I think this is a season, or even last chance, for Sergio to make a push for a top line seat. It’s not that he hasn’t proved year after year or that he doesn’t have the skills but that year at Mclaren really took the momentum out of his career. Since then he has shown he has fantastic speed as well as an uncanny sense of how to maximize the Pirelli tyre’s potential. He is definitely in the top 3 on the grid at tyre management if not the best.
With the new lower deg Pirellis, this may not work in his favour but I still think he can shine on any given day as long as he has the tools to do it. He and Hulkenberg were a key part in the Force India’s success last year and for me they were the team of the year. If Mighty Force India can repeat these types of results, he may just have a shot at that premier drive but I think he needs to get on the podium a couple of times to get a look in.
As is the case nowadays in racing, everyone is searching for the new padawan-aged wunderkind and it may or may not work in his favour to have one of those kids alongside him in the garage. If he can dominate Ocon he can make it difficult for him to be ignored and if he can’t, he may be looked over for someone with more potential than experience. So, with that said how much will he be willing to tutor the young Frenchman on the ways of the world in F1? I’d say as little as possible, which will be a bit of a change as I think the team mentality (us vs the big guys) with Hulk last year really helped them develop the car and best Williams to 4th spot in the championship.
This young Frenchman has sort of flown in under the radar into F1, even though an F3 & GP3 champion he has been shadowed by the success of Max Verstappen at least in the public eye. Behind the scenes he has been given a lot of support which has cumulated in a great drive at Force India after just a ½ season run for the now defunct Manor team.
At Manor, he was up against Pascal Wehrlein who I still think had the better of Ocon but apparently the German didn’t give Force India that warm fuzzy feeling and they chose Esteban instead (French cheek kisses suit Vijay more than strong handshakes). Ocon does have a lot of talent, that’s for sure, and backs up his speed with consistency and an ability to bring the car to the finish without many errors. If the car is up to it, he should be able to put some good points on the board and I would say there is not too much pressure on him to beat his team mate who, lucky for him, is highly rated on the grid so to get close or even equal to Sergio will keep his rise intact.
It will be interesting to see how he, and perhaps all the new drivers, adapt to the new rules as now it is both a massive jump in cornering speed as well as a need and ability to push harder for longer. He has grown up in the Pirelli era of eggshell tyres that need to be coddled whereas many of his older competitors have more experience with a more durable tyre. I’m sure he is up for the job but it may take a little getting used to initially. His job is to learn from and chase Sergio full stop which should help him focus from race to race. Still waiting for that breakout race from him so let’s keep an eye on him.