F1 Grand Prix of China - Practice

Q&A with Force India’s Sergio Perez

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Sergio Perez’s Formula 1 career appeared to be down in the doldrums last November. Having signed him just one year earlier, McLaren confirmed that the Mexican would be dropped at the end of the season in favor of rookie Kevin Magnussen. After such a rapid rise in his first three years in the sport, his career had come to a crossroads.

Force India came to the rescue, handing him a lifeline and a seat for 2014, and he has since proven his worth. In Bahrain, Checo scored the team’s first podium finish in five years, and he has produced a number of impressive displays in his first eight races for the team.

Ahead of this weekend’s British Grand Prix, MotorSportsTalk sat down with Perez to talk about his season so far, life at Force India, his thoughts on McLaren and how he would change the sport if he could.

You had a really good race in Austria, do you feel it made up for what happened in Canada? 

SP: Yeah, in a way, of course, but a bit unfortunate though that we had the penalty. I felt like we could have fought for more positions in the race. A bit unfortunate of course but we look forward for more. I think in the last two races we had the pace to fight for the podium, and now Silverstone I expect to be a bit different. It will be interesting to see what we can do around this place.

Different in what way? Harder?

SP: Harder because of the track layout. It has a lot of high speed corners, and that makes this place difficult for us because high speed hasn’t been our best strength in the last couple of races, here in a high speed circuit, I don’t expect great things.

Your drive through the field in Austria must give you confidence for future races if you have a difficult situation in qualifying or another grid penalty that you can fight back through. 

SP: Yeah of course, this gives you a good boost, so we need to keep pushing, keep delivering and we need points. The tight battle between us, McLaren, Williams… it’s going to be very intense and long, so we need to deliver weekend after weekend a lot of points.

And do you feel that you’re really on top of the tires at the moment?

SP: Yeah I know what to do, we know as a team what we have to do, so that gives me good confidence.

And compared to last year, obviously you were struggling with the McLaren car, and this year you’ve come to Force India and the results have improved. It must be quite a strange thing given that McLaren is such a big team, but it must also be pretty pleasing for you. 

SP: Of course. I think I came at the worst time to a team like McLaren where they were going downhill instead of uphill, so that made my adaptation to the team very difficult because we had an extremely difficult car. For the first half of the season we spent every Friday to Saturday with completely new car, so it was very difficult to adapt to that car. Pretty unfortunate, but I’m very happy here at Force India.

So would you say it’s a blessing in disguise that you got this move to Force India?

SP: Yeah definitely, yeah of course. I’m thankful that this happened.

Do you think that you’re proving a few people at McLaren wrong?

SP: I don’t feel that, I feel I’m making my team happy. It’s all that I care about, I want to make this team happy, I want to give my best possible job to the team.

And looking at what is going on at McLaren at the moment, again they’re not having a great season, there’s talk of Jenson Button retiring at the end of the year, a new driver going there… Do you have any thoughts on what is going on there? Are there still problems lingering from last season do you think?

SP: The recovery is not easy. We had a bad season last year. The rules changed a lot so everyone expected McLaren to be up there and that they should be doing a lot better than they are. Right now, I don’t know what’s going on inside the team so I don’t want to comment anything. All I know is from last year, so I don’t know really. All you know is all you read in the media, although I have good friends at McLaren. We don’t speak much about racing. Some people inside McLaren tell me sometimes what is going on, but if I’m honest I’m not very interested. I want to focus on my team.

Talking about recovery, Sauber, your old team is really having a tough season. It must be a bit difficult to see given the time you spent there?

SP: Yeah of course that’s very sad for a team like Sauber who is financially struggling so much and facing such tough times right now. They really need a good boost. Last year was already very difficult for them, but I think Nico [Hulkenberg] had an extremely good second half of the season, so that helped them so maybe this year something like that can happen for them.

You mentioned Nico then, you’re eight races into your career at Force India, how is the relationship with him?

SP: Yeah we have a good relationship. We work well together. We are doing a great job for the team and the team is happy, so I think the best is going to come. From now, we have to deliver every single weekend. I had many issues at the beginning of the season, and now it’s the time that we need to deliver every single point that we possibly can.

