After conversing with Force India's team principal Vijay Mallya last week, Firstpost spoke to Sergio Perez about his plans and targets for 2018. Here is an excerpt of the interview:
On being Force India's most experienced driver
By the end of the 2018 Formula 1 season, Sergio 'Checo' Perez will overtake Adrian Sutil as the Force India Formula 1 team's most experienced driver with 101 race starts. The Mexican driver joined the Silverstone-based team in 2014 and has scored four of the team's five Formula 1 podiums. In fact, Perez's stint with Force India has gone a long way in re-establishing his talent after being unceremoniously dropped by Mclaren in 2013.
Perez: "I didn't know this fact (of being Force India's most experienced driver), but it makes me proud to be a part of this team. I remember the first time I came here – how the team was and how it is today. I've been a part of the team's most successful years in history – the driver with best results and most podiums and this makes me extremely proud."
What's the mid-field battle looking like in 2018?
Having finished fourth in the Constructors' Championship for two consecutive seasons (2016 and 2017), both Perez and Force India know that 2018 will be a tougher challenge for the mid-field team. Renault and Mclaren-Renault would be preparing to fight at the front with the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull Racing. However, if they miss the mark of the top teams, they could threaten Force India's fourth place. Additionally, there could be a threat from any of the other mid-field teams – Williams, Haas, Sauber and even Honda-powered Toro Rosso. While a competitive mid-field is a treat for the fans who could otherwise be bored with a two-team battle at the front, what does Perez believe is possible in 2018?
Perez: "I would love to repeat what we have achieved in the past two years. I think Force India is facing its biggest challenge ever in the history of the team. (In 2018), the mid-field is going to get very competitive, but I believe we are strong enough."
2018: A make or break season for Perez
For Perez's career, the 2018 Formula 1 season could be a make or break one. Even before the start of the season, there is already speculation that a cockpit could be available at Ferrari and Mercedes come 2019. It isn't often that two top teams have a vacancy that drivers like Perez could eye. But it would be hard to believe that Perez isn't in top contention for either of the seats. Daniel Ricciardo, Esteban Ocon and even rookie Charles Leclerc could be some of the drivers Perez could end up competing with for those cockpits.
If a top team drive isn't available for 2019, would Perez consider following Fernando Alonso's footsteps? The former double world champion announced a dual racing programme for 2018 – Formula 1 and the World Endurance Championships.
Perez: "Right now, the Formula 1 schedule is extremely intense. I find that it needs all my focus on preparation to maintain my 100 percent throughout the 21 races. Some drivers are different, they might not require that. For me, my focus is to give my 100 percent to Formula 1 and Force India for 2018 and see where it goes."
Competing on unequal terms
While Force India are proud to be regarded as the 'best bang for the buck world champions', the truth is that they are competing in on unequal terms (in terms of prize money) to the other teams and could be beaten by their might and financial power every season. Like Mallya, Perez too stressed on Formula 1's controversial payment structure.
Perez: "I believe this team (Force India) has more to offer and there are better years to come ahead of us. The team is capable of achieving great things, all we need is economic support. The team has shown in the past what they can do."
While the prize money from Formula 1 may be limited, Force India has done well to exploit their commercial value by becoming one of better sponsored teams on the grid. In fact, Perez's popularity in Mexico has helped commercialise his appointment with the team.
Perez missing engine sounds
Finally, there's been a lot of talk about Formula 1's car designs come 2020 with Formula 1 managing director of motorsports, Ross Brawn indicating that the sport could take inspiration from video games. Formula E revealed a futuristic car design a few weeks ago – a design that caught the eye of motorsport fans the world over. However, is this design philosophy one that Formula 1 should pursue?
Perez: "I think Formula 1 has improved (car) design a lot since last year. When you see a Formula 1 car, you feel really impressed by it and that's the way it should be. Hopefully, in the near future we can improve the engine sounds because Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport."
Perez's transformational journey from Sauber's pay driver and error-prone rookie to Force India's uber-consistent lead driver has been an interesting one to follow. The year 2018 will help him extend his journey in Formula 1 if he is able to match performances from his previous seasons and beat his teammate Ocon comprehensively and without controversy.
Updated Date: Feb 20, 2018 12:01 PM