Whitmarsh full of praise for Perez following qualifying

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Martin Whitmarsh has heaped praise upon Sergio Perez after the Mexican driver led McLaren’s charge in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Perez qualified 9th, and he will start 8th after Felipe Massa’s grid penalty. Although this may not be the kind of result McLaren has been used to, it was a good effort after the team was unsure whether either of its drivers would make it through to Q3.

“Checo did a fantastic job in qualifying today,” Whitmarsh said in a team statement. “Especially in Q2 during which he drove a sensational lap to be seventh-quickest.

“In Q3 we considered taking the tactical option, in other words not running him at all in order to conserve an extra set of tyres. But, in the end, on the basis that he was driving so well, we decided to go for it in the hope that he might repeat his Q2 form relative to his principal opposition.”

Eventually, Perez could not match his escapades from the second session, finishing over 1.3 seconds behind pole-sitter Nico Rosberg. Regardless, Whitmarsh was delighted with his driver.

“As things panned out, he lost a little time in sector three on his best Q3 lap and ended up in P9. But, anyway, I want to say ‘Well done Checo’, because he was extremely impressive here this afternoon.”

Jenson Button failed to match the form of his younger teammate after he was eliminated in Q2. The British driver will line up 14th on the grid tomorrow, but he too was impressed by Perez’s performance.

“Congratulations to Checo – he did a great job, particularly in Q2,” Button said. “He did everything right this afternoon and showed that some of our recent upgrades are definitely working. It’s not yet enough, but it’s rewarding to see that we’re making some progress.”

The upgrades may not have provided miracles for McLaren, but their drivers certainly appear to be more comfortable with the car. Perez will be hoping to produce a similar result to his 6th placed finish in Bahrain, albeit without making contact with his teammate this time around.

F1 2017 driver review: Esteban Ocon

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Esteban Ocon

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 31
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P5 (Spain, Mexico)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 87
Championship Position: 8th

A shining star in Mercedes’ junior programme, Esteban Ocon vaulted fellow youngster Pascal Wehrlein in the pecking order to secure a seat at Force India for 2017 – and boy, did he live up to the hype.

Ocon arrived at Force India with half a season of racing under his belt after his outings with Manor late in 2016, but wasted little time in settling in, scoring points on debut in Australia after winning a thrilling three-way fight with Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso.

The Frenchman spent much of the year close to teammate Sergio Perez – even if things did get a little too close in Canada, Baku and, finally, Spa, prompting the team to introduce team orders – and impressed the entire paddock with his displays.

While no podium was forthcoming, Ocon was often leading the midfield fight, enjoying three straight finishes ahead of Perez from Japan to Mexico. Given how well Perez is rated on-track in the paddock, to have convincingly beaten him in such fashion did a lot for Ocon’s reputation.

The term ‘Oconsistency’ also came into F1’s dictionary as he set a new record for consecutive finishes from his first race, with his retirement in Brazil ending the streak at 27 grands prix. It was also his first retirement in a single-seater race since the 2014 Macau Grand Prix.

The highlight moment arguably came at Monza, though, when Ocon stuck his Force India third on the grid through torrential rain in qualifying. While he would drop to P6 at the checkered flag, the display nevertheless cemented his place as one of F1’s rising stars.

Mercedes rates Ocon very highly, and with Valtteri Bottas’ future beyond 2018 already being questioned by the paddock, a good season could see the youngster move on up to the top table of F1 for 2019. His progression in the next 12 months will be fascinating to keep track of.

Season High: Lining up P3 on the grid at Monza after a rainy qualifying.

Season Low: Clashing with Perez in Baku, costing Force India a possible podium.