The Force is Strong: Can Force India Break into the Top of the Grid?

Joel Harvey

F1 needs new blood at the front of the pack.

Mercedes’ recent strangle-hold on the sport is wearing a little thin for some. And while it’s nice to see the resurgent prancing horse of Ferrari back at the top, a new team challenging for honors would undoubtedly shake things up. Could it be time for Force India to finally find themselves on the front row, and even win their first race? Maybe, but it’s all dependent on their drivers…

It’s been nearly 10 years since Force India made their F1 debut. Their origin story though, stemmed all the way back in time to another breakthrough team, Jordan Grand Prix. In the late nineties, Eddie Jordan’s infamous yellow cars came perilously close to changing the front row of F1. It wasn’t to be though, and after several sales, the team became the Force India that we know today.

Under the stewardship of controversial Indian businessman, Vijay Mallya (still wanted by Indian police on fraud charges), the team has grown over the past decade. They languished in the lower levels of F1 in their early days. But they’ve pushed on immensely in the last few years, despite continued financial difficulties. With the help of Mercedes power, and a consistent driver partnership of Sergio Pérez and Nico Hülkenberg, Force India surprised many pundits with some strong performances.

This season looked even more promising for them. Despite losing Hülkenberg to Renault, they smartly replaced him with potential superstar-in-the-making, Esteban Ocon. They’ve been reveling in new innovations too; even adding 30 mini-wings on top of their cars at this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix. And with an engine that McLaren could only dream about, Force India are continuing the Jordan tradition of turning heads in F1. The eye-catching pink livery is a visual testament to this fact.

2017 has been a good year so far for Force India, as they sit in a respectable fourth in the Constructors’ Championship. But there have been issues, and a sense that they could be doing even better. With an inconsistent Red Bull, and Ferrari closing the gap on Mercedes, Force India could be sneaking into the top three. Even into the top two at times and potentially separating the warring championship leaders. It’s not quite happened for them yet though, and it’s not reliability that’s been the problem.

The biggest issue for Force India this season, is the occasional mutually-assured destruction mindset of both Ocon and Pérez. A collision between the pair at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and two more in the recent Belgian Grand Prix, have cost the team races. Races where they could’ve legitimately been challenging for podium places. As a result, the team has now banned the two from racing with each other. Time will tell if this yields better results in upcoming races.

This discord between Ocon and Pérez won’t be going away overnight though. The two are clearly not the best of friends at the moment, but could this needle be used for good by Force India? From Prost and Senna, to Hamilton and Rosberg, rival team-mates can sometimes ignite a team to victory. Utilising their drivers’ aggressive tendencies might be a risky strategy, but neutering them from racing each other could be even worse. After all, passive competition does not win races.

One thing’s for sure though, Force India are closer than ever to reaching the promised land. If not this year, then expect the ‘Pink Panthers’ of F1 to be on top of the podium before the end of next season. Providing Ocon and Perez haven’t killed each other by then, that is.

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