Nico Hulkenberg or Sergio Perez: Who's No. 1 Driver at Force India in 2014?
Not that I have anything particular against Paul di Resta or Adrian Sutil, but the pairing of Hulkenberg and Perez pits two of the most exciting talents in the sport against one another in the same team.
Hulkenberg has always been touted as the next big thing after impressive performances for Williams and Force India, but it was the 2013 season where he really shone with some outstanding drives in a Sauber that should have been nowhere near capable of what he was able to do with it.
It was somewhat of a surprise when McLaren announced that Perez would be leaving at the end of the season. Yes, the Mexican had his moments, including clashing with teammate Jenson Button in Bahrain and crashing into Kimi Raikkonen at Monaco. But he also pulled off some gutsy overtakes and finished the season with six points-scoring finishes in seven races, including fifth and sixth places at India and Brazil. McLaren’s loss certainly appears to be Force India’s gain.
At the end of the season, only two points separated 10th placed Hulkenberg with 11th placed Perez, and it raises the interesting question of who will prove themselves the No. 1 driver at Force India next season.
Let’s judge both drivers over four of the most fundamental sets of criteria that make up the racing driver before coming to a conclusion.
Whilst it’s extremely difficult to judge two drivers on their single-lap pace in different machinery, a good yardstick is to see how they have matched up against their own teammates.
Perez was evenly matched against Kamui Kobayashi in 2012 with a 10-10 head-to-head, but the Mexican did manage to haul his Sauber to fourth and fifth on the grid in Belgium and Japan, two of the biggest tests of driver skill on the calendar.
And 2013 was even more impressive as Perez outgunned his experienced teammate, Jenson Button, 10-9 over the course of the season.
As expected, Hulkenberg obliterated his rookie teammate, Esteban Gutierrez, outqualifying him in all but one race, but the German only shaded Paul di Resta 12 to 8 in 2012.
And although he scored a stunning pole for Williams in 2010, he only outqualified Rubens Barrichello six times over the course of the season.
Close, but Perez edges this one.
Sergio Perez shocked his own teammate by bullying him almost off the road in Bahrain, proving that he will even fight his teammate hammer and tongs for position before wowing the Monaco crowd with thrilling overtakes on Button and Fernando Alonso at the Nouvelle chicane. Hulkenberg be warned!
Perez takes this one, too.
Perez gained a reputation at Sauber for his excitable driving, and it came back to bite him again in 2013.
Teammate Button slammed his driving as dangerous in Bahrain before Perez incurred the wrath of Raikkonen after crashing into him in Monaco and likewise Nico Rosberg in Suzuka after the pair almost collided in the pitlane before they hit one another on the circuit.
In stark contrast, Hulkenberg appears the epitome of the calm, calculated racer. He drove out of his skin to finish fourth in Korea and also kept his nose clean to finish fifth in Italy.
Hulkenberg takes this one.
Perez showed at times during 2013 that he found his emotions difficult to keep under control, from barking over the radio that Button was holding him up in Bahrain to expressing his disappointment at being dropped from the McLaren team before the U.S. Grand Prix.
Hulkenberg, in contrast, always comes across as a mature and calm young man and never let the frustration get the better of him in the face of the constant barrage of questions surrounding his future. Would it be Ferrari or would it be Lotus? Hulkenberg always answered with honesty and integrity and now seems happy with his lot at Force India.
Germanic calm wins over Latino fire.
Hulkenberg made the jump to Formula One a year earlier than Perez when he landed a race seat at Williams in 2010, and in Barrichello, he had the perfect teammate to show him the ropes.
Perez joined Sauber a season later, but with Hulkenberg sitting out a season as Force India’s test driver, both men now have three full seasons under their belt.
Yet, with Hulkenberg having a vital extra year under his belt as teammate to the most experienced F1 driver of all time and the fact that he already knows the Force India set-up, you have to say he has the edge.
Final Score: Nico Hulkenberg 3-2 Sergio Perez.
Whilst Hulkenberg edges Perez 3-2 in the criteria I have chosen to judge both drivers on, the simple fact is that nobody knows what is going to happen until the first few races, especially with the new rules and regulations for 2014.
Force India team boss Vijay Mallya certainly won’t express a preference for either driver and will let them race for supremacy during the early races of the new season before any hierarchy or team orders are established.
It seems almost too close to call, and I’m intrigued to see how it pans out.
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