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Esteban Ocon Q&A: I thought Force India was a fairy tale

11 Nov 2016

After just seven races, Esteban Ocon's F1 aspirations were given a major boost when he won the race to partner Sergio Perez at Force India next year. Little wonder he says his career is now 'ahead of schedule' - but how did it all come about, and when did the 20-year-old really start to believe it would happen?

Q: Esteban, you are now officially the occupant of the second Force India cockpit for next season. For many it is by far the best seat available!

Esteban Ocon: Ha, and I am super happy about it! It all happened two days ago – when I put my signature on the contract. Then I knew it was for real, and wasn't a fairy tale! I have the tendency to only believe in things that I personally see, so by putting my name on that paper I confirmed it to myself! (Laughs) 

Q: When did it start to become serious? Signing is only the final chapter in such negotiations…

EO: I was at the Force India factory last week, but at that point I was still not sure that it really would happen. It became very real two days ago. 

Q: When you say that you have signed a contract: you are under contract with Mercedes – so what did you sign?

EO: It was a contract that says that Mercedes agrees to my move – and I signed to approve of all that.

Q: To what do you attribute Force India's interest in you? 

EO: Well, it is true that I don't come with a lot of experience as I joined F1 halfway through the season. So I would assume that my progress during that time was a good point – and my two tests with Force India in 2015. Both tests back then were great! I was right behind the Mercedes. I remember my Austria run was a difficult day, with very difficult conditions changing from super wet, to wet to dry. But obviously I have impressed.

Q: From the first race next year in Australia you are expected to score points. Are you aware that there will be significant pressure? Force India has punched above their weight for years – and the same will be expected from you…

EO: I know! And I am also aware that Force India has an incredible standing to defend! Sure a lot will depend on the performance of the new car – and where everybody else will be after the winter tests. 

Q: There were only ever a few names in the frame at Force India - and one of those was your current team mate Wehrlein. Do you feel a bit sorry for him being overlooked?

EO: I cannot really comment on why they have chosen me and not him. That is a question for Force India to answer. I only can say that I am super happy. F1 is a sport and teams chose a driver because they believe he can deliver what they need. That's it! 

Q: How would you say that you have changed in the last couple of months? Are you making progress?

EO: Yes, because I feel that I have learned a lot in those past weeks and months. Every time I get into the car it is going a bit easier. And all the processes – and everything that comes with F1 – becomes more natural with every race that's gone by. You get in a rhythm that comes more and more natural every time you enter the paddock! (Laughs) I also have to thank Manor - they've given me a great opportunity to start my career in F1!

Q: Force India's deputy team principal Bob Fernley said not so long ago that if he was pressed to make a decision between you and Pascal Wehrlein it would always be you. But was it really a Force India decision, or were Mercedes the driving force?

EO: It is Force India that gives me the opportunity. Mercedes is managing my career - Mercedes don't have power over Force India! And don't forget the second name, as a possible replacement for Nico Hulkenberg, is also somebody whose career is managed by Mercedes!

Q: A lot of people believed that you would join the Renault team because of your French background. They signed Jolyon Palmer again on the same day you signed with Force India. Had they been waiting for you – or Mercedes - to make a move?

EO: Yes, I can confirm that there had been talks with Renault – but I can't say why I didn't go there. And to be honest the only thing that matters for me is that I have a seat for next year. And what a seat this is: with a team that holds P4 in the standings right now! If I reflect on my career I am already ahead of my own schedule as I had expected to join F1 in 2017 in one way or the other – and now I am already here and have secured a competitive cockpit for next season! 

Q: That sounds like you have a one-year contract?

EO: No, for two years. The contract is between me, Mercedes and Force India.

Q: So if Mercedes suddenly need a driver, could you take off from Force India before the two years have finished?

EO: This is something for Toto Wolff to answer! 

Q: We'll finish with a question you can answer then: how was it today on track?

EO: I had a pretty good day! Doing a lot of mileage – all in all 76 laps – was pretty cool. I like this track, even if it is a rough ride for the rear tyres after a few laps. But I guess we all knew that this would be the case, so no real surprise. What will be really interesting is what happens if the conditions change. There are some people out there who have a lot to lose on Sunday. The good thing for me is that I can only gain - more experience for sure, and hopefully even points! That what I am looking for!