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.

Lewis Hamilton sets rapid pace to open F1 2017 in Australia FP1

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Lewis Hamilton kicked off Formula 1’s new technical era in style by heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes in opening practice for the Australian Grand Prix on Friday morning in Melbourne.

Despite predictions from many that Ferrari and Red Bull would pose a greater challenge at the top of the timesheets in Australia, FP1 offered a familiar result as Hamilton led home new teammate Valtteri Bottas.

The added downforce of the new-style 2017 cars had the desired effect of slashing lap times, with Hamilton’s best effort of 1:24.220 being less than four-tenths of a second off his pole position time for last year’s race.

Bottas made a good impression in his first F1 weekend session in Mercedes colors, leading the bulk of the session before Hamilton jumped ahead on the ultrasoft tires with around 30 minutes remaining.

Daniel Ricciardo led Red Bull’s charge, finishing third ahead of teammate Max Verstappen, but Ferrari decided against showing its hand early and limited its running, only pushing for fast laps in the final 15 minutes of the session.

Kimi Raikkonen ended FP1 fifth in the SF70H, 1.1 seconds off Hamilton’s best time, while Vettel was a further tenth back in P6.

The session went by without any major incident, although a handful of drivers did have minor technical issues that are part and parcel of the first session of the year.

McLaren’s difficulties continued from pre-season as Stoffel Vandoorne was limited to just 10 laps, while Jolyon Palmer and Esteban Ocon also had their running cut due to problems. All three featured in the bottom five of the standings.

Times are below:

Sean Gelael set for Toro Rosso F1 tests in 2017

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Formula 2 driver Sean Gelael will play a part in this year’s in-season Formula 1 test running after agreeing a deal with Toro Rosso.

Gelael, 20, raced full-time in GP2 last year before the championship evolved into F2, scoring one podium finish in Austria.

The Indonesian driver also appeared in the final three rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship, scoring an LMP2 podium for Extreme Speed Motorsports in Shanghai.

Gelael will race in F2 this year with Arden, but will also get his first taste of F1 machinery in the upcoming tests for Toro Rosso.

All F1 teams will get four days of in-season running this year (two in Bahrain, two in Hungary following their respective races) as well as the traditional end-of-year test in Abu Dhabi.

Gelael will feature in all three for Toro Rosso, having undergone a seat fitting at Faenza earlier this week.

All F1 teams are required to allocate at least half of their in-season running to junior drivers who have made fewer than two grand prix starts.

Gelael will make his first appearance for Toro Rosso following the Bahrain Grand Prix, with running set to take place at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 18 and 19.

More speed, but will Formula 1 be more of the same?

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Faster cars and fiercer competition are the great expectations of the new regulations in Formula One, yet the championship outlook hasn’t altered much ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton remains the hot favorite to win another title for Mercedes.

Hamilton won 10 GP events last season and was close to claiming his fourth drivers’ title but was narrowly beaten by his teammate Nico Rosberg, who secured Mercedes a third consecutive championship and then retired.

While Hamilton talked about wanting more drivers competing for the title, and even tipped Ferrari to be quickest this weekend, he’s already lining up a victory he thinks would be unprecedented.

“I don’t believe (any) team has won back-to-back through rule regulation changes,” Hamilton said Thursday during the first official news conference ahead of Sunday’s race. “So that’s our goal as a team. We’re here to win. We’re here to do what no-one else has done.

“I have every belief in my team that we can do that.”

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel won four consecutive season titles from 2010-13 while he was racing for Red Bull, so he knows what it’s like to be in Hamilton’s position. He has no doubt who is favorite this season, regardless of the rule changes that dictated wider tires, greater aerodynamics, bigger fuel loads and increased downforce and which are expected to make the heavier cars faster.

“Obviously Mercedes has been in a very, very strong form the last three years and even with changes to the rules and regulations, if the team is strong then they will build a strong car the year after, no matter what they do,” Vettel said. “It is very clear who is the favorite.

“For all of us sitting here we are obviously trying our best to catch up. As the season goes on obviously, I’m sure the cars will have big progression.”

Ferrari had good results in the eight days of pre-season testing, and Hamilton predicted Vettel and former champion Kimi Raikkonen would have the fastest cars in the first practice sessions Friday and Saturday.

“I see Ferrari being the quickest at the moment – and I think they’ll definitely be the favorites,” said Hamilton, who was joined at Mercedes this season by former Williams driver Valterri Bottas. “It’s interesting to see, Sebastian is usually a lot more hype. I can tell he’s trying to keep a lid on it. But their pace was obviously great in testing.”

Hamilton said he couldn’t judge the pace of the Red Bulls in testing, saying they were “quite far behind” and he didn’t see many upgrades to the cars.

“I’m assuming they’re bringing something new,” he said, “which I’m excited to see.”

