Perez nearly quit Formula 1 after McLaren sacking

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Sergio Perez was one of the star performers at last Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, storming to finish in third place after seeing off the challenges of teammate Nico Hulkenberg, Felipe Massa, Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo. The result marked just the second ever podium finish in Force India’s history, with the first coming almost five years ago.

However, it wouldn’t have happened had he quit Formula 1 at the end of 2013 after being sacked by McLaren.

The Mexican driver rose to fame in the sport back in 2012 after claiming three podium finishes with Sauber, and coming close to winning the Malaysian Grand Prix behind Fernando Alonso. After Lewis Hamilton confirmed that he would be leaving McLaren in favor of a switch to Mercedes, the British team quickly snapped Perez up as his replacement.

But 2013 was a year from hell for McLaren. The MP4-28 car was well off the pace, meaning that both Perez and teammate Jenson Button could not reach the podium across the entire season. The Mexican was still ousted in favor of Danish youngster Kevin Magnussen. Before finding refuge at Force India for 2014, Perez nearly quit the sport altogether.

“When the McLaren decision came I was really frustrated with how things went,” Perez explained to Autosport. “I said to myself it isn’t for me. I was not willing to just go to anything.

“I really wanted to find the thing that motivated me to stay in F1 because otherwise I was willing to look for other options.

“But when the Force India came it was a straight forward decision, and we managed to do a deal.”

Perez’s career did appear to be in the lurch after being dropped by McLaren. Despite finding the seat at Force India, there were still a few question marks about his future. Is he the same driver that was at Sauber in 2012, dragging the C31 to three podiums? Or is this still the tame racer that we saw in 2013?

After two luckless races in Australia and Malaysia (the latter he failed to even start), Perez proved last Sunday that he still has the fire to fight at the very front. Moving up to the big time with McLaren so quickly appeared to go to his head a little bit, but with Force India, he finally appears to have found a more comfortable grounding in the sport.

Consider this: he was only one silver crash away from a race win…

Esteban Ocon making a name for himself as a rising F1 star

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MONACO (AP) Esteban Ocon is described by one member of his Force India team as a “sponge” because of his capacity to absorb information.

The 20-year-old Frenchman is one of the rising stars of Formula One. Although he has not made the same impact as 19-year-old Max Verstappen – a once-in-a-generation driver – Ocon is making a name for himself with his consistency and some audacious overtaking.

He has scored points in all five races so far, placing a career-best fifth at the Spanish Grand Prix two weeks ago. Prior to that he was seventh in Russia, and overall he sits in eighth place, one spot behind Force India teammate Sergio Perez.

That would be good enough for most drivers early in their careers, but Ocon is in a hurry.

“It is my personal target to get a podium and I want to have it as soon as possible,” Ocon said prior to this weekend’s Monaco GP. “It makes me confident to have a great start like this, progressing all the time, fitting very well into the team. I think we can achieve great things.”

Ocon broke into F1 last year, making his debut for the now defunct Manor team a month before his 20th birthday at the Belgian GP in late August. He has only competed in 14 career races but has managed to make an impression several times.

None more so than at the season-opening Australian GP, where he overtook Fernando Alonso with a passing move down the right that the two-time F1 champion himself would have been proud of. The timing of the attack, where he patiently prodded behind Alonso before swooping around him in a flash, bore the hallmarks of a future great.

“I loved the move against Fernando,” said Ocon, the youngest French driver to score points in F1. “That was pretty solid.”

After getting past Alonso, he then held him off while also repelling an attack from the experienced Nico Hulkenberg. That was only his 10th F1 race, yet he defied two drivers with 400 between them.

Verstappen, the youngest F1 driver to win a race when he clinched the Spanish GP last year, has a similar instinct for overtaking and also possesses the acute concentration and calmness required to properly defend a position under extreme pressure.

That Ocon beat Verstappen to the European Formula 3 title in 2014 – winning it with a round to spare and earning himself a spot on the prestigious Mercedes F1 junior program – hints at untapped potential.

“He’s quick. He proved that in junior categories,” said Daniel Ricciardo, Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate. “You know Esteban got that (F3 title), so he’s obviously talented.”

Moreover, Ocon is incredibly committed to understanding the intricacies of the Force India car, which runs on Mercedes engines.

“I don’t believe too much in the concept of luck. Behind results there is always hard work,” Ocon said. “I always go to the factory between the races to have intense debriefs with my engineers and do simulator work, for hours and hours.”