And do you feel that you’re learning anything from him and vice versa? 

SP: Nico is definitely the strongest teammate I ever had in Formula 1, a very complete driver. He has taken the best out of me. I’m very happy that I had a teammate like him who is pushing me and I believe I am also pushing him, so happy to work with him.

Is this the happiest you’ve been in F1 do you think? Are you now in your best place?

SP: The best place you can be is where you’re winning, but certainly I feel comfortable here. The team believes in me and that’s a big boost. We have great spirit as a team, a very hungry team for winning and for success. That makes me very happy. They let me do my job, they support me and as a driver that’s the best thing you can have.

In terms of the rest of the season for you, have you got any main targets? More podiums? 

SP: Yeah I’d like to score some more podiums, and I believe we can do it as a team, so hopefully in the next races we can score a podium.

And what step would need to be made for you to win a race with Force India? 

SP: Mercedes is quite far [ahead]. We need something like happened in Canada, where we were so close to the win. Nico was having some problems, so I was just running second, but then we had the brake by wire failure. That made my race very difficult. Then I had the clash with Felipe [Massa]. So yeah I think we need to close the gap a bit more to Mercedes, and be in that position, get a bit lucky, and then we can dream of a victory.

Have you and Felipe spoken about that incident yet? We obviously saw in Austria they re-opened the inquiry, and there was a lot of tension between you guys. 

SP: We spoke with the stewards, but we haven’t spoken afterwards.

But to you it’s in the past, done with?

SP: Yes to me it’s done.

Does it bother you when fellow drivers criticize you or do you just move on? 

SP: I moved on. Of course, you don’t expect that kind of things to go around, making a big deal. It is what it is, we have to move on.

There’s talk of Monza being cut from F1. As a driver, that mustn’t be good?

SP: Yeah that would be a big loss for Formula 1. Monza is one of the best grands prix, more historic, and that will be very bad for the fans as well.

And with standing starts, I don’t know your position on that but I think a lot of the drivers have expressed their dismay over this.

SP: It’s a bit unfortunate that we’re having this, but as well at the same place we have to look forward for Formula 1. We need to create more interest in the races and I think Formula 1 is looking for a way to make it more entertaining, and I think the best way to make it entertaining is to give opportunities to more teams to fight for victories. We all know who’s going to win on Sunday, 99%, unless something happens, so this makes F1 very boring. We need more teams in front. Ferrari, McLaren, Williams, teams that are capable of doing that, but you need to give the resources, ask them to come down a bit.

The rules don’t need to change so much, that stabilizes everything, so everyone can do a good job. Of course you will always have teams coming on top like Mercedes, big teams, but you need to close the gap. For example, 2012 with seven different winners happen in the first seven races – it was amazing for F1. So hopefully something like that can happen for the future.

Do you think the rule makers can discuss these ideas more with the drivers and the fans before they jump in and say “this is what is going to happen”?

SP: I think we all have to put our bit into the sport. We all live on this, and we all want to be one of the best sports in the world, which it is, but we need to keep pushing and keep putting in good ideas to make the race on Sunday very competitive, very tight, and spectacular for the fans.

We’ve also got skid blocks coming back to make some sparks, what’s your view on that is that too artificial, do we need it?

SP: Yeah, I think that’s too artificial for Formula 1. We don’t need those things. This sport is good enough itself to sell itself to the world. This is something extra. It doesn’t hurt Formula 1, it doesn’t hurt anyone, so why not? I’m not against it, but what I’m against is the fact that there is too big a difference between the teams, and I don’t think that’s good enough for Formula 1.

So maybe the budget cap that was discussed?

SP: Yes maybe that will help, and also the rules to establish more the rules and don’t change them too much so that teams can close the gap between each other and also help the smaller-medium teams like Force India, Sauber, Williams to raise their games and be in the same level.

Is this something you and the other drivers talk about and is it worth the GPDA maybe going to the FIA and putting your thoughts forwards?

