Force India could complete Perez deal by Spa

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Force India COO Otmar Szafnauer believes the team can reach an agreement to retain Sergio Perez for 2018 before next weekend's Belgian Grand Prix at Spa.

The Mexican turned down an opportunity to join Renault and remain with the Silverstone-based outfit for this season and that faith has been rewarded as he sits seventh in the Drivers' Championship and the team sit fourth in the Constructors' standings 60 points clear of Williams in fifth.

It was thought Perez would be in the running to replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari, but with the Scuderia likely to retain their current line-up another year with Force India, whom he joined in 2014 looks all but certain.

“We haven't quite signed Sergio yet but we're not far off," Szafnauer claimed. "I think we can get it done by Spa.

“The high likelihood is that we're going to stick with our two drivers but I can't say that 100% because not both of them are signed."

The seven-time podium sitter is usually part of the driver market every year as his sponsors seek opportunities to move Perez up the grid. As a result, Force India do have to consider alternatives, with many pointing to Pascal Wehrlein, a former teammate of second driver Esteban Ocon and a driver who has previously tested with the team.

Asked about the young German, who looks set to lose his seat at Sauber to one of Ferrari's young talents, Szafnauer admitted: "There's always got to be a plan B. If for some reason we don't sign Checo - but I believe we will – then you've got to look around, including Wehrlein. He's not so bad!"

Despite Perez and Ocon forming perhaps the strongest line-up in the midfield, many believe Force India have peaked in fourth, particularly given the gap between the top three teams and the rest.

However, the two drivers have occasionally been thorns in the side of Red Bull and Ferrari and Szafnauer sees no reason why the now decade-old team can't meet owner Vijay Mallya's target of breaking into that top three.

"I think the drivers will get better because they'll learn more, I think the engine will get better because Mercedes upgrade every year,” the COO commented.

“The pink [livery from sponsors BWT] - I don't know how much more pink it can be because it's pretty pink! But we're working hard on getting the car to go quicker.

"There's some things we can do in the short term which we will do and I hope that relative to the top three we'll be closer next year."

 

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