Force India are back in the game. After being almost notable by their absence from the midfield battle to date this season, in Baku qualifying on Saturday they were (by some margin) ‘best of the rest’ behind the top three teams, with Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez seventh and eighth respectively.
It was the first time this year that Force India have got both cars into Q3 and Perez said it had been a very big day for the him and the team, despite narrowly losing out in the times to Ocon – and to the sixth-placed Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen.
“As a team result it’s a massive one, a massive boost for us,” said the Mexican. “We were clearly the fastest midfield team today.
“I’m a bit disappointed the margin was so close, not just to my team mate but to Raikkonen, but my qualifying had been so low. I mean I didn’t get a clear lap up until Q3.
It’s Baku and so much can happen here.
“With the wind conditions that we had today – so many yellow flags were out – it was not the ideal preparation for Q3, but I’m very happy we made it.”
Ocon was equally pleased with the obvious steps forward Force India have taken in Azerbaijan – a race where he and Perez famously clashed last year – and is confident a good result is possible on Sunday.
“It’s been very strong this weekend – P3 for Sergio in FP1 and then P7 for us in FP2,” he said. “We’re solid overall. As a weekend I think we’ve brought good progress to the car.
“It was very enjoyable to drive and we are where we deserve [to be] today. The team is working very, very hard and it’s still a long season, so I hope we can keep that position.
“We have the pace overall for the long runs – if we have it in quali it should be okay in the race – but you know there’s a lot of opportunities here to gain or to lose, so you have to be careful with what you do in the race.”
Perez insisted there would definitely be no repeat of last year’s coming together between the two pink and white cars, adding: “We know that tomorrow is a massive opportunity for us, to be able to score a good amount of points for the team.”
He also conceded that while on speed alone Force India won’t be podium contenders on Sunday, different climatic conditions and the unpredictability of the Baku City Circuit could throw up an unexpected result.
“Tomorrow is going to be a new track – we’re expecting cooler track temperatures, the wind to pick up, so it will be quite interesting. On pure pace I don’t believe (a rostrum is possible), but it’s Baku and so much can happen here.”