2016: Force India break the glass ceiling

GP EUROPA F1/2016 – BAKU (AZERBAIJAN) 19/06/2016
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

2016 is a year that will be associated with Nico Rosberg’s sole World Championship title after ten years in Formula One.

But his was far from the only underdog success story on the grid, as Force India took fourth in the World Constructors’ Championship courtesy of strong results including two podiums.

The pairing of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez had been a successful one during the previous two seasons, and it was no surprise to see the two regularly upsetting more established teams such as Williams and McLaren.

And yet it was to be a slow start for the Silverstone team as Hulkenberg’s seventh place in Australia was the only points finish either driver had for the first three races, while Perez got off the mark with ninth in Russia ahead of the unveiling of their new car in Europe.

Hulkenberg was to retire in Spain but in the hands of Perez the F1 paddock saw the step forward made by the team as he took seventh at the downforce-heavy Circuit de Catalunya. That preceded the best weekend of their season in Monaco.

After qualifying fifth and eighth respectively, Hulkenberg and Perez were both keen to use the difficult track conditions to their advantage on raceday. With Nico Rosberg struggling from the start, Perez made use of a good strategy and excellent wet-weather pace to take a comfortable third, while Hulkenberg’s persistence paid off in his pursuit of sixth from Rosberg, which he took on the final lap.

It was on to Canada next where eighth and tenth for Hulkenberg and Perez kept the points ticking over, while the team took their second podium in Azerbaijan. Perez was once again there to take advantage of a poor race for Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull to finish third behind Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel, with

Hulkenberg ninth after poor luck early on. Perez had qualified second only to be hit with a gearbox penalty.

A poor weekend in Austria was followed by another excellent team performance in the rain at the British Grand Prix, a mere stone’s throw from their base. They took advantage of Williams woe to finish sixth and seventh, while Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa failed to trouble the scorers. The battle was on.

MELBOURNE (AUSTRALIA) – 20/3/16
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

Neither team scored heavily in Hungary as Bottas took ninth ahead of Hulkenberg in tenth, and more solid scoring was to follow for Force India in Germany as Hulkenberg came home seventh while his teammate salvaged tenth, again outscoring Williams.

VJ Mallya’s men had another spectacular weekend in Spa, scene of their sole pole position and first podium at the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix. Perez finished an excellent fourth, just ahead of his teammate. The European season drew to a close with another five points at the Italian Grand Prix.

Eighth place for Perez in Singapore started the flyaway rounds well for Force India, and sixth for the Mexican in Malaysia enhanced his bid for seventh place, while Hulkenberg backed him up well in eighth.

The Japanese Grand Prix is famous for Hulkenberg’s cheeky “see you later” message to Bottas after overtaking him at the final chicane at Suzuka, and it really was a case of waving goodbye to Williams. Perez and Hulkenberg in seventh and eighth finished ahead of both Bottas and Massa as the battle for fourth began to swing decisively in their favour.

Hulkenberg retired after an early collision with Bottas in America, while Massa was on for fifth place until Alonso’s aggressive move gave him a puncture. He finished seventh, just ahead of Perez in eighth. Fourth was there for the taking for Force India.

Another solid weekend at Perez’ home Grand Prix in Mexico saw Hulkenberg take seventh and Perez tenth, before Perez almost mounted the podium once again at a soaking Brazilian Grand Prix as Hulkenberg again claimed seventh.

Bottas’ retirement in Abu Dhabi when Williams would have needed a huge points advantage over Force India meant that the battle for fourth place was won. Still, seventh and eighth for Perez and Hulkenberg brought about the end of 2016 in a fitting way, the team consistently scoring well.

2016 was unquestionably the strongest season in Force India’s history, with a previous best result of fifth in the Constructors’ in 2015. This was the most successful season for the Silverstone factory since Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s 1999 title challenge.

Perez took seventh in World Drivers’ Championship with 101 points and was well backed up by Hulkenberg, who was ninth with 72.

The Mexican’s scoring streak lasted 11 races through to the end of the season and only came to an end at the recent Monaco Grand Prix, and with the budget of the

bigger teams, Force India will be hard pressed to beat 2016.

Jack Prentice @JPrentice8

Images courtesy of Pirelli

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