On paper, Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finishing the Russian Grand Prix as the third- and fourth-fastest runners behind the big three teams wasn’t a bad showing. But Perez admitted afterwards that he’d been shocked at the pace of Charles Leclerc’s Sauber C37 – with Force India now hoping to re-stamp their authority on the midfield in Suzuka.
Force India have put in some eye-catching performances since their rebirth as Racing Point Force India over the summer break, while the injection of cash that came from the team being purchased also allowed them to put on some long-awaited updates in Singapore – something which helped Perez qualify comfortably best of the rest there, over three-tenths faster than his nearest rival.
They enjoyed a better Grand Prix in Russia, however, with Ocon ending up ninth and Perez 10th – albeit with neither driver able to make any gains on Kevin Magnussen’s eighth-placed Haas, and with all three drivers summarily outperformed by Leclerc, who ended up P7 and well up the road.
And while both Force India drivers appeared reasonably content with their days’ work in Sochi, having helped the team to their third double points finish in four races, Perez sounded an alarm bell when asked whether it was Haas who were their main midfield competition for the rest of the season.
“Well, the Sauber came from nowhere and beat us massively today,” said the Mexican. “I think they've done an incredible job. I just saw [Leclerc] on the first lap and then he disappeared, so a massive surprise.
"We tried our best and we worked well as a team, but in the end P9 and P10 was all we could achieve today.
“Let's see what happens in Suzuka," he added, "a very different track and hopefully we can be competitive there.”
Force India Team Principal and CEO Otmar Szafnauer was also predicting a strong performance for his squad at the Japanese Grand Prix, taking place just a week after Sochi, re-stating that he felt they had more than enough momentum to overtake McLaren’s sixth place in the constructors’ standings, despite having only been eligible for points since Belgium in August following the team's move to new ownership.
“I think we’ll be strong in Suzuka,” he said. “We’ve updated the car recently, so now it’s time to learn a bit more about set-up and how the updates work and optimise the car, so there should be more performance.
“We’re  points behind McLaren with five races left, so we’ve got to score an average of five more per race than they do. I think that’s achievable.”