It’s time to eat humble pie. Before the season began I wrote a couple of posts outlining my pessimism for the prospects of Force India and their new driver Paul di Resta. I think it’s now fair to say that I was wrong on this!
The “midfield battle” for sixth place in the Constructors’ Championship looks like being one of the tastiest of the year. Force India have shown themselves to be one of three strong contenders for this “best of the rest” position.
Each of the five teams above this sixth place battle have won at least one Championship in the previous five seasons. So the sixth place finisher can genuinely be proud of their achievement.
Although Williams have disappointingly — but quite comprehensively — dropped out of this battle (at least for the time being), each of Sauber, Toro Rosso and Force India have plenty of cause to be optimistic for the year ahead.
Sauber’s success is as a result of a tasty mixture of a decent chassis, combined with two punchy drivers and a willingness to take strategic risks.
Who can fail to have been impressed by Sergio Pérez? In Australia he outsmarted everyone by managing to make the Pirelli tyres last much longer than everyone else. With a brave one stop strategy, Pérez took a hugely commendable seventh place. Never mind that the Saubers were disqualified due to a technical infringement. Pérez had put himself well and truly on the map.
His scrappy Chinese Grand Prix, in which he earned two drive-through penalties, demonstrated that he still has plenty to learn. I wouldn’t say he’s a star of the future in the Vettel mould. But as a Kobayashi-style midfield wunderkind, Pérez surely has a promising future ahead of him.
Meanwhile, Kamui Kobayashi has been his usual feisty self. He collects a handful of points at a time while wowing the crowds with his audacious overtaking moves.
With James Key in place at Sauber, the team has come a long way since the darkness of winter 2009-2010. And you can only see that situation improving over time.
Toro Rosso have perplexed many by opting to retain its two drivers Sébastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari. Particularly when you consider that the talented Daniel Ricciardo is waiting in the wings, it is odd to offer Buemi a third season.
Neither Buemi nor Alguersuari have been particularly impressive so far. Retaining them goes against the supposed concept of Toro Rosso has a driver development team, the final link in the Red Bull Junior Team sausage factory before being rubber-stamped to drive a bona fide Adrian Newey machine.
However, it has to be said they have done a commendable job so far this season. Toro Rosso clearly have a car with promise, with its radical sidepods paying dividends. When you consider that Toro Rosso weren’t even designing their own chassis a few years ago, this is pretty impressive.
A strong qualifying in China underlined the potential of the car, even if they didn’t quite have the race pace to keep grasp of the top ten positions. I thought Toro Rosso would run out of steam. In fact, if anything, they are getting stronger.
But I thought Force India would be even further behind. I thought they were a spent force. They started the 2010 season in a strong position, but after losing technical staff throughout the season they slipped further and further down the grid. I struggled to see where an upswing would come from.
Well, wherever it has come from, it is there for sure. OK, so their points finishes in Australia were inherited as a result of Sauber’s disqualifications. And the Chinese Grand Prix failed to yield any points.
But what is striking about Force India’s first three races is the sheer consistency of their performances. A ninth place finish, two 10ths and two 11ths bode well. They look like being strong contenders to grab a few points in every race.
Most impressively of all, their faith in Paul di Resta has been generously rewarded. While I poo-pooed the idea of a DTM driver coming into F1, there is no denying that di Resta has done the business.
The greatest thing is that di Resta has achieved this with great maturity and consistency. He is certainly showing the relatively plain Adrian Sutil — now entering his fifth year in F1 — just how it is done.
Exciting battle in prospect
It is too early to say if Force India can continue to challenge for sixth place in the Constructors’ Championship. To my eyes, it seems as though Sauber have the upper hand here, although Force India can well expect to beat Toro Rosso.
What Force India can certainly take heart from is the fact that they definitely have not dropped out of the midfield. They are not being caught by, for instance, Lotus.
That is certainly a lot more than can be said for Williams, the team that narrowly beat Force India to sixth last year. That Force India have managed to avoid Williams’s fate is evidence enough that they are still a force to be reckoned with.