By Alan Baldwin
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – Mexican Sergio Perez saw a bright future for Force India after the Formula One team finally confirmed on Thursday that he would continue racing for them in 2019.
“I definitely want to be part of this next generation of the team,” he told reporters at the U.S. Grand Prix. “We have very promising times ahead of us.”
Force India have yet to name their other driver but there is no doubt it will be Canadian Lance Stroll, whose billionaire father Lawrence heads a consortium that now controls the Silverstone-based outfit.
Perez, whose extension effectively means current team mate Esteban Ocon will not be part of the racing lineup next year, said Stroll senior was up to speed and taking a hands-on approach.
“He’s very motivated with his new project,” he said.
Perez, 28, played a major role in events leading to the takeover of the team in August and has said for some time that he knew where he would be racing next year. He declined to give details about the contract or when he had signed it.
Force India, previously co-owned by financially-troubled Indian magnate Vijay Mallya, went into administration at the end of July after Perez made a claim for $4.01 million that was owed to him.
The action was supported by engine provider Mercedes and team sponsor BWT which were also owed significant sums.
The team, now known as Racing Point Force India to distinguish them from predecessors Sahara Force India who finished fourth overall for the last two years but are now seventh, are expected to change name next year.
Perez, who joined Force India in 2014 after a difficult year with McLaren following two seasons with Sauber, has had five podium finishes with the team including third in Azerbaijan last April.
The sport’s sole Mexican driver, the best of the rest this season outside the top three teams, has also brought significant sponsorship.
McLaren have meanwhile not had a top three finish since the opening race of 2014.
“I’ve been here five years and I know the potential,” said Perez. “Everyone here has been very loyal as well. We went into a big uncertainty with our futures and everyone stuck together. It’s great to see the outcome for the team.
“I’m optimistic that already next year we should be making a good step forwards… now that we are going to have more resources in place, we should have the right guidance and be really strong.”
Force India team principal Otmar Szafnauer said Perez had established himself as “one of the most talented and consistent drivers on the Formula One grid” and would provide valuable stability.
Ocon’s only remaining chance of racing in Formula One next season now rests with Mercedes-powered Williams, Stroll’s current employers who have so far confirmed only Britain’s Formula Two leader George Russell.
Like Russell, Ocon also has a long-term Mercedes contract and is a talent the reigning champions are nurturing for the future.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Ken Ferris)