Sahara Force IndiaSergio PerezNico Hulkenberg

2015 Constructors' Standings - 5th

It'll be difficult for a team of Force India's budget to progress beyond its best-ever fifth overall in 2015, but if it picks up where it left off with the evidently quick VJM09, it could prove the dark horse of the opening rounds at least

From the pessimism of the first few rounds to the bounding optimism that it ended the season with, Force India is being touted as the dark horse coming into the 2016 season.

Fresh from its best-ever run to fifth in the constructors' standings, a feat achieved against some remarkable early odds, Force India has brought a familiar-looking car to the table in the form of the Mercedes-powered VJM09. This is hardly a surprise since the VJM08B - which appeared mid-season - was continuing on a development curve right to the season end, allowing Force India to evolve any unfulfilled potential into the VJM09.

Pre-season testing has certainly been positive, even if the (admittedly decent) two-day stint by teenage test driver Alfonso Celis seemed to spark some alarm. Nonetheless, when Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez were behind the wheel, the VJM09 proved reliable, quick over a single lap and well within the range of some lofty expectations.

As such, Force India seems set to, at worst, begin the year where it left off, though many are quietly predicting a cheeky podium challenge in the opening rounds if it can hit the ground running.

No-one would crave such a result more than Nico Hulkenberg, who comes into 2016 desperate to finally step foot on an F1 rostrum, particularly as he is being prevented from defending his Le Mans crown. He also has some ground to make up on Sergio Perez, the Mexican nosing ahead as team leader after a fine run towards the end of the 2015 season and no doubt keen to continue on a similar path.

In reality though, the drivers are very evenly matched and seemingly still with room to improve. Provided the car doesn't strike its development plateau too early or the team gets tripped up in some increasingly complex off track legal matters involving charismatic owner Vijay Mallya, it's surely not beyond this relatively low-budget team to strive for the likes of Williams and Red Bull in 2016.



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