Perez scores first top-five of year, but Force India still with much to analyze (VIDEO)

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Coming out of the first sector on the first lap, the graphic read: 1: PER.

As, at Sector 1, Sergio Perez in the Force India-Mercedes led the Belgian Grand Prix. Perez got a monster run coming out of Eau Rouge after Lewis Hamilton didn’t fully hit his marks, and he moved to the outside of the Mercedes driver down the Kemmel Straight, but was unable to fully complete the pass around the outside into Les Combes.

He didn’t get to complete the lap in the lead, but it still marked the best moment of the season for the improving team with its updated chassis, as Perez was scored second at the end of the first lap.

An early pit stop was required to cover Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull, with the two ultimately set to battle over the final podium position behind the outright quicker pair of Mercedes W06s, who would later streak off into the distance. Perez pitted at that point and switched from Pirelli’s softs to softs, then pitted a second time for new mediums for the final 23 laps of what became a 43-lap race.

Perez would later drop back and it was with some disappointment that he ended fifth at the end of the race, even though it is still both his and the team’s best result of the year by a somewhat decent margin (previous best had been seventh on three occasions, twice by Nico Hulkenberg and once by Perez).

Perez described his race afterwards, as this was in theory the closest he has come to a podium result since coming third at the 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix.

“Fifth place and ten points is a good result, but we just lacked the pace to really fight for the podium today,” Perez said.

“My start was very strong and I was close to taking the lead on lap one when I was alongside Lewis [Hamilton] after Eau Rouge.

“I settled into a good rhythm, but we had very high degradation on the soft tires in the first two stints. It was a bit better on the medium, although we struggled in the middle sector with our low downforce set-up and that hurt my pace.

“We were racing some quick cars and it was hard to fight off Grosjean and Kvyat, so it’s clear we need to analyze our performance and see where we can improve. I’m already looking forward to the next race in Monza, which is another track where I think we can be competitive.”

While Perez banked the needed 10 points to keep Force India firmly in the fight for fifth in the Constructor’s Championship, they lost a spot to Lotus, who scored 15 points by way of Romain Grosjean’s first podium since Austin 2013.

Hulkenberg’s race however ended before it even had the chance to begin. The German was sidelined off the grid with a loss of power.

Santino Ferrucci will drive No. 14 for AJ Foyt Racing full time in 2023 IndyCar season

Santino Ferrucci AJ Foyt
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Santino Ferrucci will return to full-time racing in the NTT IndyCar Series next season, joining AJ Foyt Racing.

Ferrucci had made eight IndyCar starts with three teams since his last full-time season in 2020 while also racing part time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.

He will drive the storied No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet for four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt’s team, which will field the car from its Waller, Texas headquarters.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be back in the INDYCAR Series full time,” Ferrucci said in a team release. “Being a part-time driver over the last two years has been hard for me, personally. I’m a race car driver, and I want to compete. Working with different teams has been exciting, and I’m proud that no matter which car I’ve raced, I’ve always shown speed and consistency. I couldn’t be more excited to join AJ Foyt Racing in the 14 Chevy. I can’t wait to make the best of it.”

Ferrucci, 24, had finished a career-best fourth in IndyCar four times, including the 104th Indy 500 in 2020. He was the 2019 Indy 500 rookie of the year with a sixth.

In nine Xfinity starts since 2021, Ferrucci has a career-best finish of 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I am thrilled to welcome Santino to the team,” Larry Foyt said in a release. “He’s shown a knack for getting toward the front of the field, and I think he is a racer who moves forward on race day. A.J. sees the fire in him and has enjoyed their meetings together. I think Santino’s experience will help his rookie teammate as well, so he is a great addition to our roster.”

Ferrucci will be teamed at AJ Foyt Racing with Benjamin Pedersen, who finished fifth in the 2022 Indy Lights standings. The team has yet to specify the number for Pedersen’s entry, which will be fielded out of its Indianapolis race shop.

Foyt’s two full-time drivers last season were Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood, who is moving to Andretti Autosport.