Force India clinched its best ever finish in the Formula 1 constructors’ championship with 10 points from last weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix cementing its fourth place in the 2016 standings.
The Silverstone-based team’s triumph over Williams for the best-of-the-rest position behind Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari was guaranteed when Valtteri Bottas retired from the race at the Yas Marina circuit with a suspension problem.
Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez finished seventh and eighth, and with Felipe Massa ninth in his final F1 race, Force India beat Williams to fourth in the constructors’ championship by 35 points.
The former Jordan outfit has been steadily moving up the grid in recent seasons despite having a significantly smaller budget and staffing level compared to its rivals.
The fifth place Force India achieved in the 2015 season was its previous best finish, but it went one better this year to the delight of its deputy team principal, Bob Fernley.
“To end the season with two cars solidly inside the points and with fourth place in the constructors’ championship feels fantastic,” he said.
“It has been a tremendous year for us and it’s important to pay tribute to each and every member of the team for all their hard work and hours of dedication back at base and at the track.
“All the effort has paid off and we can now celebrate the best ever year in our history.”
In addition to its best ever finishing position in the constructors’ championship, Force India also scored more points than it ever has in a single season with 173, and secured two podiums in one season for the first time in its history (both courtesy of Perez at the Monaco and Baku races).
After scoring just two points finishes in the first four races of the season, the team’s fortunes improved significantly when it introduced a major upgrade at the Spanish Grand Prix, which included a new front wing, floor, sidepods and other bodywork – that were designed to improve the handling range of the VJM09.
Since that race in Barcelona, the team only failed to score points with at least one car at the Austrian Grand Prix, where severe degradation stopped Hulkenberg from converting his front row grid spot into a good result and both he and Perez were eventually forced out with brake problems.
Hulkenberg will leave Force India to join Renault for 2017 and although he described his final Grand Prix for the team as “quite a simple and lonely race”, he paid tribute to the squad where he has spent five seasons (one as a test driver in 2011) of his F1 career.
He said: “Everybody deserves congratulations and big credit for the amazing job this year. I leave this team with lots of happy memories and Force India will always be a part of my life. I’ve learned a huge amount here and they have made me a better racing driver. We’ve grown up together and I’m proud of what we have achieved.”
Fernley hailed Hulkenberg’s contribution to the team and also praised Perez, who has scored four podiums for the squad since 2014 and also became the first Force India driver to score over 100 points in a single F1 season with 101 in 2016.
“Both drivers did a super job today, as they have done all year long,” he said. “It’s great that Nico could end his time with us on a high note and we thank him for everything he has done for us during his five years as a Force India driver. He’s been a big part of our journey up the grid and it has been a pleasure working with him.
“Credit to Sergio, as well, who becomes the first Force India driver to cross the 100 points in a season milestone. He’s been exceptional this year and fully deserves to finish seventh in the drivers’ championship.”
Perez will remain with Force India for 2017 where he will be partnered with Esteban Ocon, the Mercedes junior driver who joins the team from Manor. It will be a challenge to remain in the top five next season with works squads Renault and McLaren Honda likely to push forward up the grid.
The Mexican driver described his pleasure at helping to secure Force India’s best ever position in the constructors’ championship and his delight at fending off Massa at the end of the race in Abu Dhabi. In the end, both the Williams driver and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso were within just over a second of Perez at the finish line.
“I am pleased with my race,” said Perez. “I finished where I started and it was a quiet race for most of it, but it got a bit tense in the final laps when I had to fend off Felipe [Massa].
“I pushed really hard at the beginning of my stints, trying to close the gap to Nico, but in the end I finished just behind him. It was great to finish the season with some points and to end an incredible year with a good result.”
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