SP: No, we don’t. Every driver has different interests. The ones that are running in the big teams, they want obviously a big margin to the medium teams, and that’s very normal. Because I love Formula 1, I want this sport to keep succeeding for the next generations and stuff. I think we need more teams able to win, and more teams able to fight for podiums. It was great to see Williams on the podium after so long, it was great to see Force India on the podium after so long – we need more of that.

You talk about loving the sport so much, so if there was one thing you could change about the sport, what would that be?

SP: In my opinion, we need this [cost cut]. I really hate that one team is winning every race as a fan, I’m talking as a fan right now. I don’t like that as a fan. I mean, of course every single driver would love to be in the position of Lewis and Nico, having a team that is dominating. But as a fan I don’t like that because it just gets boring. I like to see a couple of teams fighting for the victory, and I think you can do that with reducing the budget gap and also establishing a bit more the rules, and a bit more what you can do on the cars.

In the future it will be great to have Force India, Williams, Sauber fighting against a team like Mercedes. I’m not saying that Force India has to be a champion, but it would be great if they had the opportunity to at least fight for a big result, like one victory, something like that. It’s a big boost for Formula 1, not only for the team but it’s also a boost for Formula 1 to have these kind of results.

Perez ‘pretty certain’ on 2017 team, announcement imminent

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM09 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo locks a wheel under braking on track during practice for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 30, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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SEPANG, Malaysia (AP) Mexican driver Sergio Perez is “pretty certain” which team he will be driving for in the 2017 Formula One season, but stopped short of confirming he will remain with Force India next season.

Force India has an option to retain Perez for next season, contingent on a commercial agreement between team, driver and his personal sponsors.

“Very soon you will have an official announcement,” Perez told reporters following Saturday’s qualifying session at the Malaysian Grand Prix. “I know what I am doing for my future, but I am not in a position yet to confirm it. I am pretty certain what I’m doing, so it’s good.”

Renault had reportedly inquired about signing Perez for next season. If the Mexican stays with Force India, this will be a significant step in firming up the 2017 driver pairings across the mid-range and smaller teams.

It increased the likelihood that Renault will retain at least one of its current drivers, Kevin Magnussen or Jolyon Palmer, while the team remained in the market for an experienced team leader.

There is a 2017 vacancy at Williams to replace the retiring Felipe Massa, and teammate Valtteri Bottas is also yet to be confirmed. The future of Daniil Kvyat at Toro Rosso remains undecided, and the Sauber and Manor teams will seek drivers on the best commercial terms available.

The driver pairings at leading teams Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull will remain unchanged for next season.

Titles, track breakup, cautions peppering Petit Le Mans

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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BRASELTON, Ga. – The 19th annual Petit Le Mans presented by Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort didn’t have a ton of news in the early stages of the race, but it does now as the race has eclipsed the 4-hour mark of the 10-hour race that caps off the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.

The race is under its third full-course caution of the race for a track inspection at Turn 3. Just prior to that, there’d been contact as Fred Makowiecki in the No. 912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR hit the rear of Andy Lally, in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS.

Class leaders at the 4-hour mark, when the first points in the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup are awarded, are:

  • P: 1-10-Jordan Taylor, Corvette DP, 2-5-Joao Barbosa, Corvette DP, 3-60-Ozz Negri, Ligier JS P2 Honda
  • PC: 1-52-Tom Kimber-Smith, 2-38-James French, 3-85-Stephen Simpson
  • GTLM: 1-4-Oliver Gavin, Corvette C7.R, 2-62-Toni Vilander, Ferrari 488 GTE, 3-66-Dirk Mueller, Ford GT
  • GTD: 1-44-Andy Lally, Audi R8 LMS, 2-9-Dion von Moltke, Audi R8, 3-6-Mike Skeen, Audi R8

Here’s some notes thus far:

TITLES CLINCHED

Christina Nielsen drove the opening three-plus hours in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 and by doing so, secured the GT Daytona class championship for both her and co-driver Alessandro Balzan. If at least one Silver or Bronze-rated driver completes that minimum drive time of three hours, that is enough to score points for the pairing.

Nielsen, the 24-year-old Dane, becomes another female driver to win a major sports car championship. There are others – Melanie Snow won American Le Mans Series’ GTC in 2009 and Amy Ruman in Trans-Am last year – while Nielsen’s comes in the deep GTD field that features upwards of six manufacturers and 12 to 22 cars entered in every race this year.

