Vijay Mallya insists that his Force India team can still reclaim fifth place in the constructors' championship, despite coming under late-season pressure from Sauber for sixth.

Having sat ahead of McLaren for much of the early part of the season, Mallya and Force India know how it feels to be 'best of the rest' behind the 'big four' of Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus, but has slipped off the pace since the post-Silverstone change of tyre specification and is now within the sights of Sauber, as the Swiss team enjoys a late resurgence.

While Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull run away with the individual and team titles, McLaren and Sauber are split by just 38 points, with Force India caught in the middle, 21 points behind the Woking squad and 17 ahead of its pursuer with four races still to run in 2013. Mallya, however, insists that, despite diverting almost all of its resources towards next year's car, his team can not only resist Sauber, but also take the fight to McLaren before the final chequered flag in Brazil next month.

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"Yes, there was a time earlier this season when we were in fifth position, ahead of McLaren but, if we perform well over the next four races, there's no reason why we can't regain fifth," he told journalists ahead of his home grand prix, "As I said earlier, [Sauber] has certainly given us a wake-up call, so we will do everything we can to stay in sixth.

"Yes, we've dedicated our resources to the development of the 2014 car, but I was quite pleased with the free practice performance today. It's certainly a step ahead from Japan and Korea, so that gives me confidence we are heading in the right direction. I realise the constraints under which we are operating, because the window available to us mechanically is quite a short one but, having said that, I think the results will speak for themselves going forward."

Mallya makes no secret of the fact that he - and others in the Force India operation - believe that the forced change of tyre specification has harmed the team's performance since the German Grand Prix.

"Absolutely!" he maintained, "The change in the tyres has been more than just detrimental to us. Within the mechanical design of the car, it's proving very difficult for us to get optimum tyre performance. We've dedicated all our R&D tools to the 2014 car, so we are handicapped in a sense but, having said that, I think we are understanding tyres and the constraints under which we are operating slightly better.

"We've certainly fared better today than we did in Japan or Korea and I think we'll attempt to even improve on this before the remaining races. [Sauber] has certainly woken us up - we are now wide awake and, hopefully, we will hang on to our current sixth position in the constructors' championship, though [Sauber] is getting dangerously close. The tyres have not been the best for us in the second half of the season but, hopefully, whatever we suffer this year will be a good investment for next year's car."

Sauber's Monisha Kaltenborn insists that the upturn in performance from the Hinwil team has not been unexpected, despite its form almost mirroring that of Force India.

"It didn't really catch us by surprise that we improved our performance," she claimed, "We always believed in it and we had reason to believe in it, but it does make it a lot easier and credible for the team if you can really show that result in points. We could see that upward trend from Hungary on, but the points were not coming in, so it's good if they can be shown like this to the outside."

In contrast to its main rival, Kaltenborn believes that Sauber actually benefited from the tyre change forced on the teams after the dramas of Silverstone.

"The big difference has been the package, the aerodynamic package we brought in in Hungary," she insisted, "That was a big step for us and we could see that this was really going into the right direction. It counts for more than 50 per cent of this improvement.

"We then, of course, got a better understanding of the car, which allowed us to operate it differently, to use different set-ups we hadn't been using before. But then, I think to be fair about it, the change in the tyres was - unlike last year - not against us this time, and we benefited maybe more than others from it. All of this together, and of course a great performance by the team and the drivers, adds to it."

Both Sauber and Force India have yet to confirm their respective driver line-ups for 2014, with none of the current foursome - Nico Hulkenberg, Esteban Gutierrez, Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta - having inked a deal.