SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – Mexican Sergio Perez said he was on the up after finishing third in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix to hand Force India only the third podium finish in the team’s Formula One history.
“It just feels great to be back with these boys,” said the former Sauber and McLaren driver after finishing behind Mercedes’ winner Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
“I’m going through a great moment in my career,” added the 25-year-old who can look forward to a home race next month with Mexico’s return to the calendar for the first time since 1992.
Perez has four previous podium appearances, including third place for Force India in Bahrain last year after three with Sauber in 2012. His one disappointing year at McLaren in 2013 produced none.
“From where we are it’s difficult to realise but people who look at my performance, they can see that I’m at my best moment in my career and that’s something that makes me confident,” he told reporters.
Perez had made an aggressive call to pit during the second safety-car phase of the race, leaving him with more than 40 laps on one set of tyres to the finish.
That was almost his undoing, the Mexican losing third place as both Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen went past on fresher tyres.
But the two Finns collided at turn four on the last lap, restoring Perez to the podium as disappointment turned to elation.
“Pit wall to driver, together they did a fantastic job,” deputy principal Bob Fernley told reporters. “That was real team work. And Sergio, as always, delivered a fantastic result.
“I think it’s about having the confidence and him feeling comfortable within the team environment. I think that’s shown progressively over the last year or two with us… his qualifying is getting stronger and stronger.”
With Force India enjoying substantial Mexican sponsorship, Fernley recognised also that his driver’s timing could not have been better.
“Hopefully, we can carry it through into a good result in Austin (Texas) and then Mexico,” he grinned.
“I would love to think (he could get on the podium in Mexico). But it’s not easy for us, we’re not quite there. This was an opportunity that we took with both hands and managed to deliver with a little bit of luck.”
(By Alan Baldwin, Editing by Ed Osmond)