SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium – After the tumultuous summer break that saw the Force India Formula One squad undergo a change in management, very few might have earmarked them for a strong showing during Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix.
However, just as they’ve done since the season opener in Australia, the self-proclaimed Pink Panthers came out and surprised the paddock yet again.
Teammates Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon put the distractions of the preceding month behind them at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, locked out the second row of the starting grid during qualifying on Saturday and then made an early bid for the race lead on Sunday before both securing top-six finishes.
That meant a haul of 18 championship points for the “new” constructors, immediately moving them past Williams into ninth in the standings and placing them just one point adrift of Sauber for eighth.
It was the conclusion to a roller-coaster stretch for the beleaguered team and a much-needed bright spot, according to team principal and CEO Otmar Szafnauer.
“To come away from Spa with 18 points feels pretty good,” said Szafnauer. “We were quick all weekend and it was important to convert our potential into a strong result today. … Picking up fifth and sixth is just what we needed and it’s a credit to all 405 members of our staff who have showed great resolve in recent weeks. I congratulate them all and look forward to scoring more points in the races to come.”
After entering administration during the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend, a consortium of investors led by Lawrence Stroll – the father of Williams driver Lance Stroll – came forward under the banner of Racing Point Limited UK to save the Sahara Force India Formula One Team.
The organization was renamed as Racing Point Force India F1 Team, and while the team lost all of the Constructor’s Championship points it had accrued through the first 12 races of the year, it was able to remain on the grid with Perez and Ocon.
Following Saturday’s rain-dampened qualifying session, the overwhelming feeling was that good days were ahead for the new Force India, but even those positive vibes couldn’t have prepared the team – and their competition – for what followed on the opening lap of Sunday’s grand prix.
After a banner start, the duo of Ocon and Perez charged up to the Kemmel Straight hot on the heels of the race-leading pair of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Moments after Vettel slipstreamed around Hamilton for the top spot, Ocon and Perez both dove to opposite sides of the track heading for Les Combes, nearly making it four-wide out front before the quartet settled down entering turn eight.
The safety car was deployed just after that thrilling maneuver for a violent crash in the opening corner, securing Vettel’s place out front and pinning the Force Indias behind their Ferrari and Mercedes rivals, but Perez and Ocon’s confidence was in the clouds at that point.
They knew they could contend.
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