Formula 1

Sergio Perez & Nico Hulkenberg failing to fulfil potential at Force India

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At the start of the year I touted the battle at Force India between Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg as a future championship duel come early.

Two men with bright futures ahead of them, having the chance to go head-to-head and gain potentially an edge over the other in a bid to attract the top teams.

Yet as the season enters its final flyaway races en route to Abu Dhabi, Hulkenberg and Perez have been left cast out as names like Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas capture the headlines.

Both Force India drivers have the skills to be crowned future world champions but could they be set to miss out on a chance at the big time? Here's why I think they could.

Checo's rise and fall

I'm going to start by looking at Sergio Perez. The Mexican burst onto the F1 scene two years ago with a number of stand out performances for Sauber claiming three podiums during that year.

After failing to secure a chance with Ferrari, the team he was linked with as part of their academy, he was snapped up by McLaren as the next big thing following Lewis Hamilton's move to Mercedes.

What followed, however, would be a sharp learning curve for the then 23-year-old as his chance at the top flopped as McLaren endured their worst year in decades.

From one of the hottest talents on the grid, Perez found himself without a drive late in 2013 as he was unceremoniously dumped by the Woking team after just one year in favour of Kevin Magnussen.


Offered a lifeline at Force India, it seems the emotional ride from last year has carried over into 2014 and Checo, as he is nicknamed, has failed to show much consistency with only four points scoring finishes in the last eight races.

Yet, when Perez does show off his abilities, he proves he can cut it with the best of them. He scored Force India's only podium in Bahrain beating both Williams, though was lucky to just beat a charging Daniel Ricciardo,

In Canada he was set for another podium until the late crash with Felipe Massa and in Italy this past weekend again showed he can hold off cars just as well as attack them as he kept former team-mate Jenson Button behind him to take seventh, his best result since Austria.

That performance in Monza earned him high praise from his team boss Vijay Mallya who described Perez's defence as "outstanding" telling Autosport: "To have a world champion chase you from behind like that and stave him off, and not for one or two laps, for 15-16 laps. That's called a gutsy drive.

"I was enjoying every minute - apart from sitting on my pitwall doing what I had to do - I was loving it!"


It has been a lack of grandee results, however, that has taken Perez out of the picture it seems for a return to a potentially championship winning team.

Indeed currently Checo is still awaiting confirmation on retaining his seat for 2015 but it appears a deal is close and Perez is hopeful of maintaining stability, something he sees as key to progressing his career.

"There are not many options out there and I'm happy (at Force India)," he told reporters in Italy.

"The team is really progressing well - I know what we're doing for next year and I would like to have a second year in this team ideally.

"When you move teams too much you don't establish yourself in a team. I would like to do that."

Of course, also in Perez's mind is the thought that 2015 will see a return of the Mexican Grand Prix and therefore staying in F1 will not only see him have a home race, but he himself can be crucial in seeing that race succeed.

Related articles:

- Jules Bianchi confident of Ferrari future
Daniel Ricciardo can lead F1's next generation
Romain Grosjean should replace Jenson Button at McLaren

The consistent Hulk

If Perez has lacked consistency but produced key results, then the opposite is true for Nico Hulkenberg.

Currently 31 points ahead of his team-mate in the championship, the German has only failed to score points twice all season.

However, both of those races have been in the last three Grands Prix and his last best result of fifth, a result he has achieved four times in 2014, was back in Montreal in June.

Indeed after picking up 57 points in the first seven races, Hulkenberg has only scored 13 in the following six.

Battle with McLaren

Currently the team finds itself in a mighty scrap with McLaren for fifth in the Constructors' championship, with the two teams just a point apart heading to Singapore.

But its McLaren with the momentum as Force India fail to maintain the same level of development as their fellow Mercedes-powered rivals. And that final point is key, with the Mercedes power unit proving so dominant this year, the dishonour of being the worst team with the unit won't do Perez or Hulkenberg any good in progressing their careers.

Lack of attention

It isn't just an under-performing Force India that is hampering Perez and Hulkenberg in their quest to attract the big teams.

Other drivers are garnering greater attention for their performances both ahead of and behind Force India on the grid.

Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo have inserted themselves as the two drivers for the future with brilliant overtaking and excellent, consistent results, plus for Bottas he is doing that at a team which, at most circuits, should be among those Force India target to battle with.

And behind, Jules Bianchi continues to be the only man attracting attention to those at the back of the grid.

While Bianchi's future almost certainly lies with Ferrari, that is another seat, particularly for Hulkenberg, that could have been his if he was able to produce more stand out performances.

2015 a defining year

For both men, while the options for 2015 are few and far between, next year promises to be a defining year for all those young drivers who want to fulfil their ambitions.

Many of the top drivers at the top teams are considering their futures and the 2016 grid could see a changing of the guard as the next generation comes in.

For Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg, if Force India cannot offer them a platform to show their skills and try and attract those at Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari next year, then they might just join the ever expanding list of drivers who could have made it but didn't.

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