Season Review Part II: The Battle to be Fourth

For 2 years in a row Force India occupied 4th place in the constructor’s championship and were considered one of the best pound for pound teams in F1 but it would be difficult for the team to repeat that in 2018.

Renault would enter their 3rd season after returning as a fully fledged factory team and set their sights on claiming fourth as part of their natural progression up the grid, they looked set to be Force India’s biggest threat in 2018. Haas would surprise all in testing though as they were both quick and reliable; benefitting from their close relationship with Ferrari. When the F1 circus reached Australia rival teams made it clear that they were unhappy with the Haas car stating that it appeared to have copied Ferrari too much and wasn’t of their own design. It was deemed legal and it handed the advantage to Haas who were only in their 3rd season of F1.

Both Haas cars would qualify best of the rest in Australia meanwhile Force India struggled as they were unable to bring a big enough update to their car thanks to budget constraints. In the race the Haas cars would be running as high as 4th & 6th and were on course for their best finish in their very short F1 history, it wasn’t to be as both cars would retire shortly after their pit stops with both cars having 1 tyre not fitted properly.

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Copyright: Motorsport Images

With both Haas cars out of the race Renault would score their first double points finish since it’s purchase of Lotus in 2015. Force India would struggle and finish 11th and 12th, repeating it’s 4th place finishes of 2016 & 2017 looked unlikely and with McLaren also getting a double points score it was looking like they were the 7th best team.

Bahrain would see Magnussen finish 5th with his best finish since his debut season in 2014 just behind the Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly, Hulkenberg would once again finish in the points in 6th bolstering Renault’s point score. Sergio Perez would have an early collision with Brendon Hartley ruining his chances of scoring any points but teammate Esteban Ocon would finish 10th scoring Force India’s first point of the season. Renault would get another double points finish with Force India scoring 0 and Haas just the 1 point with Magnussen.

Just like 2017 Azerbaijan would prove to be a chaotic race, Esteban Ocon would tangle with Kimi Raikkonen and plant his car in the wall while Nico Hulkenberg would repeat 2017 and make an unforced error taking him out of the race. Carlos Sainz was putting in a strong performance in the Renault and was battling hard with the Red Bulls for 5th.

Both Red Bulls would eventually collide and take each other out of the race bringing out the safety car, Grosjean who was currently pointless in 2018 was running as high as 6th but made a mistake under the safety car and put his Haas in the wall. When all the chaos  ended it would be Sergio Perez who finished 3rd who claimed his first podium since Monaco 2016 to the surprise of the paddock.

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This was Perez’s second podium in Baku. Copyright: Racing Point Force India 

Grosjean would spin wiping out Hulkenberg and Gasly in Spain to continue his points drought in 2018 and raise questions whether he still had what it takes to remain in the sport meanwhile teammate Magnussen would continue his fine form to score another 8 points ahead of Carlos Sainz.

Monaco would prove to be a struggle for Haas and manage to find itself slowest all weekend while Renault would again get a double points finish and Ocon would finish in a very strong 6th.

Another 2 poor races in Canada and France meant Grosjean would be only 1 of 2 drivers to not score a point in 2018, with the Haas to be considered as the 4th fastest car the pressure was mounting on the Frenchman but he still had the backing of his team. Haas looked strong in Austria and in Qualifying Grosjean would out-qualify the Red Bull Ricciardo and be 0.5 tenths behind his teammate Verstappen. Both Haas cars would finish 4th and 5th in their best ever finish as a team and it would also mean that Grosjean scored his first points of the season.

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Copyright: Haas F1 Team

Silverstone would show another blip on Grosjean’s record as he tangled with Carlos Sainz causing both to retire while their teammates and both Force India’s would score points. Grosjean would return back to form in Germany to finish 6th behind home boy Nico Hulkenberg who had his best finish with Renault.

As F1 approached Hungary the news came out that Force India had entered administration and sought after new ownership, owner Vijay Mallya who faced extradition to India for his unpaid debts. The uncertainty of the team’s future had a clear effect on the team’s performance with the team having their worst qualifying in a long time qualifying 18th and 19th and finishing the race well outside the points.

During the summer break it was announced that a consortium led by Lawrence Stroll a Canadian Billionaire and father to Williams Racing driver Lance Stroll had purchased all of the teams assets. They were not able to buy Force India’s F1 entry due to legal issues which raised the question of how they would compete and whether they would retain the prize money earned by Force India. After much discussion between the teams it was agreed that they could continue to race but would have to retain the Force India name, Sahara would be dropped as title sponsor and replaced by “Racing Point” the name of the holding company that purchased the teams assets. The discussion over prize money would carry on for the rest of the season. To the new backers frustration the team would be counted as a new entry in the constructor’s championship and the points would start from 0.

Racing Point Force India would have their strongest race in the season when the season resumed in Belgium. Ocon and Perez would qualify 3rd and 4th respectively in a wet qualifying session and even challenge for the lead heading into turn 5 due to the effects of the tow after Radillion. Nico Hulkenberg would make an out of character error in turn 1 causing a multi-car pile up earning himself a grid-drop for Monza.

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Copyright: Octane Photographic

Both Force India cars would finish 5th and 6th and get their best points haul of the season in their first race under new management. Monza would prove equally as successful for Racing Point Force India who finished 6th and 7th after the Haas of Romain Grosjean was disqualified for running and illegal floor. This mean that Force India were in a theoretical 4th place in the constructor’s championship if they carried over their points from the first half of the season but after 2 races they went from 10th to 8th in the constructors standings.

Singapore would be less successful for the team with both cars colliding on lap 1 taking Ocon out of the race. Perez would have a scrappy race colliding with the Williams of Sirotkin earning himself a penalty and finishing outside of the points. This would result in Force India management reinstating rules of engagement between the two Force India cars for the rest of the season to limit them throwing away points.

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Singapore was one of many collisions between the Force India drivers since 2017. Copyright: Formula One

All of this meant that the battle for 4th in the championship would remain between Haas and Renault, since Hungary Renault would struggle for performance, their engine had a significant deficit compared to Mercedes and Ferrari which powered Force India and Haas and would struggle to score points in the power sensitive circuits.

Renault would bounce back in Haas’ homeland of the US with another double points finish while the American team would fail to score thanks to a DNF for Grosjean and a disqualification for Magnussen for consuming too much fuel. Renault would excel in Mexico thanks to the Renault engine performing well at high altitude but Sainz would fail to finish thanks to a battery issue, Haas and Force India would fail to score.

With two races left to go in the season Renault looked well placed to finish in 4th with Haas having to score big to overhaul them and Force India stuck in 7th. Hulkenberg and Sainz would enjoy a good battle in Brazil before Nico would retire with temperature issues, this would be their penultimate race as teammates before Sainz moved to McLaren.

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Copyright: Renault Sport F1 Team

Hulkenberg would end his season upside down after he picked Grosjean’s Haas causing his Renault to flip out of the race, Grosjean was able to continue and finish 9th ahead of teammate Magnussen. Carlos Sainz would finish 6th securing 4th place in the constructor’s championship, Haas would be happy with 5th as this was their best result since entering F1 while Force India would finish just behind McLaren in 7th while keeping the prize money earned by it’s previous entity.

The battle for fourth was very tight but Renault secured it and with the regulations changing for 2019 there is no reason why they cant bridge the gap to the big three.

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