Another strong performance from the Sahara Force India team may not have been enough to keep Red Bull at bay, but the Silverstone team remains among the top three performers in F1 over the first four races of the 2014 season.
Both Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez finished in the points – the German maintaining a 100 per cent record he shares with only championship leader Nico Rosberg, third-placed Fernando Alonso and Williams' Valtteri Bottas – as Force India racked up another ten-point haul from the Chinese Grand Prix. The addition moves the team onto 54 points for the year and, while that is a full 100 behind runaway leaders Mercedes, it leaves them only three behind reigning champions RBR, who managed to get both cars home ahead of the predominantly black FI machines in Shanghai.
"Coming away from China with another ten points in our pocket - and third place in the teams' standings - is a very good effort,” insisted deputy team principal Robert Fernley, “To have 54 points after four races is an excellent effort and we can be pleased with the consistency we have shown over a variety of different circuits.”
“We never expected Shanghai to be our strongest track, so I think we can feel pretty satisfied with our performance over the entire weekend. Nico's race was relatively straightforward and we judged the tyre strategy correctly as he held off Bottas in the final stint. Sergio, meanwhile, staged a strong recovery drive to move up into the points, which was a good effort when you consider he has not felt completely comfortable with the car balance this weekend.”
Perez's problems began in qualifying, where he failed to match Hulkenberg and progress into the third and final phase of a wet session on Saturday afternoon. Despite having to come from the eighth row of the grid, and suffering similar tyre problems to those around him, the Mexican was able to claim a couple of points – as well as the scalp of former McLaren team-mate Jenson Button.
“To start from P16 and finish in ninth place is a good recovery after a difficult qualifying session yesterday,” he confirmed, “I made a good start and, after that, I just focused on making the two-stop strategy work.
“I think everybody suffered with tyre graining and I picked up a few flat spots, but we still made it work. It was not easy to overtake today, even the cars on a different strategy, so I think ninth place was the maximum. It means I've scored points in three out of four races, but I was hoping for more today after the weekend we had in Bahrain. It's also clear that all the teams around us are finding pace so we have to keep working hard to be ready for Barcelona.”
Hulkenberg, meanwhile, used a similar strategy – running the softer Pirellis for his first stint before taking on two sets of the mediums – to come home just seven seconds shy of world champion Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull, having first had to find a way by Williams' fast-starting Felipe Massa.
"Finishing in sixth and bringing both cars home in the points again was a very positive result for the team,” he confirmed, “It was actually a pretty straightforward race for me after we got in front of Massa: I had to manage my tyres, my pace and avoid mistakes, and it only got tricky at the end when Bottas was getting a bit closer.”
Force India's result meant that, behind the 'works' cars, they were again the second best Mercedes-powered team, a status confirmed by their position in the constructors' table, but Hulkenberg warned that there can be no resting on laurels.
“We have beaten all other customer Mercedes cars, which are our main competition at the moment, but we have also seen some other teams up their game so we will need to keep pushing," the German insisted.