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Ocon ‘needs a couple of years’ to be ready for Mercedes F1 seat

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Force India driver Esteban Ocon needs to spend “a couple of years” developing further down the Formula 1 grid before he is ready for a seat with Mercedes, according to team chief Toto Wolff.

Ocon, 20, is a member of Mercedes’ junior program, and made his F1 debut with Manor last year in Belgium before moving up to Force India for 2017.

Ocon has impressed through his opening eight races with Force India, scoring points in all but one race and recording a best finish of fifth place at the Spanish Grand Prix.

With Mercedes taking its time to decide upon Valtteri Bottas’ future beyond the end of this season, Ocon had seemed like a potential option to move up and join the world champion team for 2018 alongside Lewis Hamilton.

However, Wolff feels that the Frenchman needs to continue to make mistakes and find his feet in F1 before he will be ready to jump up to a top-line drive.

“He’s very impressive, but he needs a couple of years,” Wolff told NBCSN in Friday’s edition of Paddock Pass.

“He’s very young, 20 years old. We can’t afford to have a learning ground in a Mercedes.”

Wolff made reference to Ocon’s recent clashes with Force India teammate Sergio Perez, with the pair coming together in Baku two weeks ago in an incident that cost the team a possible podium finish.

“You need to have done it all, lost a couple of front wings at the starts and touched your teammate,” Wolff said.

“He has a bright future, but as it stands, experience is a very important factor for us.”

Wolff confirmed to NBCSN on Friday that Bottas had “done enough” to secure himself a seat with Mercedes for 2018, but that a final decision would not be taken until the summer.

Usain Bolt, Bill Clinton among headline guests for USGP at COTA

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The Circuit of The Americas paddock ahead of the United States Grand Prix may have been busy with teams and drivers preparing for lights out, but much of the attention lay with a number of headline guests including former presidents and Olympic champions.

As part of its plans to up the excitement levels ahead of Sunday’s grand prix and mirror other sporting events, F1’s new owner, Liberty Media, announced plans a couple of weeks ago to link up with iconic boxing announcer Michael Buffer and eight-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt for the pre-race festivities.

Ahead of today’s race in Austin, Buffer will introduce the drivers in a number of groups before offering the call for drivers to start their engines, similar to the pre-race procedure for the Indianapolis 500.

Honorary race starter Bolt, who competed in his last athletic world championship event in London earlier this year, will appear on the start line to complete his signature victory pose before waving the green flags to launch the formation lap.

Bolt was also treated to a hot lap around COTA by Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton before the start of the formal pre-race build up program in Austin.

Liberty issued a list of celebrities and other public figures who are confirmed to be attending today’s race, including Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden and actor Owen Wilson among others.

One name that wasn’t on the list? 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton, who quickly became a focus for the paddock upon arrival three hours before lights out.

The United States Grand Prix is live on NBC and NBC Sports app from 2pm ET today.