His propensity for learning astounds senior team members.

“He’s like a sponge and he just absorbs information as fast as you can give it to him. His want and his desire are unquestionable,” said Andrew Green, the team’s technical director. “He absolutely wants this and he has the talent to do great things, but he is going about it the right way. I have no doubts that he is going to get to where he wants to be in a few years’ time.”

Green further describes Ocon’s intuitive understanding of how far he can push the car.

“I watched him for quite a long time in the simulator last week, pounding around the (Monaco circuit), and his car control was incredible,” Green said. “He’s an amazing talent. Can he get a podium? Well, we need to give him the car to do that. But he has an uncanny ability to finish races.”

Button gets 15-place grid penalty in Monaco after power unit issue

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Jenson Button looks set to start his one-off Formula 1 appearance in 2017 from the back of the grid after being handed a 15-place penalty for Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Button stepped away from racing full-time in F1 at the end of last year, only to be drafted back in by McLaren for Monaco following Fernando Alonso’s decision to race in the Indianapolis 500.

Button has impressed throughout practice, ending FP3 12th-fastest despite not having driven the McLaren-Honda MCL32 before Thursday.

However, the 2009 world champion’s weekend has now taken a hit after it was confirmed on Saturday morning that he would serve a 15-place grid drop for changes to his power unit after practice.

“We have changed Jenson’s MGU-H/TC after detecting an issue with his MGU-H after FP2,” Honda said.

“The MGU-H/TC will be Jenson’s fifth, which means he will receive 15 place grid penalty for the race.”

Button’s teammate for the weekend, Stoffel Vandoorne, is also due to take a grid drop of three places as a sanction for his clash with Felipe Massa in the Spanish Grand Prix two weeks ago.

Qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

Vettel lays down ominous pace in final Monaco F1 practice

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Sebastian Vettel appears to be the strong favorite for Formula 1 pole position for this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix after dominating final practice for Ferrari on Saturday morning.

Vettel set an unofficial lap record through FP2 on Thursday afternoon, but was able to gain even more time through FP3 for Ferrari as he shaved another three-tenths of a second off his best lap.

The four-time F1 champion ended FP3 with a fastest time of 1:12.395, giving him P1 by three-tenths of a second ahead of Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen.

Mercedes vowed to bounce back on Saturday after going in the wrong direction with setup in FP2, but struggled to make any serious impression at the top of the timesheets. Valtteri Bottas was third, while teammate Lewis Hamilton finished eight-tenths of a second off Vettel in fifth place.

Red Bull put itself in the fight for the front two rows of the grid as Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo finished fourth and sixth respectively, while B-team Toro Rosso got both of its cars into the top 10. Carlos Sainz Jr. finished seventh ahead of Daniil Kvyat in P8.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for Red Bull, though, with Ricciardo suffering a brake-by-wire failure at the very end of the session, forcing the Australian to abandon his car at Sainte Devote.

Kevin Magnussen took ninth place for Haas ahead of McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, with Jenson Button taking 12th in the second MCL32 car. Button will be subject to a 15-place grid drop, though, following an engine change since Thursday.

Force India’s Esteban Ocon became the second driver of the weekend to suffer a crash, shunting his VJM10 car into the barrier at the exit of Swimming Pool after clipping the barrier and breaking the steering arm, leaving the team with plenty of repairs to complete in time for qualifying.

Qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

Rossi discharged from hospital after motorcross accident

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MotoGP star Valentino Rossi has been discharged from hospital after suffering injuries in a motorcross accident earlier this week.

Nine-time motorcycling world champion Rossi was diagnosed with “mild thoracic and abdominal trauma” after the accident on Thursday morning, resulting in his admission to the Ospedale Infermi in Rimini, Italy.

The hospital noted in a statement that there were “no fractures detected in any part of the body and no serious traumatic pathologies”, with Rossi recovering overnight with pain relief.

On Friday, a further statement was issued confirming that Rossi had been discharged from hospital.

“Valentino Rossi has returned home from the Ospedale Infermi in Rimini, having successfully completed routine diagnostic tests that were scheduled earlier on Friday,” the statement reads.

“With the attending doctors confirming the findings shared in this morning‘s medical bulletin, the nine-time World Champion left the hospital at 5.30pm, accompanied by his staff.

“He will now continue the recovery process at home.”

The Yamaha rider’s next racing engagement comes next weekend with the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello.