Szafnauer sings Ocon's praises


While his nine outings for Manor at the end of 2016 hardly set the world alight, Esteban's full season with Force India in 2017 was entirely different.

While it would be presumptuous to suggest that the lanky youngster is France's best hope for F1 success since Alain Prost, the fact is that he is clearly very good.

He came, he saw and he clearly ruffled Sergio Perez' feathers, the Mexican having to use every trick in the book - and then some - to fend off the ever improving youngster.

Force India's chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer is almost gushing in his praise of Ocon, claiming that the youngster has the potential to be just as good as Max Verstappen who he beat to the Euro F3 title in 2014.

"It's hard to know because they are driving different cars," Szafnauer tells Sky Sports. "But Max has signed a big contract with Red Bull and we've probably got Ocon for a hundredth of the price.

"I think Esteban is every bit as good," he adds. "The first time we ran Esteban in the car we knew he was something special. He understands the car really well. He's got great car control and because of it he can get to the limit very quickly and then he describes what he feels. He also knows what he wants from the car, which is very mature for his age."

Throughout 2017, as they consistently battled for the same piece of tarmac, Ocon and Perez thrilled and chilled us, the team eventually having to issue team orders following two particularly hairy clashes at Spa-Francorchamps.

"I think his biggest achievement is his continuous improvement," admits Szafnauer. "From where he started 2017 to where he is now, he's improved in many aspects and I think because of that he's scored in all-but two races and continues to push Checo. On any given Saturday we don't know who is going to out-qualify who."

However, Szafnauer is only too aware that Ocon is merely 'on loan' from Mercedes, and it is only a matter of time before the German manufacturer comes calling, perhaps as early as next season.

"Sometimes leasing is better than buying," he laughs. "They might have him back and I think the better he does, the more likelihood of him stepping up to a Mercedes role at some point but for now he's with us. We'll see what the future holds but I think he will continue to improve."

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Published: 08/01/2018
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