“I’m sad that this is perhaps the last time I get to run the 488 this year, but it’s absolutely amazing that we ran it and it ran so well,” said Nielsen after her three-hour, 8-minute driving stint, via IMSA.

“It’s a nice car to drive, the team did a great job, good pit stops. This just shows what the team has been doing all year. It’s a pleasure to be a part of, they just do so much right and so little wrong. To call ourselves ‘champions’ this early is unbelievable, but we’ve still got an endurance championship to go for so, game on.”

This is a stunning achievement for Giacomo Mattioli’s Scuderia Corsa team, which has now thus far won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, IMSA GT Daytona and Pirelli World Challenge GTA titles this year.

I spoke to both Nielsen and Balzan on Friday, and will have more from them to come in the wake of this championship achievement.

Meanwhile, when the race took the green flag, Chevrolet clinched both Manufacturer’s Championships in Prototype and GT Le Mans. Both manufacturers also have drivers going for Driver’s Championships – the Nos. 31, 5 and 10 Corvette DP pairings in Prototype and the No. 4 Corvette C7.R pairing in GTLM.

TRACK BREAKUP

The most recent caution saw a portion of the track come up at Turn 3, and required crews to survey it. But rather than it being a too lengthy caution, the race has resumed.

If there is an upside to this bit, this isn’t IMSA Race Director Beaux Barfield’s first rodeo dealing with track breakups. He’s also dealt with this in his former career as IndyCar Race Director at Detroit and Houston.

A COUPLE CAUTIONS

The debris caution as noted above, which turned into a longer caution, and an off by Tomy Drissi in the No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09 at Turn 10 are the first two cautions of the race. And now, at four hours and four minutes, we have our third full-course caution of the race.

WOES THUS FAR

The DeltaWing is done with timing chain issues, capping off a frustrating weekend for the hometown team.

The No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT’s chances of usurping the championship from the No. 4 Corvette C7.R in GTLM went away when that car went behind the wall in the third hour. Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook were trying to overcome an 11-point deficit.

The sister No. 3 Corvette C7.R went behind the wall at the start of the third hour with a throttle issue. Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia share that car with Mike Rockenfeller.

Mazda’s No. 55 Prototype had a couple offs with Tristan Nunez driving, then a trip to the pits with electronics issues.

Motor issues have hampered the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Corvette DP of Ryan Dalziel, Marc Goossens and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Pressing on wounded with what Mike Shank told IMSA Radio was an “issue in the left rear” earlier in the race, and now confirmed as having broken drive pins, is the pace-setting No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda of Olivier Pla, Ozz Negri and John Pew.

An alternator belt issue has slowed the No. 16 Change Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3, driven by Spencer Pumpelly, Corey Lewis and Richard Antinucci.

First car behind the wall with a possible suspension issue was the No. 7 Starworks Motorsport Oreca FLM09 of Stefano Coletti, Quinlan Lall and James Dayson. Coletti then spun again when back on track.

Brake issues have slowed the PC-leading No. 8 Starworks Motorsport entry of David Heinemeier Hansson, Alex Popow and Renger van der Zande.

There’s also been a charging system issue for the No. 100 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM.

F1 team chiefs wary of possible expansion of calendar

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 30:  Franz Tost of Scuderia Toro Rosso and Austria during the Team Managers Press Conference at the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 30, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)
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Four Formula 1 team bosses have expressed their concern over a possible expansion of the series’ calendar beyond its current 21 races in the future.

F1 was acquired by Liberty Media Corporation last month in a deal worth an estimated $8 billion, with the company expressing a desire to take F1 to new markets and expand its presence in the United States.

As a result, it is believed that the existing figure of 21 races in a season could be surpassed in the future, with as many as 25 rounds in a year being mooted.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference, four F1 team chiefs were asked about the possibility of going beyond 21 races in the future, with all expressing concern.

“I think we are at the limit already so if there would be more races, we would have to have a rotating system with staff people,” McLaren racing director Eric Boullier said.

