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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.

Alonso’s Honda power unit cleared for Malaysia after Singapore clash

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Fernando Alonso’s incredible start at the Singapore Grand Prix offered the possibility of huge points, before he got collected at Turn 1 in the wake of the Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel start-line crash.

But with Alonso’s McLaren Honda getting speared on the left side of the car, there were concerns his Honda power unit had been damaged beyond repair ahead of this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

Somewhat fortunately considering the fractured and now set-for-divorce Alonso, McLaren and Honda relationship, Honda has confirmed this power unit was actually OK despite the first lap contact in Singapore.

“We were concerned that it may have been irreparably damaged, but fortunately after a thorough check back at the Sakura factory we can confirm it is okay to be re-used,” said Yusuke Hasegawa, Honda R&D Co. Ltd Head of F1 Project & Executive Chief Engineer.

Alonso, of course quite frustrated to have lost out on a potential big points haul in Singapore, is hoping similarly changeable conditions could give McLaren Honda a spark in Malaysia this weekend. Stoffel Vandoorne fortunately picked up six points for the team with seventh place there, his best result of the season and his career thus far.

“After Singapore, I’m already eager to get back into the car and hopefully make it further than the first corner in Malaysia! Of course, what happened was disappointing and it’s difficult to hide your frustration when you’re the victim of someone else’s incident. I felt we had the potential to be really competitive – one of our only opportunities of the year – and it’s a shame we couldn’t bring home the points to prove it, but these things happen,” he said.

“The conditions in Malaysia will be very similar to Singapore – hot, humid and challenging for the drivers and the car. The configuration will work less in our favor, but of course we will still fight for everything. There are six races left and we are still putting all our energy in finishing every race in the best possible position we can.”

Aston Martin to become Red Bull Racing’s title sponsor

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The link-up between Aston Martin and Red Bull Racing has now gone to the next level, with Aston Martin confirming Monday it will be Red Bull Racing’s title sponsor from 2018.

Key within the release was also the suggestion that Aston Martin will “evaluate the opportunity to be involved in the team’s power unit from 2021 after being asked by the FIA to join discussions on future engines for F1.”

Red Bull Racing’s engine situation is unclear after 2018, with Renault – badged as TAG Heuer – in the last planned year of its deal next season. Honda has entered the Red Bull racing umbrella thanks to its new deal with Scuderia Toro Rosso from 2018, and rumors of Porsche’s return to Formula 1 from 2021 have also swirled in recent weeks.

Rather funnily this means in 2018 that Red Bull Racing will have a car manufacturer be title sponsor for the energy drink company, with a watch manufacturer serving as the badged name of its power unit.

“Title partnership is the next logical step for our Innovation Partnership with Red Bull Racing. We are enjoying the global brand awareness that a revitalized Formula One provides,” said Aston Martin President and CEO, Andy Palmer.

“The power unit discussions are of interest to us but only if the circumstances are right. We are not about to enter an engine war with no restrictions in cost or dynamometer hours but we believe that if the FIA can create the right environment we would be interested in getting involved.”

Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing team principal, added: “Our Innovation Partnership with Aston Martin has been a pioneering project from day one. Having conceived and created the remarkably successful Valkyrie together in 2016, we extended our relationship this year and are now delighted to further strengthen the Partnership and see the team competing as Aston Martin Red Bull Racing in 2018. In addition, more than 100 Aston Martin staff will service the new Advanced Performance Centre on our campus here in Milton Keynes and it will allow us to collaborate further with Aston Martin on special, equally innovative, new projects.”

The Aston Martin Valkyrie, the hypercar produced by the two parties, has been their major product sign of investment together thus far. Per Aston Martin the car has sold out on launch, and will make its road debut in 2018 before being delivered to customers in 2019.

Personnel wise, the two parties have worked together to create the Advanced Performance Centre, which will create more than 100 new jobs and continue to build the relationship between F1 and road car technology.

NHRA: Brittany Force breaks through among Reading winners

Photo: Gary Nastase and Auto Imagery
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John Force saw one of his daughters break through in the Reading round of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ Countdown while another lost by a hair in the finals.

