 1995. Irvine would leave for Ferrari in 1996 and be replaced by a much calmer Brit in Martin Brundle. Both he and Barrichello almost graced the podium as Jordan took three fourth place finishes in a more consistent year.

Photo courtesy of Crisp And Clean/ Stuart Seeger

1997 would see the team visit the podium more often with Ralf Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella, before a memorable 1998 in which Damon Hill took his last and Jordan’s first victory in a chaotic Belgian Grand Prix, with Ralf second as part of a 1-2 finish. 1999 was their most successful year as Heinz-Harald Frentzen sustained the unlikeliest of title challenges with two wins. The German remained in contention until the penultimate round of a championship won by Mika Hakkinen, before 17 points and sixth saw them fall back to earth with a bump in 2000. That marked the start of a decline in fortunes as 2001 saw little improvement to fifth despite often being on the pace, while 2002 yielded just nine points from rookie Takuma Sato and the returning Fisichella. For 2003 Jordan could only finish ninth ahead of Minardi despite a famous win for Fisichella at the Brazilian Grand Prix. The following season, despite regularly fighting with Minardi to avoid the wooden spoon, Nick Heidfeld and Timo Glock notched five points as Jordan sold the team at the end of the year.

2005 was the final season under the Jordan name, and all points bar the one that rookie Tiago Monteiro scored for eighth at the Belgian Grand Prix were taken from the farcical US Grand Prix, where 3rd and 4th for Monteiro and Narain Karthikeyan were enough to see them ahead of Minardi once again in a race where only six cars took to the start. 2006 saw a season-long rebrand as Midland F1, but the change in name failed to bring about a change in fortunes. Monteiro and Christijan Albers rarely looked like troubling the scorers as the team finished tenth – just ahead of Super Aguri. Dutch sportscar maker Spyker bought the team during 2006 and blooded Albers alongside German rookie Adrian Sutil for 2007. Albers was fired after the British Grand Prix while Markus Winkelhock led in his first ever race at the German Grand Prix, before fading and retiring. Sutil scored the team’s only point with eighth at in Japan.

Photo courtesy of V.Charpiat

Another season saw another owner with ambitious Indian businessman VJ Mallya, but 2008 was a struggle with Giancarlo Fisichella taking the team’s only top 10 finish in Spain. The following year the team moved up to ninth in Constructors’ championship after a memorable weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix saw Fisichella finish second to Kimi Raikkonen after pole position the day before.

2010 marked the start of a more consistent era for the team. Sutil and Vitantonio Liuzzi were regulars in the points and Sutil claimed 11th in the final standings with a best result of fifth in Malaysia. Scotsman Paul Di Resta replaced Liuzzi in 2011 for another consistent season for the team. Sutil moved up to ninth while Di Resta’s rookie season saw him 13th and in the points eight times, with solid rather than spectacular results ensuring the team finished seventh.In 2012 the team challenged for podium positions on a regular basis in one of the most open seasons in recent memory. Nico Hulkenberg replaced Sutil, dropped after an assault charge, and outpointed his British teammate on his way to 11th. Meanwhile, Di Resta was 14th despite both men finishing fourth in Belgium and Singapore respectively.

(L to R): Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Force India F1, Michiel Mol (NED), Vijay Mallya (IND), Jan Mol (NED), Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India F1 and Vitantonio Liuzzi (ITA) Force India F1.
Force India F1 Team Launch, Mumbai, India, Thursday 7 February 2008. Courtesy of Force India F1 Team

Hulkenberg joined Sauber in 2013, Sutil returning after serving his punishment for assault. He was considerably outperformed by Di Resta as the duo finished 12th and 13th following a more frustrating season for the team. Both drivers were dropped at the end of the season in favour of Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez. 2014 marked an upturn in fortunes for the team as a more engine reliant formula played into their hands. Hulkenberg’s consistency meant that he only finished outside of the points four times, while Perez took a podium in the famous Bahrain Grand Prix with third place. The team remained sixth, but the improvements were obvious.

The upward curve continued in 2015 and the team retained the previous year’s pairing. Perez took another podium with third in Russia, and Hulkenberg was also consistent despite a rocky start to the season. Force India moved up to fifth in the final standings. 2016 was the team’s best ever season – and the best season from the Silverstone factory since 1999. Podiums still eluded Hulkenberg as he had to settle for fourth in Belgium once again, although the German still enjoyed another solid season before moving to Renault for 2017. Perez twice visited the podium in Azerbaijan and Monaco on his way to seventh in the Drivers’ standings. Force India beat Williams to fourth – only behind the big three of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari in the final reckoning.

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Sahara Force India F1 VJM10 on the grid.
Spanish Grand Prix, Sunday 14th May 2017. Barcelona, Spain. Courtesy of Force India F1 Team

In its various identities, the team now known as Force India have provided many a feel good story. From the title challenge of 1999 with Heinz-Harald Frentzen to mixing with the big boys on a small budget during this current decade. With Perez and Esteban Ocon, Force India have again looked good in 2017 – scoring with both cars in each of the first five races. You wouldn’t bet against them punching above their weight once more.

Jack Prentice

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