Esteban Ocon, Force India, Suzuka, 2017

Force India take fourth despite civil war outbreak

2017 F1 season review

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Force India’s second consecutive fourth place in the constructor’s championship underlines the progress the small customer team from Silverstone has made.

Double points finishes in nine of the first 11 races gave the team their best ever start to a season. They went on to score in all but one of the 20 rounds.

Force India team stats 2017

Best race result (number)4 (1)
Best grid position (number) 3 (1)
Non-classifications (technical/other) 2 (1/1)
Laps completed (% of total) 2,291 (95.3%)
Laps led (% of total) 0 (0%)
Championship position (2016)4 (4)
Championship points (2016)187 (173)
Pit stop performance ranking5

After reaching a new high of fourth in 2016, there were many reasons to expect they would face a more challenging season. Midfield ace Nico Hulkenberg had left for Renault, to be replaced by inexperienced Esteban Ocon. A shake-up in the aerodynamic rules played into the hands of wealthier teams. And co-owner Vijay Mallya’s legal problems continued to mount.

But the team produced another great all-rounder of a chassis which, allied to a class-leading power unit, gave their drivers plenty to work with. Sergio Perez continued to demonstrate he deserves another shot in a race-winning car, even if he and Ocon clashed more than once too often.

Thanks to new sponsorship from BWT the pink-hued cars were easy to spot as they frequently worked their way to the head of the midfield. They consistently proved to be ‘best of the rest’ behind the top three teams of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull by finishing in that position eight times, honours split evenly between their drivers. At mid-season they were even within touching distance of Red Bull in third but those on-track squabbles meant though their final points tally was impressive it might have been even higher.

Ocon’s improving pace brought him into conflict with Perez. The team equivocated over imposing team orders in Canada, reluctant to force the issue with Perez, and after that the pair fought each other as if the drivers’ title was at stake whenever they crossed paths on track. Run-ins at Baku, the Hungaroring and Spa – the latter prompting Ocon to accuse Perez of “trying to kill me” – eventually forced the team to forbid them from racing each other.

Perez admitted to being surprised as to Ocon’s pace. “I did not think he would have such results in his first year,” he said. “Even with a difficult car, Esteban still manages to go fast. That’s one of his strengths and I have to learn from that.” Nonetheless Perez ended the season 13 points ahead of his team mate.

Luckily for the team they were never seriously threatened by Williams in the constructors’ table. Perez has matured into a regular points-scorer and Ocon’s reputation for consistency predates his arrival in F1: This is a driver who won the GP3 title by finishing second in nine consecutive races.

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Some of the questions which Force India faced going into this season will apply again next year. While F1’s new owners want it to be possible for independent teams like this to be more competitive, it will be a few years before the rules can be revised to help level the playing field.

By then Force India could have a new name. Mallya, who is currently fighting extradition back to his homeland, seems bent on taking the ‘India’ out of Force India. But he would be wise to avoid making deeper changes at what is arguably F1’s best value-for-money outfit.

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  • 23 comments on “Force India take fourth despite civil war outbreak”

    1. I expect them to finish 6th at max next season.

      1. Presumably behind McLaren and Renault? I wouldn’t like to guess until Melbourne, but Force India seem to have a habit of perfectly playing the underdog… I wouldn’t underestimate them.

        1. @ben-n ”Presumably behind McLaren and Renault?” – Precisely. My prediction is based on my expectation that both Renault and Mclaren will overhaul Force India and the other smaller teams that finished higher than them last season.
          My early prediction for the final constructors’ standings next season:
          1-3: Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull regardless of the order
          4-5: Renault, and Mclaren irrespective of the order
          6-7: Force India, Williams in this order.
          8-10: Haas, Sauber, and Toro Rosso again in whichever order.
          We shall wait and see how things will eventually unfold.

          1. Just because it’ll be fun to look back next year… If I had to predict now I’d probably go for Merc, RB, Ferrari, FI, McLaren, Renault, Williams, Sauber, Haas, Toro Rosso.

            With a close midfield battle – but I think the 3 engine seasons will give the edge to Force India’s Mercedes power or those with Renault power.

        2. I think fans are exaggerating the improvement expected out of Renault (due to 2nd year of works team) and McLaren (due to switch of engine).

          I expect Force India to retain 4th but it will be a close fight and they wouldn’t be able to afford a civil war like this year. Force India’s pairing is I think strongest out of the 3 teams.

          1. Sumedh, I don’t know Hulkenberg-Sainz and Alonso-Vandoorne compare well with Perez-Ocon.

            1. Hulk, Sainz, Perez and Ocon there is nothing between them. Alonso might still be the best out of that bunch, but Vandoorne is still a couple of steps behind the group. If we talk drivers alone it would be a hell of a battle

      2. Well, that is more or less what most of us expected for this season too @jerejj. And it makes sense. But then again, you never know, as @ben-n brings up!

