Sergio Perez says outgoing Force India team-mate Nico Hulkenberg is the strongest team-mate he's had in F1 and feels the pair's closely-matched rivalry has helped the team continue to push harder in its charge for fourth in the F1 world constructors' championship.
The Mexican driver heads to his home race after battling back to take eighth place in Austin after recovering from a first lap spin due to a collision with Daniil Kvyat. It was a difficult race for both Force India drivers as Perez's team-mate was effectively taken out of the race on the opening lap in a separate incident with Willaims' Valtteri Bottas.
Aside from the difficult race at the Circuit of the Americas, Force India has made significant progress during the V6 hybrid engine era – with Perez and Hulkenberg joining the team at the start of the era in 2014 – and the Mexican feels the pair have formed a potent collaborative effort to help develop the team's car and push the team up the F1 pecking order.
“I think the relationship between myself and Nico was good. I think our level was really closely matched every single practice,” Perez said. “That means a lot to the team because we push the team forward and that shows in the benefit of the team to have two team-mates that are so closely matched together.
“I always knew that if I didn't get the perfect lap in qualifying he would beat me and vice versa. And also in the race, and race after race, so that just helps the team because through our seasons [together] we had bad cars and good cars but it was always important to make sure we took the maximum out of each car.
“I think definitely Nico was the strongest team-mate I had in Formula One.”
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With Perez confirmed to be staying at Force India for 2017, the Mexican is intrigued to see who his new team-mate will be Force India. The latest favourites to join Perez in 2017 are Mercedes-contracted drivers Pascal Wehrlein, Esteban Ocon or Felix Rosenqvist, as well as Sauber's Felipe Nasr.
“I will have a new team-mate, it's always new to work with new people,” he said. “I've worked for three season with Nico and I think I learned a lot from him and I'm looking forward to getting a new team-mate and learning things from a new driver.”
During Perez's time in F1 he partnered Kamui Kobayashi in 2011 and 2012 while at Sauber before having Jenson Button as his team-mate in 2013 during his ill-fated year at McLaren.
Hulkenberg and Perez have been team-mates at Force India since 2014 with the German driver moving to Renault next year.
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