Sport : F1

Force India

27th February 2014, 08:40am

Force India were back on the up in 2013 and with a Mercedes powertrain and two highly-talented drivers in the shape of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez behind the wheel, they could emerge as one of F1's surprise packages in the first year of the sport's big rules reset.

Having dropped down the Constructors' Championship order for the first time under Vijay Mallya's stewardship the previous season, the Silverstone-based squad reclaimed sixth place in the standings from Sauber - even challenging serial race winners McLaren for a time.

An all-new driver line-up for 2014 it may be but the return of Hulkenberg, increasingly one of F1's most accomplished and exciting performers, after a year away at Sauber and the arrival of three-times podium finisher Perez after a tough but learning year at McLaren give Force India arguably their strongest pairing yet.

It is certainly a partnership that could deliver the team their long-awaited return to the podium five years on from Giancarlo Fisichella's giant-killing runner-up finish to Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen at Spa. It's easy to forget now that in 2008, when Indian business mogul Mallya completed his takeover of the former Jordan, Midland and Spyker team, the squad were propping up the back of the grid.

Mallya famously stated at that relaunch that he wanted the new-look outfit to claim a podium finish at his country's inaugural grand prix when it was held in 2011 - an ambition that at the time seemed a pipedream. The team would finish ninth - out of ten - in the constructors' standings that season but the following years saw substantial progress, with a seventh place in 2010 and sixth in 2011 before slipping back a position the following year.

Best of the rest outside of the top five was, however, theirs again last season, although up until the summer break it looked as though they could even compound McLaren's 2013 fall from grace. Having appeared to have cracked the black art of managing Pirelli's fast-degrading tyres, Force India scored points in all but one of the campaign's opening eight rounds - with the highlight being Paul Di Resta's run to fourth place in Bahrain.

Operational errors meant that the team probably didn't capitalise on the VJM06's strong race pace as well as they should have and a mid-season change to more durable tyres in wake of the British GP blow-outs eroded their midfield advantage, making points far harder to come by from the summer onwards.

Still, sixth place behind F1's 'big five' was a more than commendable achievement and sets Force India up nicely for the big technical challenges that await in 2014.

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