Esteban Ocon says that Sahara Force India F1 Team are ‘still missing a little bit of pace to keep the big guys behind’ after running third during the opening stages of the 2017 Japanese Grand Prix before ultimately finishing sixth.
Ocon, who started the race fifth, made the most of a good start and opening lap to get ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and the ailing Scuderia Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel.
But the Force India driver, who extends his race finishing streak to a record-equalling twenty-five races, was unable to keep Ricciardo behind him for the duration of the race and also lost out to Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen, both Finns recovering from grid penalties.
“It was a great race, especially the start and the opening laps, and I was running third for a long time,” says Ocon.
“We are still missing a little bit of pace to keep the big guys behind, but it was great fun fighting at the front. I tried my best to keep Ricciardo and Bottas behind, but they were just too quick and I had to let them go and focus on my race.”
Ocon came under pressure from his team-mate Sergio Perez in the closing stages of the race but with the Mexican told to hold station by the team – no doubt courtesy of previous on-track indiscretions between the pair – Ocon was able to manage his pace and tyres to secure yet more points in his first full season of Grand Prix competition.
“The main challenge today was managing my pace because it was a one-stop race and it was important to look after the tyres so they would be strong at the end,” said Ocon.
“I was running ahead of Checo, we had nothing to gain from the cars ahead and a comfortable margin to the cars behind. So the priority was to bring the car home and score the big points.
“It’s been an awesome weekend and it feels as though we achieved the maximum, which is why this result is so enjoyable. We also learned a lot about the car, which will make us stronger in Austin, so that we can hopefully close the gap on the teams ahead of us.”