Force India secures fourth despite VSC hampering podium chance in Mexico
Force India's Esteban Ocon was in the best position to claim his maiden podium finish in Mexico, after the Lap 1 troubles for Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel. The Frenchman was already in third behind Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas - while fending off Renault's Nico Hulkenberg.
After Hulkenberg retired, Ocon was in a direct fight with Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen for the final podium position, for which he pitted on Lap 20, while the Finn continued. To Raikkonen's benefit, the Virtual Safety Car period on Lap 32 played into his hands as he effectively got a free stop, thereby coming out still in front of Ocon.
It closed off any chances for Ocon to take his first podium - unless of any incidents ahead - but also brought Williams' Lance Stroll into the game, whom he had to fight off to finish in fifth - to equal his best result in F1.
"I am a little bit disappointed, but happy at the same time," he said. "I was there P3 for so long, after managing to get a good start and just stay out of trouble and gain from the others. I really believed in it [to finish on podium], but [in the end fifth] was maximum we could have done today and also the luck was not totally with us with the VSC for Raikkonen.
"It would have been close [with Raikkonen for third], but I think so [I would have fended him off]. At the same time, you cannot predict the future, we did the optimum strategy we could do today and there was nothing left.
"So now, there's two more races to go, at the moment, we are doing a very-very strong job, if we keep going like this, I am sure we will get the [podium]," he capped off.
His teammate Sergio Perez managed to improve on his qualifying position, but he was also hampered with the VSC as Stroll got ahead of him in that period. The team tried for a different strategy pitting Perez for fresh tyres to chase the Canadian, but the Mexican fell short by a second.
"Considering the poor qualifying we had yesterday, we managed to do a very good race, really strong pace. A big shame that the VSC came at the wrong moment and that gave the position to Stroll, otherwise we could have finished sixth," said Perez after his seventh place finish.
With a gap of 99 points to Williams and a maximum of 86 available in the next two grand prixs, Force India have successfully defended and retained fourth position in the constructors' championship with 175 scored in 18 races - hailed by the drivers and the team management.
"We sure are a lean outfit. I think we have the smallest budget of anybody in Formula 1 and that forces us to do some things differently and maybe look at things differently than some of the others," said COO Otmar Szafnauer.
"It is not easy and next year will be even more difficult, so I am grateful to everybody at Silverstone, that's where most of the work happens, what the world sees is what we do here but I have got to thank the entire team and the guys & girls in the factory have done a fabulous job this year, especially to keep on developing the car like we have until the end.
When asked if Perez and Ocon will now be allowed to race freely in Brazil and Abu Dhabi with fourth secured, Szafnauer added: "Well, [they can now] now race freely, if they do happen to come into contact it is less detrimental, but car parts aren't free, so there's still risk."