Force India say Esteban Ocon is "every bit as good" as Max Verstappen

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Force India chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer reckons Esteban Ocon is just as talented as Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

Ocon and Verstappen are already tipped as potential future champions in Formula One, with Ocon impressing in his first full-season in the sport, while Verstappen has recorded four victories and turned in a string of superb drives since being promoted to Red Bull four races into 2016.

The pair were European F3 title rivals back in 2014, with Ocon coming out on top to be crowned champion. Verstappen recorded one victory more than the Frenchman and after finishing third in the championship, was instantly promoted to F1 with Toro Rosso for the following season. Mercedes junior Ocon had to wait until mid-way through 2016 until he got his own break with Manor, by which time he had also claimed the GP3 title.

When asked if he feels Ocon is as good a driver as Verstappen, Szafnauer told Sky Sports: "It's hard to know because they are driving different cars. But Max has signed a big contract with Red Bull and we've probably got Ocon for a hundredth of the price. I think Esteban is every bit as good. The first time we ran Esteban in the car we knew he was something special.

"He understands the car really well," he added. "He's got great car control and because of it he can get to the limit very quickly and then he describes what he feels. He also knows what he wants from the car, which is very mature for his age."

A remarkably consistent run of 18 points finishes from 20 races saw Ocon end 2017 just 13 points behind his more experienced teammate Sergio Perez and eighth in the drivers' standings, as Force India recorded its joint-best finish with fourth place in the constructors' and its highest tally of points.

"I think his biggest achievement is his continuous improvement. From where he started 2017 to where he is now, he's improved in many aspects and I think because of that he's scored in all-but two races and continues to push Checo. On any given Saturday we don't know who is going to out-qualify who."

Ocon, who is on "multi-year" loan deal to Force India from Mercedes, has continued to draw admiration from the German manufacturer and Szafnauer is under no illusions that Ocon is destined for a seat with the four-time reigning world champions sooner rather than later.

"Sometimes leasing is better than buying. They might have him back and I think the better he does, the more likelihood of him stepping up to a Mercedes role at some point but for now he's with us. We'll see what the future holds but I think he will continue to improve."