ABU DHABI – Esteban Ocon and Adderly Fong will make their Formula 1 weekend debuts in Abu Dhabi on Friday when they take part in practice at Yas Marina.
With FP1 taking place in the daytime and offering little in the way of information for the teams ahead of the nighttime race, it does offer them a chance to test out their younger drivers and evaluate them up against the current F1 field.
Ocon, 18, won this year’s FIA Formula 3 European Championship in a very competitive field that also included 2015 Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen.
The Frenchman is highly rated within the F1 paddock, and will take part in practice for Lotus on Friday in Abu Dhabi as part of his development programme with the British team. He will also run in the post-race test at Yas Marina next week on Tuesday, with team reserve driver Charles Pic running on the Wednesday.
“It is a fantastic opportunity for me to drive in my first session at a grand prix and I am tremendously grateful to Lotus F1 Team and Gravity Sport Management,” Ocon said. “The practice session on Friday will be my first time driving the Yas Marina Circuit and my first time in the latest generation Formula 1 car, so there will be a lot to learn, especially as I will be completing the team’s programme for the free practice session.
“For the test day we will have far more time me to learn and develop with the car so I’m really looking forward to Abu Dhabi.”
Fong has enjoyed a rather patchy junior career so far, scoring just two points in the last two years of GP3. He has also taken part in one Indy Lights race (Baltimore 2012) and some other formative series, but enjoyed his biggest run with Sauber in a two-year-old car in Valencia earlier this year. He will now follow this up with FP1 in Abu Dhabi.
“I am very excited about my Formula 1 debut in Abu Dhabi, but also at the same time a little bit nervous,” 24-year-old Fong said. “Last month I drove the Sauber C31 for the first time in Valencia, and it was good to get the mileage to be able to familiarise myself with the speed of a Formula 1 car.
“Being able to drive during a Formula 1 weekend is a great privilege, and I am very happy to have the opportunity. It is good that I already know the track as at the same time here last year I did a GP3 race.”
Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.
If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.
“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”
The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.
Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.
But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.
“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.
“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”
Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.
If #F1 wants to start looking around for an American driver, Colton Herta has a suggestion for where that search should start. https://t.co/71PVeu6aBj
Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.
A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.
“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.
“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”
During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:
–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;
–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;
–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”
–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.
“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”