Sergio Perez has acknowledged that his Force India team mate Esteban Ocon put in a very strong performance in 2017.
However he added that next year, Ocon would be much more under the spotlight. The Frenchman will be expected to prove he can be even better in his sophomore season at the team.
“I think the pressure will be on him now because it’s the second year for him,” Perez explained. “Everyone will expect big things from him.”
Rumours have suggested that another strong season for Ocon could see him picked up by Mercedes for 2019. Silver Arrows boss Toto Wolff has denied the reports, suggesting that the team remains fully behind Valtteri Bottas.
Ocon took over the Force India race seat Nico Hulkenberg at the beginning of 2017. He started his tenure at the team with three back-to-back tenth place finishes. Overall he failed to score points on only two occasions.
“I rated Nico very highly. I still do,” said Perez. “And I certainly rate Esteban. I think he has a lot of talent, a lot of experience. He came to F1 very well prepared.
“It is no secret he is a very good driver and one of the drivers for the future. It was a good challenge during the year.”
But Ocon’s consistently strong performances soon brought him into conflict with Perez and led to some bitter on-track rivalry.
The pair collided at Baku and again in Hungary. When they clashed again at Spa, Force India imposed team orders on the pair for the rest of the season.
“[We] had a bit of a period with a couple of races where we had these rules of engagement, where we could not fight each other,” conceded Perez.
Ocon: ‘I think I’m still faster than Verstappen’
The 27-year-old from Mexico admitted that at times he had struggled to adapt to ongoing changes to the car during the season. He said it had affected his qualifying performance in particular.
“We brought some upgrades,” he recalled. “Setting up the car with those upgrades, I lacked a lot of balance. I was not feeling comfortable over one lap. And Esteban all of a sudden was quite strong in qualifying.
“I think over that period was where I struggled,” he suggested. “I’m pleased that we managed to fix that and we have a very good understanding of what went wrong.”
Even with those problems behind him, Perez admitted that he would have his hands full to beat his team mate in the drivers standings again next year.
“That’s my target, definitely. That’s the main target,” he said. “It will be again very close I think.”
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