Force India COO Otmar Szafnauer believes his driver Esteban Ocon is at a similar level to the man most consider as the leader of the next generation of Formula 1 stars, Max Verstappen.
The two men do have an interesting history as, while the Dutchman made all the noise upon joining the Red Bull program and entering European F3 in 2014, it was Ocon who would win the title that year at his expense.
Max would immediately step up to F1 with Toro Rosso in 2015 while Ocon would add the GP3 title to his name before finally getting his chance with Manor in the second half of the 2016 season.
Last year, the Silverstone outfit chose the Frenchman over Pascal Wehrlein to replace Nico Hulkenberg and it would prove the right call as he would score points in 18 of 20 races and become a major thorn in the side of highly-rated teammate Sergio Perez.
"I think Esteban is every bit as good [as Verstappen]. The first time we ran Esteban in the car we knew he was something special," Szafnauer told Sky Sports.
"He understands the car really well. 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."
Already, the performances of the Mercedes junior have put him on many people's list as a potential replacement for Valtteri Bottas in 2019, should the Finn not meet expectations and entering the second of his two-year deal at Force India, Ocon's future will be up for speculation.
"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," Szafnauer claimed.
"We'll see what the future holds but I think he will continue to improve. Max has signed a big contract with Red Bull and we've probably got Ocon for a hundredth of the price."
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