Sergio Perez: Target is to “keep improving” after Bahrain podium

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Formula One returns to action this coming weekend in China, and Force India’s Sergio Perez is ready to build upon his podium finish in the most recent race at Bahrain.

Perez fought off Daniel Ricciardo to earn his first podium since the 2012 season and just the second in the Silverstone team’s history (Giancarlo Fisichella, 2009, Belgium). Now, the Mexican hopes that he can remain a podium threat, starting with the Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai.

“The target is to move on, keep improving and target more podiums,” he said in a team release. “Bahrain was the first real opportunity I had to develop the car through the weekend without any issues, so it felt like my season really started there.

“Now we need to think about how we can do better in China. At the same time, we must not get carried away because we know how competitive Formula One is and how things can change very quickly.”

But while China beckons, Perez still understandably is on a high after his hard-earned result in the desert.

“To get the podium in Bahrain was great,” he said. “My last podium was a long time ago, so to fight at the front again feels good. We knew we were quick and I made sure I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

“It’s a great result for this team and a big boost of confidence for me.”

That boost can’t hurt Perez as he looks to post a strong run at Shanghai, a circuit that has not been an especially strong one for him in his career. In the last two Chinese Grand Prix, he’s fallen just short of the points with 11th place finishes in 2012 with Sauber and in 2013 with McLaren.

But with Force India clearly enjoying its advantage with the Mercedes engine, his expectations will no doubt be much higher than that this time around. That’s certainly the case for his boss, team owner Vijay Mallya.

“I think we’ve shown in the first few races that we have produced a competitive car,” he said in the same release. “Bahrain was not just a one-off and we’ve been improving with each race.

“…The aim is to repeat the podium, but each race is different and the field is so competitive that it’s impossible to predict. Some tracks will suit us more than others, but I want to see us up there fighting towards the front.”

Here’s who were picking to win the Indy 500 — who are YOU picking?

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Several members of the NBC Sports motorsports staff have made their predictions on who will win Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Of the six voters, two are going with 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden, while two others are going with Helio Castroneves to win a fourth 500, which would tie him with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Here’s our picks. Who are YOU picking?

Leigh Diffey: Helio Castroneves — He drives the place better than anyone else. For me (for what its worth) he deserves a fourth 500 ring for the frustration he went through never getting the IndyCar title!

Townsend Bell: Josef Newgarden

Nate Ryan: Simon Pagenaud — All of his 2018 misfortune on the track has disappeared in May, and it culminates in the biggest victory of his career.

Jerry Bonkowski: Helio Castroneves – There’s no pressure as he pursues his fourth Indy 500 win. All Helio has to do, as late NFL owner Al Davis would say, is “Just win, baby!” (But if Helio falls short, watch for Marco Andretti)

Kyle Lavigne: Josef Newgarden — I think he has everything he needs to get it done this year.

Dan Beaver: Robert Wickens – Has driven like anything except a rookie and his second-place finish at Phoenix proves he’s just as good on an oval as the road courses.

Follow: Jerry Bonkowski