Force India’s driver line up for this season is one that many people predicted would be one of the best on the grid. In Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg, they have two of the sport’s most exciting young talents, and the results have started to rack up as the races have passed by.
In essence, they are drivers at either end of the spectrum, which probably would be the reason why a team like Force India have taken a punt on both. Sergio is coming off a disappointing year at McLaren (disappointing in McLaren’s terms perhaps), while Nico is always touted for bigger and better things than a midfield team.
Perez’s recent showing have been harking back to 2012, the season in which he catapulted himself into the frame to replace Lewis Hamilton at McLaren. Indeed, the three podiums he scored for Sauber that year are three-quarters of what the team has achieved since BMW left them high and dry. But for all the flashes of genius there are races where the Mexican just doesn’t turn up. For a midfield team, such as Sauber or Force India, it doesn’t matter, because the highs are usually higher than they ever expected. If you have 3 or 4 bad races, who’s to notice?
That’s where Nico Hulkenberg has adapted to succeed. He may not be a spectacular driver – in fact, there’s not many of them on the grid anyway – but he can be consistent, which, as the current crop of GP2 drivers are showing, is becoming a lost art.
Solid and reliable, the German tends to shine when everything falls into place nicely. His three stand-out drives across the course of his career are testament to that; pole position in Brazil for Williams in 2010, an assured performance in the lead in Brazil 2012, and holding off a gaggle of faster cars to nab a surprising 4th place in Korea just last year. Because of these assured performances when he does appear at the real sharp end of the racing, he’s always a contender when a potential top team seat becomes available. 2014 could have been so different for the German; negotations with Ferrari were broken off by text message after they signed Kimi Raikkonen, and after Lotus’ proposed investment from Quantum Motorsport failed to materialise, the team plumped for Pastor Maldonado’s millions instead.
The interesting counter point for both drivers is that each man’s weakness is the other’s strength. Sergio can be anonymous for arguably a good chunk of a season, but when he throws caution to the wind he’s mighty. He also dares to do the impossible of muscling his teammate on track, as well as off it, which may have contributed to his McLaren exit after scuffling with Jenson Button in Bahrain and Monaco last season. Indeed, he had the audacity to try the same on Hulkenberg in Bahrain this season, and was a key factor in gaining Force India’s second ever podium result.
He lacks that steely edge and precision of bringing the car home on regular basis. Nico does that race after race – his results this season have been impressive, utilising the advantage of a Mercedes power unit to secure four 5th place finishes – but never has a spark about him that might mean gambling a handful of points away for the taste of champagne. It’s all too safe, a bit too steady, and can be a bit, dare we say, boring.
The ultimate conundrum is whether a top team will pick up either in the next few seasons, but with Force India currently reaping the rewards of having both, the irony is they might just be better off staying exactly where they are.