Ocon delighted after edging Hulkenberg for P6 in Austin
“When I crossed the line I felt like ‘wow there's not a lot left in there’.” That was Esteban Ocon’s assessment of his Austin qualifying heroics, and understandably so, after the Force India star finished just 0.070s ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg to finish ‘best of the rest' on Saturday.
Force India have enjoyed a positive run since changing ownership ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix, securing 43 points after their tally was reset, and that form could well continue this weekend, with Ocon pushing his VJM11 challenger to its limits in qualifying.
Ocon certainly has a great chance to deliver a result, given the only cars in front of him are the Mercedes, the Ferraris and the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo. And it was a morale-boosting personal achievement for the Frenchman, who could miss out on an F1 seat next season.
“I am really happy with our performance today. It’s awesome to be sixth on the grid – the best of the rest – but it was a really close session all the way through.
“In Q3, my lap was very strong and the car was working really well. Tomorrow the aim is to stay where we are and bring home the points. The race pace is a bit unknown because of the wet weather yesterday but I think we can be just as competitive tomorrow.
“It was definitely a good feeling, that last lap, the car was working really well and when I crossed the line I felt ‘wow there's not a lot left in there’. It was enough for P6 so today we are really happy.
“The only thing I can do is do my talking on track, that is what I try to do. My motivation is as high as it can be and I'm pushing hard.”
It was Renault’s Hulkenberg who was the unfortunate driver to miss out on P6, though the German is confident his team can take the fight to their midfield rivals in Sunday’s Grand Prix.
“I was happy with the laps I produced, and I think we got the most from the car,” said Hulkenberg. “Even in race pace, usually we look better than in qualifying.
“In qualifying it has been a bit tricky. The recent few qualifying sessions for me have not be so great so pleased to be back in the top ten for once.
“We want (a good result). I think it is possible, it’s not going to be easy. We have a lot of good cars around us. But I don’t think we need to hide.
"In Suzuka, which is a more difficult track for us, Carlos (Sainz) managed to get one point – that was very encouraging. I think, if anything, here should be better for us.”
Ocon and Hulkenberg will each have an eye on the race for P7 in the drivers’ championship, with the pair both in with a chance of finishing best of the rest. Hulkenberg is tied on 53 points with Force India’s Sergio Perez and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, three ahead of McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and four ahead of Ocon in 11th.