Force India set sights on podium places in 2014 after successful testing in Bahrain
Upbeat Silverstone outfit target being 'best of the rest' in 2014
By Phillip Porter. Last Updated: 24/02/14 3:29pm
Force India's Deputy Team Principal Bob Fernley sets his sights on challenging for podium places in 2014 after a fruitful pre-season testing for the Silverstone-based team.
The Mercedes-powered VJM07 completed 213 laps during the first Bahrain test last week alone - nearly double the amount of four-time World Champions Red Bull could manage. Despite what on the surface appears to have been a smooth start to winter testing, Sergio Perez's drivetrain problems emphasise that blending the new engine with this year's car still remains a challenge to overcome for the team.
"It would be engine dominated this year and the biggest differential for teams would be who got the right engine and at the right time.
"It looks at the moment that Mercedes have a slight lead - but that will change - it's only a matter of time,'' said Fernley.
With remaining track-time limited ahead of the season opener in Australia, they will be keen to iron-out their reliability problems and utilise this season's regulation changes to their advantage as they look to propel themselves up the Driver and Constructors' standings in 2014.
"I think we've established ourselves as the best of the rest teams and we've got five teams in front of us and we've got to get in amongst those five teams. We've got to be challenging for podiums."
The team have an all-new driver line-up for 2014. Sergio Perez joins from McLaren and with the Mexican scoring 49 points last season it's a wealth of experience Fernley is keen to harness as the team look to make head road this season.
"I actually got really excited about what Sergio did in the last six months with McLaren. I think the McLaren experience for Sergio has transformed him.
"He's grown up, he's a very mature driver today and working with a top team like McLaren brings the best out in the drivers. Force India benefits from the efforts of McLaren."
Perez himself knows that despite a relatively straightforward start to winter testing, the success of the Mercedes engines in Jerez and Bahrain should be approached with an air of caution, but his hopes remain high ahead of the new season.
"Things are looking good for Mercedes cars but I expect the other manufacturers to catch up so it will be a really close battle in the midfield.
"I think we should aim high as a team and hopefully we can score some podiums,'' Perez said.
Feeling the Force: Perez in Bahrain
Perez is joined by Nico Hulkenberg, who re-joins his old team for the new season after spending 2013 at Sauber. After scoring 51 of the Swiss team's 57 points, the German remains regarded as one of the most exciting and accomplished drivers in the field.
Most importantly, however, the new pairing also provides Force India with arguably their strongest line-up in Formula One.
It is a partnership and, just as much if not more so, a rivalry that could deliver the team their long-awaited return to the podium five years on from Giancarlo Fisichella's runner-up finish to Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen at Spa in 2009. Perez, though, is familiar of closely fought battles on the track following his experiences with 2013 McLaren team-mate Jenson Button - most notably when the duo banged wheels during last year's Bahrain Grand Prix.
"There is always pressure there to beat your teammate - he doesn't have any more pressure than me - I'm just here to do my best job and hopefully that will be good enough," Perez said.
And competition is already very much underway between the two drivers, as Hulkenberg claimed the fastest lap on Day One of the First Test in Bahrain with a time of 1:36:880, while Perez's fastest lap over the four days was nearly half-a-second slower, as he produced a time of 1:37.367.
Fastest laps of Bahrain Test One
1. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 1:33.283, New Soft tyres, Day Four.
2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:34.263, New soft tyres, Day Three.
3. Kevin Magnussen, McLaren, 1:34.910, New supersoft tyres, Day Two.
4. Jenson Button, McLaren, 1:34.957, New soft tyres, Day Four.
5. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, 1:36.445, New soft tyres, Day Two.
6. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 1:36.516, Used soft tyres, Day Two.
7. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1:36.718, New soft tyres, Day Four.
8. Felipe Massa, Williams, 1:37.066, New soft tyres, Day Three.
9. Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber, 1:37.180, Unknown tyre compound, Day Three
10. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 1:37.328, Unknown tyre compound, Day Two.
The third and final pre-season test starts on Thursday morning in Bahrain. The Sky Sports F1 Online team will be providing live commentary from dawn until dusk on all four days, with live updates from trackside also on Sky Sports News.