Hitting tomorrow's apex
Esteban Ocon, Pascal Wehrlein and George Russell are the three youngsters that make up Mercedes-Benz’s Junior Program. We wanted to know what they do to get their name in the hall of fame of tomorrow.
There are many powerful personalities in Formula 1. How challenging is it to make a name for yourself?
Pascal: Everything comes down to results. If you’re winning races and championships, you’re making a name for yourself through your actions. That’s how people recognize you. The second thing is to be as you truly are. When you’re younger you’re always trying to say the right thing, you don’t want to be seen as rude or too ambitious. But what you want to say at the height of emotion, that shows what kind of racer you really are. For me, I can’t separate my emotions from racing because I love it so much. I’d give everything for it.
George: Formula 1 is an extremely competitive world and you’ve got to try and excel in every area. It’s not just about being the quickest on the track or the best person in front of the cameras – you’ve got to be on top of your game in every aspect. The perception of drivers can be tricky too, there’s intense scrutiny from the media. If you’ve had a tough race and are full of adrenalin, it’s easy to snap back with your feelings.
Despite drivers being at the forefront, behind them is a huge team. In Mercedes’ case, you’ve got over a thousand people in Brackley and Brixworth putting their heart and soul into two cars. If the car is struggling at a race weekend for whatever reason, you can’t afford to come out and criticize them, because at the end of the day you are all working towards the same goal. You’re all in it together.
About creating a public personality for myself, that will come with time. At the moment I’m in a position where I’m not trying to create something, all I’m trying to do is win.
Is winning all that matters?
Esteban: Every driver works towards that goal and it has to be my target if I want to become World Champion. You have to do your best with what you have to hand. For example, if it’s a car destined for sixth place, because of limitations outside of your control, then that is your target. It’s the same once you have a winning car, you have to do the best with what you have and the people that are behind you.
Successful Formula 1 teams thrive on small margins – as a driver, how can you improve your performance to achieve results for the team?
Pascal: There are two sides to this, because first you always want to improve yourself, your abilities and your strengths and then of course there is the work you are doing with the team, the direction you are giving them, how you work together and motivate them. Balancing both is crucial.
With society changing, do you think what it takes to be a driver is also changing?
Esteban: A little, because there are more things that come into play now. You work with a lot of specialists and advanced technology. You have to be aware of everything, 15 years ago press and marketing was very different, you didn’t have the ‘always on’ mentality that comes with social media. You have to be much more complete as a person, as well as a driver.
Pascal: Every year the rules are changing, so as a driver you have to constantly adapt. Technology-wise as well, what an engineer can see and act on has changed drastically over the last 30 years. Today, you cannot hide on the track, or from the team, as they can see everything in the data. The moment you brake around a corner and are five seconds too late, an engineer will tell you what went wrong in real-time, so the next lap you get it right.
As a racing driver, your body and mind are constantly put to the test. What is the hardest aspect of your training and lifestyle?
George: As a driver you’ve got to have a strong upper body, your neck especially, in order to handle the G-forces. Many people don’t realize how much is going through your body per lap. To put it into context, in a big breaking zone, your neck could be experiencing up to 50 kilos of force onto it. Lap after lap, corner after corner, it’s a huge task. Also, mentally, it’s very tough. Your heart rate is racing because of all the things you have to take care of – managing the tyres, managing the people around, thinking about the pit stop, thinking about all the variables on the steering wheel. You have to take care of driving as quick as possible, at every braking point. It’s intense!
Esteban: Definitely the winter, which most people think is a resting period. For the past two months I’ve been training in the Pyrenees at high altitude, with no breaks, no family, no friends. It’s intense from 9am – 7pm, exercising and running in the mountains. Then it’s eat, sleep, repeat.
Do you have any other passions or career aspirations outside of racing?
Esteban: I love most sports. Sometimes when I am a bit tired and don’t feel like a big day of training during the season, I’ll play tennis with friends, do some mountain biking, a session of table tennis during the afternoon. Of course, I like engines, fuel, the smell of rubber. Anything that has an engine and some tires on – I love it. My dad is a mechanic and was a key part of my career, he was the one pushing me in the beginning and was actually my mechanic when I was in karting. He used to do the job of five people on my car!
