Singapore GP: Force India target Big Four spot

Force India drivers Sergio Perez (left) and Nico Huelkenberg racing toy cars around a mini-circuit during an NEC promotional event at the Marina Mandarin hotel yesterday.
Force India drivers Sergio Perez (left) and Nico Huelkenberg racing toy cars around a mini-circuit during an NEC promotional event at the Marina Mandarin hotel yesterday.ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

Once the backmarkers of Formula One, Force India are steadily living up to their name and moving up the grid, backed by two drivers with a point to prove.

The team enter the Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix as the "best of the rest" - right behind Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and Williams.

Team principal Vijay Mallya has targeted breaking into the Big Four next season, with better upgrades and wider recruiting of top backroom staff.

But his drivers Nico Huelkenberg and Sergio Perez are even more ambitious, believing the breakthrough can come as early as this weekend.

According to Huelkenberg, the slow and twisting Marina Bay Street Circuit suits their VJM08B car, powered by a Mercedes engine with several mechanical enhancements at recent races.

"Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull are in front but if we do our homework right, I believe we can take on Williams here," the German told The Straits Times yesterday. "We have been going upward and forward in recent months and the potential is there to go even further."

Huelkenberg and Perez finished seventh and sixth respectively at the recent Italian Grand Prix. Coupled with Lotus' double retirement, Force India were able to move 13 points clear in the battle for fifth in the constructors' championship.

Just hours after touching down yesterday, the duo were whisked to the Marina Mandarin hotel to entertain guests of NEC, Force India's premium information communication technology partner.

Before the serious business of fine-tuning their cars for a race Perez described as "the most demanding, physically and mentally", they had each other in stitches racing toy cars around a mini-circuit.

Out on the track itself, both have reasons to silence detractors.

Perez, 25, is rebuilding his reputation after a failed stint at McLaren, while Huelkenberg was once tipped to replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari.

But the German chose to extend his Force India contract till the end of the 2017 season, echoing his team-mate's belief that their current employers are the best fit at this stage of their respective careers.

Perez said: "We may not have the budget of the big teams, but what you get from Force India is a true underdog. The entire team, from the drivers to the engineers, don't know how to quit. The more people write us off, the faster we go."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2015, with the headline 'Force India target Big Four spot'. Print Edition | Subscribe