Brittany Force captured the Top Fuel win, her second of the season, for her first since in Epping, N.H. in June. The defeat of Steve Torrence came with a 3.756-second pass at 326.24 mph. She’d been to the finals twice at Maple Grove Raceway before winning Sunday.

“Looking at it, we did not have an easy ladder,” Force said. “It was tough all day long and the Monster team killed it all day long. We turned a corner at the right time and we’re right in the Countdown picture.

“This is a huge win for us. This team had to fight all day long and I’m so proud of them. They are the best team to work with, and I’m so pumped going into the Countdown to work with them. This Monster team, we’re going after the championship.”

Courtney Force came up short in Funny Car, losing out to Ron Capps, who secured his seventh win of the season. Capps’  pass came at 3.968 seconds to Force’s 3.993, and Capps took over the points lead in the process.

“We got lucky a little bit in the first round, but we feel like our hard work makes our own luck for us and we were fortunate to win it with consistency,” Capps said, via NHRA.com. “We know this Funny Car class is as tough as it’s ever been, so we know this won’t be easy through the last four races of the year.”

Bo Butner (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) took the other two class wins on the day.

IMSA: Dramatic finishes, popular winners at Mazda Raceway

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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The penultimate round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca featured three first-time winners this year in the Prototype, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona classes – all of whom boast fascinating stories.

In Prototype and overall, Renger van der Zande and Marc Goossens delivered the first overall win of the year for an LMP2-spec car versus a Daytona Prototype international (DPi), and after a dramatic week for the Troy Flis-led VISIT FLORIDA Racing team.

Van der Zande and Goossens were only in their second race start with the team’s new No. 90 Ligier JS P217 Gibson, which replaced the troublesome Riley Multimatic Mk. 30 chassis run through Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in July.

Running second into the final few minutes of the two-hour, 40-minute race, van der Zande unleashed his inner Alex Zanardi at Mazda Raceway’s iconic corner, the Corkscrew, going down the inside of Penske Acura-bound Dane Cameron in his second-to-last race with Action Express Racing aboard its No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.

Cameron left the door open just enough for van der Zande to slide through, with his momentum carrying through the inside of the left-handed downhill apex and then back onto the right-handed second portion of the corner in line.

He pulled away from there en route to the team’s first victory of the year at a track where it had won before, as recently as two years ago with Richard Westbrook and Michael Valiante in a Corvette DP.

The win comes after a week when the Florida-based team, with the likelihood of change to its partner portfolio if VISIT FLORIDA support doesn’t continue into 2018, incurred damage at its shop from Hurricane Irma. Van der Zande joked on the FOX Sports broadcast after the race he might get a tattoo of the Corkscrew after the win.

With third place in their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R, Jordan and Ricky Taylor built their points lead to an unofficial gap of 29 points over Cameron and Eric Curran, the defending champions, with one race remaining. The Taylors will be set to clinch the Prototype title at Motul Petit Le Mans by starting the race, on October 7.

The GT classes featured two other cool stories and maiden 2017 winners.

In GT Le Mans, John Edwards broke a long winless drought sharing his No. 24 BMW M6 GTLM with Martin Tomczyk, in the revised black livery for the BMW Team RLL car. Edwards held off Toni Vilander in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE at the flag, on a fuel save run.

The No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR was third ahead of the No. 3 Corvette C7.R, with points leaders Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen set to carry a 19-point lead over Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe in their No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT heading to Motul Petit Le Mans.

GT Daytona points leaders Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen, in their anticipated second-to-last race together in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 this year (Nielsen told RACER over the weekend she’ll leave the team at year’s end, following the end of her two-year contract), finally got on the board this year after a wealth of podiums but no wins.

Balzan moved into the lead following Colin Braun’s late splash for fuel, which denied the No. 54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R lineup of Braun and Jon Bennett a potential first win in class.

Balzan and Nielsen have a 25-point lead over Jeroen Bleekemolen in GTD – Bleekemolen and Ben Keating finished eighth today in their No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3 – and are poised to wrap their second straight class title at Motul Petit Le Mans.

RESULTS