Melbourne: Sahara Force India made a dream start to Formula One season with Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez ensuring double points finish for the Siverstone-based outfit by securing creditable sixth and 10th positions, respectively at the eventful Australian Grand Prix on sunday.
Hulkenberg marked his return to Sahara Force India in style, garnering eight points while Perez made his debut for the side with one point at Albert Park.
Starting seventh and 16th on the grid, Hulkenberg and Perez initially finished the race on seventh and 11th positions, respectively, but they moved up a rung after Red Bull`s Dainel Ricciardo lost his second-place finish after stewards decided his car had run with too high a fuel flow rate during the race.
The disqualification means 13 drivers out of 22 completed the race.
Ricciardo crossed the line behind winner Nico Rosberg to claim his maiden F1 podium. His exclusion elevates McLaren`s Kevin Magnussen to second spot and teammate Jenson Button to third.
Ricciardo`s disqualification made a significant impact on the final standings and helped Sahara Force India garner nine points from the season-opening race.
Despite facing some tough challenges in the opening laps, Hulkenberg finished the race 50.7 seconds behind fellow German Rosberg of Mercedes, who led from start to finish to win the race.
Hulkenberg`s teammate Perez, too, impressed in his debut race for Sahara Force India and finished in the points bracket, just 22.4 second behind ninth place Daniil Kvyat of Torro Rosso.
Rosberg, meanwhile, took the chequered flag 26.7 and 30 seconds ahead of McLaren duo of Magnussen and Button.
Magnussen, 21, thus became the first Danish driver ever to reach the podium.
Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso of Ferrari moved to the fourth position ahead of Williams` Valtteri Bottas, Hulkenberg and Kimi Raikkonen in the other Ferrari.
But it turned out to be a forgettable outing for defending world champion Sebastian Vettel and pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton, both of whom retired early due to power issues, as F1 witnessed a series of technical changes this year.
This year Formula One has shifted to quieter,
turbocharged 1.6-litre V6 engines with hybrid components and a limit on fuel and the rate of fuel use.
It was an eventful race from the start as Felipe Massa and Kamui Kobayashi collided in the opening lap, thus drawing curtains to their run before it had started.
Hulkenberg, meanwhile, was delighted with his start to the season, which incidentally was the German`s maiden finish at the Albert Park here.
"Sixth place is a positive way to start the season. I was very happy to see the chequered flag ? the first time I`ve done so in Melbourne ? and it`s important to score some good points early on," said Hulkenberg, who race the first 33 laps on soft tyres before completing the last 24 on mediums.
Hulkenberg, in fact, was fighting for fourth position throughout the race with Ferrari`s Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen.
"I made a strong start and enjoyed good track position for the first two stints when I was running up in fourth. The only real issue I had was some front left graining on the soft tyres, which never really cleared up and that compromised my first two stints," he said.
"I want to thank the team for the amazing job they`ve done over the winter and this weekend to get us to this point. It`s been a great effort and it`s nice to reward everyone with some points at the first race."
Perez was "satisfied" with his performance in the season-opener.
"I`m satisfied to finish the race. My race became very difficult on lap one when I got hit by the Sauber of Gutierrez at turn three. It gave me a puncture and I had to return to the pits very slowly, which dropped me to the back of the pack. After that I just tried to keep a consistent pace on the medium tyres and I was quite fortunate that the safety car came out, which helped me recover some positions," he said.
"It`s positive to finish the race because it gives the team lots of information and hopefully that will make us stronger for Malaysia," Perez said.
Sahara Force India team principal and managing director Vijay Mallya was all praise for his drivers.
"Starting the season with points is what we were aiming to do so we`re happy with today`s result. Nico (Hulkenberg) drove an excellent race and was able to fight near the front for most of the race. Sergio`s race was much more challenging with a puncture on lap one making it difficult for him to show the pace of the car. The safety car allowed him to catch up," Mallya said.
"Overall we are pleased to see both cars make the finish in this new era of Formula One and we have learnt a huge amount. I congratulate everyone in the team for all their hard work over the winter and I look forward to Malaysia in two weeks` time where we will aim to build on what we learned this weekend," he added.