Force India's Sergio Perez says he knew he could finish on the podium in the European Grand Prix, although he concedes he did it the hard way after his crash in final practice.
Perez qualified on the front row on Saturday, alongside pole sitter and eventual winner, Nico Rosberg. However, the Mexican had to start in seventh, losing five-places for a gearbox change necessitated after his contact with the wall in FP3.
Despite starting in P7 though, he made a good start to get by Felipe Massa and Daniil Kvyat, making his sole stop on lap 16, before then getting Kimi Raikkonen right at the end, although he didn't need to pass the Ferrari, as the Finn had earlier picked a 5-sec penalty for crossing the line at the pit entry.
“I knew that the podium was possible today, but it was very hard. It was very hard work to get it," Perez said. "We really did an incredible first lap to get around the Williams and the Toro Rosso. Then the first stint was really difficult, the first laps, with the graining and just, let's say, not panicking and not stopping when the graining occurred, especially when Kimi and some people behind stopped. We decided to stay longer, until lap 16, and that was one of the keys to my race.
“Obviously pitting early we went onto the one-stop and as soon as I left the pits I was under pressure from Lewis [Hamilton]. I had to push straight away and the warm-up with the soft for me was a bit difficult. So, those first laps [after the stop] were really tricky. I had to keep Lewis behind and then I managed to open a gap and was behind Kimi. But at the same time I was looking after the tyres and thinking there was going to be a safety car at some point. It is unbelievable it didn't happen.
“I was looking after my tyres to make sure I made it to the end and I think Kimi was very strong with the pace he had. I knew he had a penalty and I got close to him and at the end I saw the opportunity that it was safe enough to go ahead and take it and finish in P3 [on the road].
“It is well deserved for the team because they have done an amazing job - all my boys to fix the car from yesterday, so very pleased. It is only the eighth race and we have done two podiums so far. It has been incredible.”
Pressed on if he thought he had blown his rostrum chances after his crash on Saturday, he added: “I knew yesterday when I put the car in the wall in FP3 that it [this weekend] was a big chance for us to score a massive result and I was so frustrated with myself. Then going into qualifying my boys did an amazing job to fix the car and to put everything together and I had to do the job. I had to get on with the job straight away and we had a great qualifying, but still we were starting P7 today.
“We had to make our way through: very good start, very good first lap, very nice overtaking into Turn 2 for Massa and Kvyat. Then fighting with Kimi all the way to the end, as I said. I knew that he had a 5 second penalty, but it was still nice to get him on the last lap.”
Meanwhile, Perez added that had he started second, there is no way he could have battled for the win, although he did think he could have given Sebastian Vettel a run for his money in terms of second.
“No, I don't think so [we couldn't have challenged Mercedes]. I don't think we could have fought with Nico. I think he was very strong and in another league. But definitely I think [without the penalty] I would have had a really good fight with Sebastian for second,” he concluded.