Sepang, 26 Sept. 2017: Sahara Force India looks forward to the Formula One Malaysian GP at the Sepang F1 International Circuit which will be hosting its 19th and final F1 race this year. The Indian outfit has been punching about its weight and despite meagre financial resources has come fourth in the standings last year and the reward money for the slot in the top-four of the Constructors’ standings helped the team to continue its good running this year too.
Currently, the team is doing much better than last year and is firmly placed 4th at this stage in the team points with both the drivers confirmed for 2018. Force India has 124 points, 65 points ahead of fifth-placed Williams Mercedes with six races to go.
The Sepang circuit may not suit the Silverstone-based team, but with new upgrades coming up, the team management and drivers feel that they can get some more valuable points at the resurfaced circuit which is known not only for its hot and humid conditions but also abrupt and sudden bouts of rain which can change any equation on the track.
Speaking from England, Team Principal Vijay Mallya said in a release: “Leaving Singapore with 11 points to help consolidate our fourth place in the championship was a very satisfactory outcome from a tricky weekend. It reminds us that even after a tough qualifying session, there is always plenty to fight for on Sunday. We also took a lot of positives from the pace of the VJM10 during the race and it’s clear that we have the potential for some more strong performances in the final six events.
“This weekend is the last visit to Sepang for the foreseeable future and hopefully we can sign-off with some points. It probably won’t be our strongest circuit of the year, but we should be competitive, especially with the updates we continue to bring to the car. The drivers enjoy the quick corners and it’s always been a good track for overtaking and competitive racing. It’s sad to say goodbye to a circuit, but Malaysia can be proud of the events it has staged during the last 19 years and Formula One has always been given an extremely warm welcome by the fans.
Confirming the drivers early in the season has its advantages and the Indian liquor baron, who is facing charges and stuck with a travel ban, felt that: “We head to Sepang having recently confirmed Sergio will remain with the team alongside Esteban in 2018. I’m extremely happy with the job both drivers are doing and delighted that we have stability with our line-up. Getting this all finalised relatively early in the year is always helpful. We can simply focus on maximising the final six races and plan effectively for next year.”
The drivers too are confident that they can pull out one more successful round with a double points score. Recently, the two have clashed on the track which triggered a media trial and the management too has dropped its policy of allowing the drivers to race and warned them to be careful on track so that there will not be any such DNFs in the future. The team orders had their effect and both the drivers buried their hatchet and have promised to be more `professional’. Sergio Perez, who had his first podium here with a 2nd place in 2012, has good memories and is raring to go. He currently has 68 points and is in 7th place while Esteban Ocon is just behind with 56 points in 8th.
Sergio Perez: “Malaysia is a place that means a lot to me. It’s where I got my first ever podium in Formula One, in 2012. After Singapore, it’s another very hot race. I think last year’s was the hottest race I’ve ever experienced during my whole career, so I expect to sweat a lot on Sunday!
“The weather is so unpredictable, you can have a big storm all of a sudden and then it can dry up again in five minutes, because it’s so warm and humid.
“Every year, Malaysia has been a special race because of the heat and the characteristics of the track. I’ll be really sad to see Sepang disappear from the calendar. I hope to see all the Malaysian fans at some other race and I hope they keep following us online.”
Esteban Ocon: “Sepang is such a beautiful track. I really love it. I enjoy chicanes and there are quite a few in Malaysia, with some nice combinations of fast and medium-speed corners. When you have a good car in qualifying, you can just feel the grip; it’s very enjoyable. On the other hand, it’s a very tough race because of the heat and humidity. The rain can play a big part – at least I am told! Last year everyone kept telling me that, but it was just mega sunny and warm all weekend. It’s sad we will be racing here for the last time because it’s such a cool track. I am going to miss it.”
Sahara Force India’s Chief Race Engineer, Tom McCullough, looks ahead the challenge of Sepang: “Malaysia is another race where the weather will be very hot: last year, we had track temperatures up to 60C. The conditions can be very unpredictable and there’s always a chance of rain showers, in particular during the early evening qualifying session at 5pm. In this regard, the conditions are very similar to what we saw in Singapore, with extreme heat and humidity; the main difference being the start time of the race, with the lights going off in the heat of the day at 3pm. The Sepang track features a good mix of low, medium and very high-speed corners, so the set-up needs to accommodate a large speed range. The track was resurfaced prior to the race last year, which improved ride response and reduced tyre degradation. It will be interesting to see how the track surface has evolved since.”
eom/with inputs from SFI press release