This weekend’s Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi circuit is a very special one for the Sahara Force India Formula One Team and both of their drivers.

Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez will both celebrate their 100th Formula One career start this weekend at a circuit where last year following its return to the calendar Sergio Perez scored a fantastic podium finish with third place behind the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

Sergio made his Formula One debut with the Sauber F1 Team in 2011 replacing Nick Heidfield and scored points on his Formula One debut however the team were later disqualified from the race for a technical breach.

At the 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix, the Mexican scored his best career result to date finishing the race just behind winner Fernando Alonso in second place. At the Canadian Grand Prix he scored another podium with a great drive to third pace and scored yet another podium in Monza at the Italian Grand Prix.

McLaren Mercedes took note as at the end of the season it was announced that he would join the Woking based outfit for 2013 replacing Lewis Hamilton as Jenson Button’s team mate.

Sadly however, his tenure at McLaren didn’t last long and the Mexican was replaced at the end of the season by Kevin Magnussen following a disappointing season in which he best result was a fifth place finish at the Indian Grand Prix. Checo was picked up by the Sahara Force India Formula One Team for 2014 and in only his third race with the Silverstone based outfit he scored a brilliant third place finish at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Speaking ahead of this weekend’s race, Checo commented by saying:

Going back to Sochi brings back happy memories from our podium last year. I really like the track and they did a good job with the layout. I think every driver enjoys turn three because it’s an unusual corner with high energies and a long duration. You can take it flat, but it’s the one corner on the track which really takes the life from your tyres.
“The DRS effect in Russia is quite big, but it’s still difficult to overtake there. The layout is quite similar to Abu Dhabi and Singapore because of the number of low-speed and medium-speed corners, and it reminds me of a street circuit.
“I think we can be competitive this weekend. We didn’t get things right in China and just missed out on points, so we need to concentrate on improving our race pace. It’s often those difficult weekends where you learn the most and see where you can improve, so I’m confident we can be in better shape this weekend.
Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sahara Force India F1 VJM09. Bahrain Grand Prix, Friday 1st April 2016. Sakhir, Bahrain.

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sahara Force India F1 VJM09.
Bahrain Grand Prix, Friday 1st April 2016. Sakhir, Bahrain.

Nico Hulkenberg made his Formula One debut with the Williams Formula One Team and secured his very first pole position and the Grove based outfit’s first since 2005 at the Brazilian Grand Prix that year when he started the race just ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel.

Hulk’s best finish for Williams was sixth place at the Hungarian Grand Prix and for the 2011 season it was announced that he would join Force India as their reserve driver for the season and in 2012 he replaced Adrian Sutil as Paul Di Resta’s team mate and that year Hulk recorded a career best finish of fourth place at the Belgian Grand Prix and ended the season ahead of DiResta on points.

In 2013, Hulk moved to the Sauber F1 Team and scored four points finishes in a row in Italy, Singapore, Korea and Japan.

In 2014, it was announced that Hulk would return to Force India to partner Checo Perez this was a breakthrough year for the German as he scored points in all but four Grand Prix that season and ended the year in 10th place in the championship on 96 points.

In 2015 he finished the season in 10th once again enduring a tougher year with the Silverstone based outfit and so far this season he has scored points in just the opening race of the season in Australia.

Hulkenberg’s biggest career milestone came outside of Formula One when he took victory at the 2015 LeMans 24 Hrs for Porsche. Speaking ahead of the Russian GP this weekend Hulk commented by saying:

I can’t believe this weekend is going to be my 100th race weekend in Formula One. Where has the time gone? It’s a nice achievement and hopefully I can get a result to make it a weekend to remember.
“The goal is to get some more points on the board in Russia. The last two races have been frustrating for different reasons and I don’t think we’ve shown our full potential yet. In China I really struggled with tyre degradation, but I don’t think that will be such an issue at Sochi because it’s a much smoother surface.
“The track in Sochi is an interesting one. It’s a huge site because it’s the Olympic Park and the track has a nice flow. The lap is quite long, with lots of similar right-angled corners so that makes it a bit easier to find a set-up that works. It’s a big power track with long straights and some big stops, which makes it quite demanding on the brakes.
Sahara Force India Formula One Team Principal Vijay Mallya took part in a Q&A and was asked:
Vijay, six points from three races – how is the feeling in the team ahead of the next race in Russia?
“In all honesty we expected more from the start of the season, but for various reasons the cards have not fallen for us. It’s worth making a comparison with 2015 because after three races last year we were in a similar position with seven points – one point more than we have this year – and that turned out to be our most successful season ever. With eighteen races to go there is a long season ahead and we have plenty of opportunities to turn around our fortunes.”
Where is the team focussing its energies?
“There is no doubt that we have an inherently quick car. We’ve always qualified inside the top ten and Checo lined up seventh on the grid in China. In the race we fell a bit short, so that is one area where we can improve. We are also working hard to bring an upgrade package to Barcelona: it’s an aero step and further suspension evolutions, which will bring some performance gains.”
 What are the team’s expectations from this weekend in Russia?
“The objective is to be inside the top ten in qualifying and the race. That’s a realistic goal and we will be disappointed if we don’t come away with some points. We demonstrated last year that we can be competitive in Sochi and it’s also the 100th race weekend for Nico and Checo, so we want to celebrate the occasion with a special result.” 
Paddock Eye wants to CONGRATULATE both Nico and Sergio on their 100th Formula One Grand Prix starts this weekend.


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