By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Mexican Sergio Perez hopes to forge a winning partnership with Germany's Nico Hulkenberg after agreeing a multi-year deal to race for the Force India Formula One team.
Presented by principal and team co-owner Vijay Mallya at the Mexican ambassador's central London residence on Thursday, the 23-year-old driver said he was hungry for success after a lean year at McLaren.
"After I left McLaren, clearly my best choice was to come to Force India, because of the whole package," he told Reuters. "A very hungry team, very honest people and a great team mate...everything has really inspired me.
"I think we are, without doubt, one of the strongest driver line-ups on the grid and together with Nico we can move the team forward."
The completion of Force India's 2014 line-up left Britain's Paul di Resta and Germany's Adrian Sutil seeking new employers with only Sauber, Caterham and Marussia still having seats available.
Sutil could move to Sauber while Di Resta's best bet could be the IndyCar series in America, where his cousin Dario Franchitti has just retired after winning the Indy 500 three times, or a return to the German touring car championship (DTM).
Perez joins after he was replaced at under-performing McLaren by Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen, 21, which left him scrambling to find a place.
His passage was eased by strong financial backing from Mexican sponsors, which one informed source put at 15 million euros ($20.63 million) a year, although Mallya was adamant money was not the determining factor.
"We haven't chosen any one of our two drivers because of any commercial backing at all," said the drinks tycoon. "That's against my basic philosophy.
"His presence opens up a whole new opportunity for us, which we will exploit going forward, but that is not a pre-condition for us having selected him."
Perez said Mexican telephone company Telmex, who have backed him throughout his career, would follow him along with other Mexican sponsors.
Mallya would not comment on whether he felt McLaren had made a mistake in letting Perez go, and the driver made clear he harbored no resentment.
"For me, there is no point in looking back," said Perez. "I want to look forward, to be here after one year and say it was the best thing that could have happened in my career.
"It's a great opportunity for my career...I am very thankful to McLaren as well for the opportunity they gave me, they definitely made me a better driver. People will be surprised with what I can do in the car in 2014."
McLaren failed to finish on the podium this year, their worst season since 1980, but Perez had impressed before that with Sauber where he also enjoyed the status of being part of Ferrari's young driver academy.
"I was pretty impressed with what he did at Sauber," Mallya told Reuters. "Obviously it was impressive enough then for McLaren to pick him up. Anybody being signed up by McLaren has to have some basic talent and strengths.
"So when he became available we evaluated him seriously...and ultimately we decided that the best pairing we could have was Nico and Checo."
Mercedes-powered Force India finished sixth overall in the constructors' standings this year and have yet to win a race, with Giancarlo Fisichella's pole and second place in Belgium in 2009 their best result to date.
Mallya hoped that final hurdle could now be crossed.
"We've been distinctly unlucky in the last couple of years, we should have had a few podiums under our belt but hopefully things will change in 2014," he said. ($1 = 0.7271 euros)
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Stephen Wood and Toby Davis)