Perez bags superb podium in Russia

Sergio Perez celebrates on the podium in Sochi with Russian president, Vladimir Putin, applauding his podium success

Sergio Perez celebrates on the podium in Sochi with Russian president, Vladimir Putin, applauding his podium success

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Sergio Perez drove to a superb third position for the Silverstone-based Sahara Force India team in Russia at the weekend.

In a Force India VJM08-Mercedes, Perez was in contention for a top finish throughout the latest round of the FIA F1 World Championship at the Sochi Autodrom.

The Mexican, who recently signed a new extension of his contract to remain with the team for 2016, believes he is in the best form of his F1 career.

Speaking afterwards, he said: “I did not expect a podium finish, but I made a good start and it was one of those races that things just begin to go your way.

“I managed to nurse my tyres through the middle of the race and near the end I was in a position to be in the hunt for a good result.

“I didn’t have the pace to keep Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas behind - but when Raikkonen and Bottas crashed on the last lap, I was in a position to pick up the pieces and finish on the podium.

“This is a great feeling to stand on a F1 podium. It was an amazing experience to do it in Russia, and I was standing on the podium alongside Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia.

“ It was quite an amazing feeling to be able to celebrate with the team and say thank you for all their hard work!”

Perez’ team-mate Nico Hulkenberg endured very different fortunes as he was forced out on the opening lap.

He said: “Braking for the second corner I locked up the rear wheels which made me spin. Standing in the middle of the track on the opening lap with nearly the whole field behind you in not ideal, and I was soon hit. I am frustrated as I believe I could have been in a good position to score another great result for the team.”

The Bicester-based Toro Rosso squad also suffered a mixed weekend in Russia that started with Carlos Sainz taken to hospital following a high-speed accident during Free Practice.

The Spaniard spent the night in a Sochi hospital but was released and cleared to drive for the remainder of the Grand Prix event.

He was running strongly in the top then when an exploding brake disc caused him to spin - and retire him from the competition. Max Verstappen, in the second Toro Rosso, survived an opening lap collision with Nico Hulkenberg and Marcus Ericsson to return to the pits for a new tyre and nose cone.

He then recovered throughout the race, to finish tenth at the fall of the chequered flag.