F1 2014 Preview: Force India – Dark horses of 2014

Last year saw Force India build a car that occasionally looked strong enough to challenge for podiums for the first half of the season and then vanish in the second half. Their performance was robbed by the emergency tyre changes that took place following multiple tyre failures at Silverstone. With the car slow to get back on form and then-drivers Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta failing to put in much effort, the team missed their best chance to date to claim a top five position in the constructors’ championship.

After making negative comments about the car and team, both underperforming drivers were released, marking the first time since the team’s inception that it would have an all-new lineup. Whereas frequent midfield rivals Sauber look down compared to previous years, Force India is looking strong.

The Car

Rapid improvement in reliability between the first and second test has the VJM07 looking quite capable.

Rapid improvement in reliability between the first and second test has the VJM07 looking quite capable.

At the Jerez test, the VJM07 looked like the worst of the Mercedes-powered lot, most notably in reliability. Neither of the regular drivers was able to run a full race distance over four days of testing. Pleasantly, the car was well-behaved enough that both drivers were able to put in some quick laps—both in the top 10.

A few weeks later at Bahrain, the car seemed to be running perfectly. Like other cars, it ran into the occasional hiccup, but the team was able to log in the fifth most laps without doing it in a rushed manner (like Sauber did). Improved reliability did not come at the cost of speed either, as the car was within the top 10 again.

At this point there’s no sense in mentioning that testing times are subjective, but the car looks consistent enough that it should be a strong performer. A very strong pair of drivers should be able work wonders with it.

Nico Hulkenberg – The Incredible Hulk returns

Hulkenberg (right, obviously) has never had a season where he's failed to impress everyone. This year should be no different.

Hulkenberg (right, obviously) has never had a season where he’s failed to impress everyone. This year should be no different.

A man who can never really seem to catch a break, Hulkenberg left Force India amidst financial concerns at the team in 2012. His destination was Sauber, who had just wrapped up a very successful year and were looking strong. A bad move as it turned. Sauber produced a dreadful car that understeered like an American car and loved to eat its tyres for a snack. Well-hidden financial woes meant that he went most of the season without so much as a single coin crossing his palms as well. Meanwhile, Force India had produced a fine car that was squandered by an unremarkable driver and a Scottish prima donna.

Keeping a stiff upper lip, Hulkenberg persevered and by the second half of the season was back to his old ways: putting a car where it had no business being. A storming drive to fourth at Korea had the masses calling for him to be promoted to a drive with a top team.

He almost got one, as it turns out. Lotus was very interested in hiring him, but—in a predictable twist of fate—didn’t have the funds.

Given Lotus’ troubles, it is likely for the best that the deal didn’t go through. Sat in a potentially strong car at a familiar team, Hulkenberg is looking in a fine position to fight for strong results. If he can continue impressing as he has throughout his whole career, a top drive will eventually be his.

Sergio Perez – How briefly the sun shone

Quick enough to fluster world champions, Perez may be the toughest inner-team rival Hulkenberg has ever faced.

Quick enough to fluster world champions, Perez may be the toughest inner-team rival Hulkenberg has ever faced.

For a time, it looked certain that McLaren were keen to keep Perez on for a second season. Last year, he drove some plucky and ballsy races in the worst car McLaren has produced in over 30 years. During that time, he rivalled Jenson Button in qualifying trim and spent several races fighting with faster cars. His consistency wasn’t top-notch to start with, but he had levelled it out by the end of the season.

His sudden sacking at McLaren came courtesy of the team’s protégé, Kevin Magnussen, losing out on a drive at an unidentified team. The moment that deal fell through, the boffins at Woking hit the panic button, ejecting Sergio Perez from his seat and slotting Magnussen into it before the speedy Mexican realized what happened.

Fortunately, they helped him find a home afterwards, and so he now has a chance to build his path to the top anew. Matched to Hulkenberg, Perez rounds out a very competitive team nicely.

Preseason Figures
Jerez Total Laps:
146 Laps (6th)
Hulkenberg: 17 Laps
Perez: 48 Laps
Daniel Juncadella (Test Driver): 81 Laps

Best times
Hulkenberg: 1’26.096.161 (9th)
Perez: 1’28.376 (10th)

Bahrain Figures (Test 1 &2 Combined)
Total laps: 617 Laps (4th)
Hulkenberg: 326 Laps
Perez: 289 Laps
Best Times
Hulkenberg: 1’35.577 (10th)
Perez: 1’35.290 (8th)

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