Sergio Perez is expecting Force India to have a tough time in its fight to retain fourth place in the constructors standings against a cashed-up opposition in 2018.
Force India has gradually risen through the championship ranks in its 10 years racing in Formula One, consolidating fourth place last season after snatching it from Williams in 2016.
Its 104-point claim on the championship position was somewhat fortuitous, however, with neither McLaren nor Renault, both historically frontrunning teams, competitive enough to vie for the place.
This season Renault is expected to take a big step forward in performance and McLaren has dumped last year’s uncompetitive Honda power units, switching to Renault power. Both have their sights set on fourth place in the championship at a minimum.
“And those two teams have more resources than us,” Perez noted ahead of the Australian Grand Prix.
In a sense Force India will enter this battle with one arm tied behind its back. The Silverstone-based team competes in Formula One with one of the grid’s smallest budgets, meaning it has a smaller capacity to develop its car than the wealthier outfits do.
“We know that it’s going to be a tough battle. There are great teams out there, but I believe in this team,” he said.
“I think we are facing our biggest challenge yet. Of the five years I’ve been with the team, I think this is the biggest challenge we’ve faced. I’m up for it. The team is up for it and everyone is really enthusiastic.”
Adding further intrigue is Haas, which set some surprisingly competitive preseason times. After finishing eighth in the constructors standings in its first two seasons, the American team has emerged as a dark horse to lead the midfield.
“They have been the massive surprise in testing, so the midfield has become really, really strong,” the Mexican assessed.
“I think what they did in Barcelona, they really to me were the biggest surprise what they were able to achieve over one lap. We’ll see here where everyone is.”
Force India, on the other hand, underperformed through the preseason, exacerbating any gains made by the team’s competitors.
However, the Force India VJM11 used during testing was a barely upgraded version of the 2017-spec machine. A major upgrade is planned for this weekend, giving Perez hope that his team can continue fighting for fourth place.
“We are not as bad as we looked,” he said. “Especially with the upgrade we are having, we are more optimistic once we see where we really are.
“I think there are reasons to be optimistic. I’ve been in that situation before, and I think this year we’re probably better than we expected to start the season, so we’ll see where we are. I think [Friday] we’ll have a better picture, but I’m optimistic.