Pascal: Of course, but for the moment, I have to focus on making the best possible career for myself. Your formative years span from 18 – 25 years old and you lay the foundations for any Formula One career then. There will be a life after racing many years from now and I’m sure I will find something that I will enjoy, even if it’s not as much fun as racing!
George: Formula One is pretty much my life because it’s one of the most competitive sports to reach in the world. There are only 20 top drivers, compared to a footballer who has the option of twenty premiership teams, each team has 30 places and if they can’t make it in the Premier League, they can go to the league below. If they can’t make it in England they can go to Scotland or France, Spain, Germany – there are so many areas for them to play at the highest level. I’m currently at the stage of my career where you’re wanting to break into the top 20 and if you want to achieve that, you’ve got to give it everything. You can’t afford to be leaving anything on the table. I’ve got one shot at this because once the opportunity’s gone, it won’t be coming again. I realize that’s kind of putting all your eggs in one basket, high-risk, high-reward, but this is what I’ve been doing since I was a child. It’s what I love.
Where is your favorite place to drive (and in what)?
Where is your favorite place to drive (and in what)?
Esteban: There are two options. I’ve worked so hard to get where I am today, so sitting in a Formula One car on the grid in Monaco is very special. I also really enjoy driving in Paris, having the view of the boulevards ahead, that is very beautiful.
Pascal: Something I’ve never done but would like to do is drive a drift car with friends, like in the Fast and Furious movies, up and down the mountains in Japan. It’s been a dream of mine for a while.
George: The street circuit in Macau is the most unique circuit I’ve ever driven in my life. It’s got a huge amount of character, massively long straights, extremely tight and twisty sections, elevation changes, it’s got everything. It’s crazy. And it would have to be in an F3 car, as you can’t run a Formula One car on the track. If you ask the current Formula One grid their favorite track, the guys who have driven in Macau, I’m confident that 90% of them would say that is their choice place. It’s electric.
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Pascal made the leap into DTM with Mercedes-Benz – becoming the youngest debutant in the history of the series in 2013, the youngest race winner in 2014 and the youngest Champion in 2015. From September 2014, Pascal combined his DTM campaign with an official role as Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport Reserve Driver – performing test duties for the team in Barcelona, Spielberg and Abu Dhabi the following year. At the start of the 2016 season, Pascal graduated to the Formula One grid. After completing a successful apprenticeship at Manor Racing, Pascal moved to the Swiss-based Sauber Formula One Team for 2017, scoring the team’s only points (5) of the season. 2018 will see the youngest-ever DTM champion return to the DTM while continuing his duties as a reserve driver in Formula One for Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport.
After winning various karting championships, George Russell embarked on his first season of single-seater racing in 2014, claiming the BRDC Formula 4 Championship title at the first attempt. For the 2017 season, George followed in the footsteps of fellow Mercedes Junior Esteban Ocon by competing in the GP3 Series – a support series to Formula One. Racing for frontrunners ART Grand Prix, George scored four race wins, three further podiums and took the Championship with two races still to go. In 2018, George will make the step up to the FIA Formula Two Championship with ART Grand Prix, while also juggling his duties as Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport Reserve Driver.
After an impressive karting career, Esteban Ocon quickly established himself as one to watch in single-seater racing – finishing third in the 2012 Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup before clinching the FIA Formula 3 European Championship (2014) and GP3 Series (2015) titles in consecutive seasons. With his career backed by Mercedes Benz since the beginning of the 2015 season, Esteban was confirmed as a fully-fledged Mercedes Junior at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that year – sealing the 2015 GP3 Series title just 24 hours later. In 2017, he contested his first full season in Formula One at Force India, scoring points in all but two of the 20 races. With 27 consecutive finishes, he also set a new record for the most consecutive finishes for a rookie (Belgium 2016 to Mexico 2017).