        1. @bascb @ben-n Yeah, but both Renault and Mclaren are quite a lot bigger teams than Force India, and since next season will be Renault’s third since the return to full-works team form, I’m optimistic that they will be competitive enough in year 3 of their current stint as a full manufacturer team to overhaul both Mercedes-customer teams. Same with Mclaren now that they’ve got a more competitive and reliable PU. Yes, they won’t be a ‘de facto’ works team anymore, but neither is Red Bull, and yet they’ve finished comfortably ahead of both Mercedes-customer teams with the Renault PU, so, therefore, I expect Mclaren to overhaul them with that PU as well (assuming they’re chassis will be better than the Mercedes-customers’ next season.) BTW, I never expected either Renault or Mclaren to overhaul the Mercedes-customers this year. Not even before the start of the season.

          1. I am sure that we should expect both Renault and McLaren to do the job @jerejj. But exactly the same goes for this year. And it dit not happen.

            Sure, it is highly likely that both will make a step forward – if the Renault engine can finish races and be a tad better than the Honda, they should be able to get right behind the top 3. But that is still an IF.

    2. Another great article! You mention that Perez deserves “another shot” in a race winning car. I agree that he deserves a shot, but I’d dispute that it would be “another” given the lacklustre McLaren he was racing in 2013, which neither he nor proven WDC/race winner Jenson Button could drag to the podium. In fact he scored less points in that season than in the Sauber the year before, or the Force India the year after.

      It would be great to see both the Force India drivers challenging for podiums next year, but I can’t help but feel that Perez’s chance at a top drive has gone. Ferrari will likely hold on to Raikkonen until Leclerc becomes ready, or steal Ricciardo/Verstappen. Mercedes have incumbents, their own juniors and half an eye on the Red Bull duo. I can’t help but feel that turning down Renault was a foolish move. I hope he proves me wrong!

      1. @ben-n Sergio Perez is 27 now, 3 years younger than Hulkenberg. He could get a shot at closing his career at Renault when Hulkenberg retires or is dropped. Next year is crunch time for Hulkenberg. With a young, bubbly Sainz, he has to lead the way by a long distance to prove he has it. Same goes for Perez, although he has a safer seat at Force India. Perez might get one shot with Renault to win races, as Ferrari have Leclerc and Giovinazzi as Leclerc’s backup, Mercedes have a solid line up and are sizing up Ricciardo with Ocon and Russell looking very fast and Red Bull is Red Bull. Although, my weird brain says that if Ricciardo leaves, they won’t put Gasly or Hartley in the car.

        1. I agree that it’s not all over and it’s easy to forget how young Perez still is, but there’s quite an influx of quality youth coming in now. Hulkenberg is certainly “make or break” at Renault now and you’d guess that Sainz is a filler at the team before moving to Red Bull when/if a space arrives. Assuming Renault had another seat available now, who would they take? Perez would certainly be top of the shortlist, presumably with Rowland, perhaps Grosjean? In 1-2 years time when a seat is actually available, it’s likely to be a different matter.

          1. @ben-n My weird brain also says this. If a seat becomes available in 2019 or 2020, and Kvyat gets one more chance with a team, he’ll be an option. Of course Perez, Grosjean and Magnussen are there in that list.

    3. Increduble season for Force India. But I’m a bit more worried about the owner, though. He never had a great reputation here in India and that’s even before his latest controversies. There’s a very high chance that those accusations are indeed true.

      1. Agreed. I think what Mallya has been smart enough to recognize is not to interfere with the teams management. Let them do the f1 thing they are good at, and he provides the funds for them to get on with it. And claim (rightly) the credit for their success.

      2. More incredible is that a foul man with money can :

        – Avoid imprisonment
        – Avoid extradition from a foreign country
        – Be the chairman of a Large scale company

        the best part is he doesn’t even own that money.

    4. I find myself rooting for FI more than I have ever supported other team.

      They have started to improved the moment they decided to hire on talent, quite a few teams should learn from them.

      Their drivers are again one of my favourites and I rate them both very high. Hopefully they will keep the momentum for next year

      1. They never decided to hire on talent, they were lucky McLaren dropped Perez at the last moment, and built up from there, making themselves the best of the rest and not having to wait for the rest of the teams to choose drivers before picking up the leftovers, I dont remember them changing their strategy.

      2. @johnmilk
        Same for me. I’ve never called myself a ‘fan’ of any team or driver, but if I were to be one then Force India are at the top of the list.

    5. Completely agree with the authors and those commenting before me. FI are a fantastic team to support, and I am so happy for their success. It is really astonishing that Williams aren’t even close (partly but not entirely on Stroll).

      I expect they’ll challenge for fourth next year; McLaren and Renault should be in the mix… but with Renault PUs in the back, and only allowed 3 for the year?! They might beat FI in some races, but I expect FI to pick up the pieces when (not if) they break down. The Mercedes PU reliability is so impressive.

      Very impressed by Ocon. Perez is a good driver, and Ocon has been consistently on the pace of his teammate… not something you can say of many rookies (or indeed, some of the more experienced on the grid… looking at you, Kimi).

    6. If these two drivers collide again, one of them will be sacked immediately.

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