When Sergio Perez brought down his own team to force Aston Martin breakthrough

Sergio Perez watches on from the cockpit during practice at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Sergio Perez: Helped save Force India

With Aston Martin setting their sights on joining Formula 1’s elite in the coming years, team owner Lawrence Stroll’s path towards domination was paved by one of their current rival competitors.

It was current Red Bull driver Sergio Perez who opened the F1 door for Stroll by triggering the demise of his former team, Force India. Here is a major chapter in the story of how the Aston Martin name returned to the F1 grid…

The end of Force India

Force India, owned by extravagant businessman Vijay Mallya, had cemented a reputation for being, pound-for-pound, one of the more successful teams on the grid, having frequently outperformed rivals equipped with loftier budgets.

In 2018, their competitive chassis was paired with the coveted Mercedes power unit, and a feisty driver pairing of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon were often extracting the maximum from their cars – even though they had developed a bad habit of bumping into each other.

Despite a solid start to the 2018 season, which included a podium for Perez at the Azerbaijan GP, the team were feeling the effects of the financial and legal troubles facing their owner. Mallya was facing charges for financial offences related to many of his businesses in his native India.

As such, Mallya had left his home country for the UK and subsequently had his passport revoked, meaning the only Grand Prix he could attend was the British GP.

Force India’s cash supply was starting to run low. Rumours of a sale had been circulating for many months, and several groups had been linked with purchasing the Silverstone-based team, including Lawrence Stroll, but Mallya had refused to budge on his asking price.

By mid-season, various suppliers, including engine and gearbox provider Mercedes, were owed money, along with Perez. The Mexican driver had started to become more vocal about Force India’s financial situation, and the fact they could not bring developments to the car to keep pace with their nearest competitors.

The significance of Hungary

On the eve of the Hungarian GP, amid the threat of a winding-up petition brought by a disgruntled supplier which could have liquidated the business altogether, the team were placed into administration.

The surprising aspect in all of this was that this petition to place the company into administration came from Perez himself, albeit with backing from other creditors, such as Mercedes and the team’s title sponsor at the time, BWT.

Some questioned Perez’s motivation for the decision, with the Mexican feeling compelled to deny that the move was made solely to recover money that he had not yet received from Force India, which was believed to be several million dollars.

“Monies due are from last year [2017],” Perez said at the time. “The thing is, there was a winding up petition from another customer, which would have closed down the team completely.

“Therefore I was asked to save the team, to pull the trigger and put the team into administration. It was nothing to do with my outstanding amounts. The only reason I have done it was to save the team and for the better future for the team.

“In the end, I ended up in a very difficult situation – I ended up in the middle. I tried to focus but then it got too much. I was asked by a couple of members of the team to go ahead and save the team and protect the 400 people who were working there.

“We got to a point where action had to be taken, to protect the 400 people who work in the team. It was hard because emotionally and mentally, I haven’t been able to focus on my driving, on being a racing driver.”

With the administrators aiming to maintain ‘business as usual’, Force India still participated in the Hungary race, but the mandatory four-week summer break that followed provided the team with their best in-season chance to confirm their future away from the spotlight of a race weekend.

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Enter Lawrence Stroll

In the sporting world, a business going into administration is often associated with long periods of uncertainty, a fire sale of assets and maybe even competition penalties (e.g. points deductions), and that’s if the business isn’t forced to close altogether.

However, in less than two weeks after being placed into administration, a consortium, Racing Point UK Limited, led by Stroll had reached a deal to purchase the team and assets. The debts to the creditors were settled, and the immediate funding ensured there were no job losses or prolonged disruption to the team.

With the change of ownership, the team, known at that point as Racing Point Force India, required an approval of their midseason entry into the championship, and confirmation of their permission to compete arrived a couple of days before the Belgian GP.

Their midseason points reset, enforced after officially becoming a new entry, didn’t even impact them too greatly, with the team recovering to claim a respectable P7 in the Constructors’ Championship with less than half-a-season remaining.

With their future now secure, the team, which had now changed name to Racing Point for 2019, set about shaking off their recent reputation of cash-strapped, plucky underdogs and developing into a Formula 1 force to be reckoned with. Esteban Ocon left the team and Lance Stroll was duly provided with his seat-for-life alongside Perez for 2019.

Despite out-scoring – and largely outperforming – his junior teammate across 2019 and 2020, Perez soon fell victim to Lawrence Stroll’s higher ambitions.

By the end of 2020, the team had now confirmed their rebrand as Aston Martin for the 2021 season, and sought a more esteemed driver to partner Stroll junior, which they found in four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel. Perez’s seat options for 2021 were becoming more limited as the final stages of the Covid-affected championship approached.

In what was perhaps a slice of karma, before leaving the team Perez dramatically secured his first Formula 1 victory at the Sakhir GP to provide a first win for Racing Point before their name change to Aston Martin.

After appearing at risk of losing out on an F1 seat after 2020, Perez’s impressive victory was likely a decisive factor in Red Bull taking a chance on the Mexican for the 2021 season to solve their second driver dilemma.

Such was Perez’s popularity at ‘Team Silverstone’, his first Red Bull win – the Azerbaijan GP 2021 – was greeted with celebrations and congratulations from not only the Red Bull team, but the team members and mechanics from his old team, who were also celebrating their own podium finish with Vettel.

The investment made by Lawrence Stroll has allowed the overachieving underdog team to grow, and the outfit will now have the opportunity to realise the potential that many believed they possessed.

Their start to the 2023 season, along with the gradual opening of new facilities at their Silverstone base, is enough proof to show that the ambition is there.

If Stroll completes his mission of adding a new name to the list of Constructors’ Championship winners, then it will have come from one of the most obscure origin stories in Formula 1.

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