Daniel Ricciardo finished as the highest-ranked of the non-Mercedes drivers last season, winning the Malaysian GP and placing third in the season standings. He concedes Hamilton will start favorite, but is hoping for a shakeup at the top.

“I think for everyone it’s like when Red Bull were dominating a few years ago – everyone wanted to see someone else win,” Ricciardo said. “It’s natural that people like change.

“For us drivers, not being in Mercedes, we want to see change as well. Even for the fact to have more cars fighting for the win makes it more exciting.”

Hamilton wanted more frequent changes to the regulations, to keep the cars getting faster and the competition “spicier.”

That’s something on which all the leading drivers could agree.

If Hamilton “wins a race against four of us as opposed to maybe just his teammate I think that reward is bigger as well,” said Ricciardo, who is aiming to be the first Australian to win the Australian GP since it became part of the world championship in 1985.

“If you can win against more … that feeling of self-accomplishment is greater. Ferrari showed good pace in testing. If they can take a few points away as well it kind of opens up the championship over the long time.”

Faster F1 cars means bigger, stronger drivers for 2017

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Renault driver Niko Hulkenberg has the kind of name that sounds like big could be his thing.

In Formula One seasons past, muscle bulk hasn’t really been the key requirement for drivers, with work on endurance being the focus of training in the gym. The new regulations in F1 have made the cars bigger and faster, prefacing an era that has the drivers and fans more excited than usual, and so the pilots have to follow suit.

“The cars are like driving a very fast and spectacular roller-coaster and it’s a lot more demanding than before,” Hulkenberg said ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. “Now you have to wrestle these cars!

“The tires allow you to push harder every lap, so you can exploit and be on the limit. It’s a lot more work and a lot more demanding. There’s a lot that’s new, but the game is still the same.”

Lewis Hamilton has worked out the game, winning three drivers’ titles, so he’s more than ready to up the ante.

“As racing drivers in general you want to drive the quickest cars in the world and I think you always want to go faster,” the Mercedes driver said. “The cars are faster than what they were last year. The challenge of exploiting that speed with your car on the track is a great challenge and it’s more in the direction of how F1 should be in the sense of the physicality side of it.”

Hamilton, who won back-to-back titles with Mercedes in 2014 and ’15 and narrowly missed out to teammate Nico Rosberg last season, considers himself as much an athlete as a driver.

“F1 should be the most physically demanding sport in terms of all the driving series,” he said. “In previous years that hasn’t been the case – it hasn’t been to the level that we train to, is relatively easy for us to do – now you have to really push the boundaries, which I like.”

The F1 rule changes means wider tires, greater aerodynamics, bigger fuel loads and increased downforce, which have made the cars heavier but also significantly faster.

The tires, which are 25 percent wider, have more grip and are more durable, enabling drivers to push harder through the corners.

Even though Mercedes dominated under the previous regulations, Hamilton was a big advocate for the changes.

“Doing drastic changes kind of spices it up,” he said. “I have never seen the fans so excited about a season as they are this season … we don’t know where the cars and teams are, so more of these kind of experiences would be welcome.”

Toto Wolff, the head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, said Hamilton and his teammate Valtteri Bottas were in prime shape to make the most of the changes.

“It’s an exciting time for them because these new cars are a real physical challenge,” he said. “Both felt from testing that the G-Forces are enormous and they are embracing the new challenge.”

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel expects his ’17-edition Ferrari to be the fastest car he’s driven.

“For us, what really gives us a good feeling is cornering speed – I think we’re back to the level we’ve been 10 years ago, maybe a bit faster,” he said. “Nice to have the feeling that you’re in the fastest cars that you’ve ever driven.”

Vettel is among the drivers who have been working on neck and shoulder strength in particular, to handle the extra load. Daniel Ricciardo finished third in the season standings for Red Bull last year, behind the two Mercedes. He’s put in extra work to ensure he’s stronger physically, knowing that it could make a serious difference. And while he’s no hulking ball of muscle, he’s noticeably bigger than he was in 2016.

“It’s more physical this year,” he said. “We’ve all done our work in the offseason – it’s been fun to put more emphasis on the training.”

Fernando Alonso is one of the veterans of the circuit, having won back-to-back titles for Renault in 2005-06 and having stints at McLaren, Renault and Ferrari after that and before he rejoined McLaren. He’s had two tough seasons, finishing 17th and 10th, so he doesn’t mind doing the extra gym work as long as his car grows with him.

“I’m incredibly motivated and I can’t wait to see what kind of racing this new shake-up of the sport will bring,” he said. “We already know the sport is a lot more physical and the cars are more challenging to drive – from a driver’s point of view this is exactly what we were looking for in the new regulations. I really hope this will translate to good battles on track.”