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The pressure’s within - Q&A with Manor’s Esteban Ocon

07 Sep 2016

Part of Mercedes’ junior driver program, Esteban Ocon started the season as Renault’s Formula One reserve, before landing his race debut with Manor following Rio Haryanto’s recent departure. With such close ties to not one, not two, but three F1 teams, the Frenchman's chances of a full-time drive for 2017 look strong. Now all he has to do is deliver, as he explained exclusively to…

Q: Esteban, your Manor drive came about rather unexpectedly. How would your F1 career have developed without it? You have tested with Force India and Mercedes, and done practice sessions with Renault…

Esteban Ocon: Ha, yes for sure, F1 has come sooner than expected for me. That is great and I am super happy with how it’s gone. Of course, I was working towards next season, keeping on doing practice sessions for Renault, building up a good relationship with them with the hope of eventually jumping into one of their cockpits. But now I’ll have the benefit of hopefully moving to them not as an absolute rookie, but as somebody with nine races under his belt - and that is a real asset.

Q: So the aim has always been to race for Renault in 2017, should they part with one of their current drivers?

EO: Yes, the aim was - or rather let’s say the hope was - to race for Renault in 2017. I don’t know how it would have worked, but that is the part my management is looking after - I am focusing on the driving side.

Q: Fred Vasseur, Renault’s team principal, has said repeatedly that he considers you to be among perhaps five young drivers that he thinks will make it big in the coming years. And Force India’s deputy team principal Bob Fernley has expressed a similar opinion. How do you live up to that?

EO: Wow, thanks gentlemen!

Q: Does that mean pressure? Is the expectation level skyrocketing?

EO: Yes, the expectations are high. But the biggest pressure comes from my side. I want to do well. I want to perform well and make my team happy.

Q: If Fred said it’s you and four others, who else do you suspect he was thinking of?

EO: For sure Max (Verstappen) and Stoffel (Vandoorne)…

Q: Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen?

EO: Well, of course.

Q: Like you, your Manor team mate is also a Mercedes protege - and probably your most immediate competitor for a future seat with the team. Is that very intense?

EO: No, because I am not really worried. Right now I am here to learn. Mercedes and Renault had a common interest to put me in Manor - to prepare me for the future, to give me a good schooling. (Laughs) I am here with that perspective. For sure there will be competition between Pascal and me, but that is why this is F1 and not kindergarten. (Laughs) But having said that, there is no extra pressure on me.

Q: It all sounds like you are convinced that next year you will be in F1, and that the only question now is where…

EO: I am sure that when I show good performance I will have a long-term future in F1. But, of course, I have to deliver.

Q: Wouldn’t it be almost too good to be true: an aspiring, young French driver in a French team?

EO: For sure. Renault has been champion in the past and I have been working with them since my very beginning. So, yes, that would be a dream come true - but first of all I have to do a good job this season.

Q: Max Verstappen’s rise has alerted teams to the risks of missing out on ‘the next big thing’, which must play to your advantage…

EO: Ha, I have never looked at it from this side. Because all F1 teams watch the winners of lower categories so carefully for years, my guess is that they know what they are trading for. Of course, you can never say how a driver will develop in F1, but in general there are not too many bad surprises, when you see Hamilton and Rosberg, Vettel or Ricciardo… The list goes on and on.

Q: Manor are not a team likely to make it on to the front row in the near future - and you are no doubt aware of that. On a personal level, what will it take for you to be satisfied come the final 2016 race in Abu Dhabi - to be able to tell yourself ‘Well done’?

EO: I want to score some points. I am so immoderate in my wishes! (Laughs)

Q: Who is your F1 hero? Just to give us a bit of an idea which direction you want to develop in…

EO: Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher.

Q: These are pretty big shoes to fill…

EO: …and I will do anything so that they will fit some day!