Sergio Perez believes Esteban Ocon has big shoes to fill at Force India, describing Nico Hulkenberg as “one of the best” drivers in F1.
Hulkenberg made the decision to join Renault over the winter, being released from his Force India contract a year early after three seasons alongside Perez. Mercedes youngster Ocon was signed as Hulkenberg’s replacement and Perez believes the Frenchman has the potential to be a success but says he will be following a top quality driver.
“I think Nico is one of the best ones out there,” Perez said. “It was very difficult to beat him this year and last year… it has been very competitive between us and we push each other forward quite a lot.
“I learned a lot from him, I don’t know whether he learned a lot from me but I look forward to having a similar level of competitiveness to Esteban. I have heard a lot of good things about him so let’s see how quick he is and how quick he can get on with the new regulations. We are all starting from zero.”
And having previously claimed Force India can target a top three position in the constructors’ championship in 2017, Perez says Ocon’s ability to produce consistent results like Hulkenberg will be crucial to that challenge.
“Definitely. The team went for the best possible driver that they could get. Everyone is happy to have Esteban for next year so let’s hope we can deliver many points to the team.”
ÚLTIMA HORA.— MotorF9 (@MotorF9) December 3, 2016
Esteban Ocon ficha por Force India pic.twitter.com/LTuHCKPoQD
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner believes Max Verstappen has upset the establishment in F1 following his promotion this year.
Verstappen was handed a Red Bull race seat after the Russian Grand Prix, with Daniil Kvyat demoted to Toro Rosso after causing multiple collisions at the start of his home race.
Verstappen duly won in Barcelona and has been a threat in a number of races, with his defensive driving coming under criticism at times from the Ferrari and Mercedes drivers.
However, Horner believes the negative comments are a result of Verstappen emerging as a new threat to those chasing wins and championships, but has been impressed by the way the teenager has ignored his critics.
“I don’t really understand what they are moaning about,” Horner said. “He is doing a great job and driving the wheels off the car and he is racing hard.
“When sometimes a new guy comes along and upsets the establishment a bit then they do get a bit of criticism. He is not rising to that. He is keeping his head down and enjoying his racing.
Anything that de-stabilises an established pecking order is always not well received.
“I don’t think he has done anything wrong. He has raced hard, he is exciting and giving it everything every time he is in the car, and he loves what he is doing. He is passionate about it.”
Verstappen’s approach won him two awards at the FIA Prize Giving this month, with the Red Bull driver winning Action of the Year for his move on Nico Rosberg in Brazil, and also Personality of the Year.
After a dismal 2015 season where poor engine and reliability brought Renault and partners Red Bull to the very brink of separation, the Milton Keynes-based outfit harnessed its improved power unit to bounce back this year, securing one pole position, two wins and another 14 podiums.
More importantly, Renault showed perfect reliability when its engine rivals suffered a few hiccups, including Mercedes, whose power plant has been ruling the roost in the latest V6 1.6-litre turbocharged era.
“Our biggest achievement was our progress on the engine side,” Abiteboul said during the Renault Sport Series Awards Ceremony in Paris. “We have emerged from a situation where performance and reliability was poor to have the most reliable unit in the field.”
“We don’t have the most power yet but we have planned several significant steps to further improve our package and make it the best engine as early as 2018.”
Renault team principal Frédéric Vasseur said last month that the French constructor is working on a “100% new” power unit for next season, which has been made possible by the scrapping of the much-maligned engine development token system.