Sergio Perez produced another of his trademark tyre-preserving drives to claim an unexpected podium for the Force India team even if, for half a lap, it looked as though the silverware would elude him.

The Mexican had qualified well to line up one spot behind team-mate Nico Hulkenberg but was among the beneficiaries when the German spun on the opening lap, taking himself and Marcus Ericsson out of the running.

It wasn't until the second safety car interruption - for Romain Grosjean's massive accident - that Perez's race assumed a podium perspective, however, but the decision to pit early and try to make the prime Pirelli last 40 laps paid off as he picked up positions as others pitted and then found himself in a frenetic battle with Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen.

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"I was confident going into the race but, obviously, not expecting the podium at all," the Mexican noted, "The race started quite well although, obviously, Nico went out quite early and the safety car came out. Then we had the second safety car and we were one of the few cars to box but, at the restart, I was stuck behind Felipe [Massa] and [Felipe] Nasr and couldn't get them, so I decided to save my tyres and look after them for the end of the race, which worked really well."

The Force India team was already monitoring the final throes of Perez's rubber when both chasing Finns pounced, seemingly confining the Mexican to fifth place, but Raikkonen's do-or-die pursuit of the podium ended in tears as Ferrari and Williams collided, handing back third spot to its long-time occupier.

"We lost the podium one lap from the end but, by then, it was very difficult to hold them back," Perez admitted, "I couldn't brake very hard or very late as I was at risk of flat-spotting the tyres and retiring from the race. There was a certain level of risk I wanted to take and I though that, if I can't get a podium, let's at least come out with some points. Then, on the last lap, they had some contact...."

Perez's podium comes 31 races since he last stood for the adulation of an F1 crowd, with fifth place in Belgium his previous best result this season.

"It just feels great to be back," he grinned, "I've been enjoying so much my time with [this team] but, one lap from the end, it seemed like everything was going away from us. At that point, I was really unhappy with myself because many things go through your mind but, in the end, going onto my last lap, I was saying 'I gave it my all, there was nothing more I could do'. When it came [back], it was amazing - it's very nice to give a second podium to this team."