Force India knew that they had a strong package ahead of the 2014 season, but travelling to the start of the European season sitting in third place in the championship has surely exceeded their expectations.
More importantly, Force India hasn’t lucked into results through the misfortunes of others or a freak result. They’ve done it on merit.
The Silverstone-based team switched their focus to 2014 early compared to some of their midfield rivals and they’re currently reaping the rewards. The VJM07 is a neatly packaged machine and allied to an improved long-term partnership with Mercedes, it has propelled them towards the lofty end of the Formula 1 grid.
Both drivers have also had their moments in 2014.
Nico Hülkenberg returned to Force India after an impressive second half of last season with Sauber. It was understandably viewed as a sideways step for the German driver, after his stint with the team in 2011-12. It was said that Hülkenberg had lost out in a financial battle with Pastor Maldonado over the vacancy at Lotus. Somewhat ironically – and richly justified – the man without the money has so far profited in 2014.
Despite his height/weight disadvantage, Hülkenberg has twice finished fifth and twice finished sixth to sit in fourth place in the drivers’ standings ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix. Hülkenberg has, in the past, been accused of struggling to adapt to different scenarios due to average results across the first half of the season, but in 2014 he’s made the best start possible. He executed a two stop strategy to perfection in Malaysia and held up Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo in Bahrain for long enough to protect team-mate Sergio Pérez.
The Mexican has not had such a strong start to the season although there have been mitigating circumstances. Pérez was badly affected by his experience with McLaren and even briefly considered walking away from the sport, but Force India has found a much improved driver as he attempts to rebuild his reputation. In Australia Pérez was clipped on the first lap by compatriot Esteban Gutiérrez, while his race was a non-starter in Malaysia following a power unit problem. China was another below-par performance as Pérez appeared to struggle with stability, particularly under braking, while tyre graining was also an issue.
But in Bahrain Pérez impressed with a combative yet mature approach which netted him a podium finish, his fourth and Force India’s second. A year ago, Pérez also impressed in Bahrain but did so with an impetuosity and impatience which was not in evidence this season.
While Pérez still has a few issues to get to grip with, Force India has been encouraged by their start to the year, particularly with the consistency of their performances.
“To have 54 points after four races is an excellent effort and we can be pleased with the consistency we have shown over a variety of different circuits,” says deputy team principal Bob Fernley.
The big question will be whether Force India can keep pace with their current rivals, due to their comparative lack of resources. The big teams traditionally kick on when the sport rocks up in Barcelona and leave the traditional midfield teams to occupy their perennial positions.
Rival engine manufacturers will also undoubtedly make progress, so Force India needs to make hay while the sun shines. But they’ve managed it so far, and few would count against them continuing their giant-killing performances.