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Formula 1 2017 team preview: Force India

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Force India’s rise continued in 2016 as it became the mightiest of Formula 1’s mighty midfielders, scoring its best-ever finish in the constructors’ championship by ending the year in an impressive fourth place.

Widely regarded as being one of F1’s best pound-for-pound teams, there is still plenty of scope for Force India to continue its growth as it looks to establish itself towards the front of the grid.

DRIVERS

11. Sergio Perez (Mexico)
31. Esteban Ocon (France)

CAR

Force India VJM10

ENGINE

Mercedes M08 EQ Power+

TEAM CHIEFS

Vijay Mallya (team principal/owner)
Bob Fernley (deputy team principal)
Otmar Szafnauer (chief operating officer)
Andrew Green (technical director)

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 10: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM10 on track during the final day of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 10, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

What went right in 2016: Quite a bit. Force India started the year trailing Williams in the pecking order but was able to pull ahead despite putting its 2016 car updates on hold rather early in the year. Sergio Perez was excellent throughout the year, taking two well-deserved podiums in Monaco and Baku. He was the stand-out star of the weekend in Azerbaijan. Nico Hulkenberg was consistent, and the team looked pretty comfortable in the race for fourth come the end of the year.

What went wrong in 2016: It’s hard to see where Force India could have done better last year. Its budget is one of the smallest on the grid, so to have beaten the likes of Williams and McLaren is a massive result. Hulkenberg was perhaps a little underwhelming at times, but otherwise, coming up squat here!

What’s changed for 2017: The charge to fourth in the constructors’ championship offered Force India a welcome boost in prize money, so things will be a bit easier on the financial front in 2017. Esteban Ocon has arrived from Manor following Hulkenberg’s switch to Renault. Ocon won the GP3 title in 2015 and is a Mercedes junior, so to see him racing in an upper-midfield car will be of interest. Oh, and the car is pink. Very pink.

What they’ll be looking to accomplish in 2017: More of the same. A breakthrough victory is really the next step Force India can take, and with the new technical regulations fresh for everyone, this is perhaps the team’s best chance of doing so. Tire management will become key once again, playing to the strengths of Perez, while Ocon has plenty of credentials from his junior career. Realistically, P4 in the constructors’ should be the aim once again with at least three podiums.

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 09: Esteban Ocon of France driving the (31) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM10 on track during day three of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 9, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

MST PREDICTIONS

Luke Smith: F1’s favorite midfield team really needs to be pushing for more of the same this year. The pace difference between the Mercedes/Red Bull/Ferrari triumvirate at the front of the field and the rest of the pack is great, so really, any race where Force India can finish better than P7 and P8 is a result. Fourth in the constructors’ should be the aim ahead of Williams, and I think it’s very achievable. Force India was consistent through testing and has pace in its pocket, so I’ll back Perez and Ocon to take a podium apiece this year en route to P4 in the constructors’ championship.

Tony DiZinno: The car’s design and livery – first in its launch livery and now later in its new pink, magenta and silver hue – have been more of the talking points this offseason than its on-track testing performance. Force India has arrived in the top four in the constructor’s championship, and the occasional surprise and overachieving isn’t going to be enough to keep it there. Sergio Perez is clear team leader and the pressure will be on Esteban Ocon to score enough points in his arrival here to keep them there. His mentality seems right for it though. A few more podiums and consistent top-six placings should be the goal.

Kyle Lavigne: Sahara Force India are possibly the most intriguing of the midfield teams. They enjoyed a solid 2016 season as the “best of the rest” behind Mercedes, Red Bull, and Ferrari. Their fourth place in the constructor’s championship was buoyed by a pair of podiums from Sergio Perez, who returns to the team alongside newcomer Esteban Ocon, who impressed in his testing outings. Force India did not show quite the same pace as the teams at the sharp end of the field, but they showed more than enough to be a genuine darkhorse for podium finishes, particularly if drivers from the “Big 3” stumble.

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.