Wilson comes away with hard-earned podium

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He crashed during Friday afternoon’s practice and didn’t put down a lap during Saturday’s qualifying session, but Justin Wilson was still able to improve 21 positions — the most of anybody in Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach — and finish P3 for his third career podium finish at the legendary street circuit.

The Englishman was unable to set a time in qualifying because the rear wing on his No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda was missing required vinyl wrapping that teams use instead of painting the cars and his Dale Coyne Racing team ran out of time to put the wrapping on. As a result, Wilson started 24th for today’s race.

But as it turned out, the qualifying problems turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Wilson since he didn’t use up as many alternate ‘red’ tires as he would have. He pitted on Lap 4 and managed to rise through the field before ensconcing himself in the Top 5 during the second half of the event. A pass on Dario Franchitti at Lap 56 would be enough to claim a podium position.

“We just went out there and pushed hard the entire race,” Wilson said. “I think that helped, having an extra set and being able to pick a few people off. It’s great to get this result for the Boy Scouts of America and everyone at Dale Coyne Racing. They worked hard to put the car back together on Friday, so I have to thank them. It’s also good for Honda here at Long Beach to get 1-2-3-4. I think it’s fantastic.”

Wilson’s third-place effort is his best since scoring an upset win last season at Texas Motor Speedway and his second podium since the 2010 season.

F1 2017 driver review: Sergio Perez

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Sergio Perez

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 11
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P4 (Spain)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 1
Points: 100
Championship Position: 7th

While failing to hit the podium as he did in both 2015 and 2016, Sergio Perez once again finished the year as Formula 1’s leading midfield team driver, but faced a greater fight from within Force India in the shape of Esteban Ocon.

Perez has long been knocking on the door of F1’s top teams should an opportunity come up, and 2017 saw him continue his solid if unspectacular form. The dominance of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari meant any finish higher than seventh was impressive, something he managed to do on five occasions.

But there were some missed opportunities along the way, most significantly in Baku. Force India had been quick all weekend, with Perez charging to sixth on the grid, and when drama struck at the front, he and teammate Ocon were eyeing a podium finish as a minimum.

Contact between the two forced Perez to retire and prompted Ocon to pit for repairs, leaving the team without the top-three finish it targeted heading into the season. With Lance Stroll taking P3 for Williams and Daniel Ricciardo winning the race, a maiden victory for Force India was not out of the realm of imagination.

Perez and Ocon came to blows on a number of occasions, with the final straw coming in Spa when they twice touched on-track, prompting Force India to introduce team orders. Perez finished the year 13 points clear of Ocon in the final standings, meeting his own pre-season target of 100 points, yet the Frenchman had arguably made the bigger impression at Force India through his first full season in F1.

Force India remains the top underdog in F1 with Perez spearheading its charge, but it is difficult to see either taking the final step to becoming true contenders at the front of the field anytime soon, as solid as their displays have been.

Season High: P4 in Spain after retirements for the ‘big three’.

Season Low: Losing a sure-fire podium, if not a win, in Baku after contact with Ocon.