“And no, we don’t have reserve people back in the factory so that means we would have to hire some people.”

“I think that 20/21 races is quite a good number and if additional races come onto the calendar we also would have to think of a rotating system to bring in more people,” Toro Rosso’s Franz Tost added.

“Because otherwise it’s difficult to handle everything but if we have more races, we also have more income and therefore it shouldn’t be a problem.

“In the end, there must be a profit for the teams otherwise it doesn’t make sense.”

“I go back to the days when we had 14 races and that was too many,” Manor’s Dave Ryan said.

“21 feels like it’s too many but if they’re talking 25 races… I guess it depends what the package is. Maybe they are two-day events, maybe it’s a different format.

“Until we know what they really are asking for or what they’re thinking of, it may be that it works or not. We just have to wait and see.”

Force India’s Bob Fernley added: “Same as Eric. We would need to increase the personnel significantly to be able to bring in reserves.”

Reflecting on Liberty’s takeover itself, the team chiefs were largely enthusiastic, believing it to be a positive step for F1.

“I assume that Liberty Media, as they belong to a very financially strong group, have a quite clear programme and plan of what they want to do with Formula 1,” Tost said.

“Personally, I hope that Formula 1 will become much more interesting in America, that we will hopefully have three races over there. I expect that especially on the media side they will work on our weak platform, the digital media and social media, and then for the smaller teams, from 2021 onwards, the money is being distributed in a much fairer way and equal to the teams and last but not least, together with the FIA, they will find a way to reduce costs in Formula 1.”

“At McLaren we are very positive about the arrival of Liberty. They are used managing big business, connecting fans to media, so we believe it’s good for Formula 1,” Boullier said.

“At the same time, I think they will take their time to understand the business, where they want to bring the business, the show, the entertainment, to which level. We will see what they suggest and plan.”

“I met [new F1 chairman] Chase Carey for the first time, I found him extremely approachable and willing to listen, but I think it’s far too early to make any predictions of where things are going to go or even opinions on that,” Fernley added.

“I think they need time to be able to look at where they are going and what plans they have for Formula 1 and then once they make their announcements on the direction they want to go I think then maybe we can make some comments but it’s too early to judge at this point.”

Magnussen: P14 on grid in Malaysia ‘much better than usual’

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - OCTOBER 01:  Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS16 Renault RE16 turbo in the Pitlane during qualifying for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on October 1, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Kevin Magnussen felt delighted to match his second-best qualifying result of the 2016 Formula 1 season in Malaysia on Saturday, finishing 14th for Renault in Q2.

Magnussen has scored all seven of Renault’s points since its return to F1 as a constructor in 2016, the most recent coming in Singapore two weeks ago when he finished 10th.

Magnussen is known to be fighting for his future as Renault continues to deliberate its line-up for 2017, and did his chances a world of good by charging to 14th in qualifying on Saturday.

Magnussen finished 13th in Q1 to secure a Q2 berth, where he ended up P14 ahead of both Toro Rosso drivers despite making an error on his final lap as he chased an elusive place in Q3.

“It’s a very good result for us in qualifying. P14 is much better than usual in terms of setting us up for scoring some points in the race,” Magnussen said.

“But it’s an ambivalent result as I felt so close to Q3 that I couldn’t resist giving it everything I’ve got on my final run; I locked up in Turn 1 and lost the lap. I didn’t improve after that so it’s unfortunate.

“From P14, not a lot has to happen in the top ten for us to get points, which is always the aim. Let’s see tomorrow, hopefully our race pace is as good as qualifying today.

“You never really know how it will go here, so fingers crossed!”

Teammate Jolyon Palmer was left ruing a mistake at the final corner of his final Q1 lap as he finished 19th, four-tenths of a second off Magnussen’s time.

“I’ll be frank: my lap was pretty far from what it should have been. I made the wrong call on set-up between my runs and the lap just didn’t come together,” Palmer conceded.

“This was particularly frustrating as the pace has looked promising all weekend and there’s definitely better possible from the car here.

“Tomorrow I’ll be pushing all the way to make amends especially as this is a track where moving up the order is possible.”

The Malaysian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 2am ET on Sunday.