Esteban Ocon is hoping for his maiden Formula 1 podium finish in the Japanese Grand Prix after benefitting from his rivals' grid penalties to be promoted to fifth on the starting grid.

The Force India driver had qualified seventh, one-tenth of a second quicker than team-mate Sergio Perez, but with five-place grid penalties handed to Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen for respective gearbox changes the French driver now heads up the third row – his second best-ever qualifying result since his third place in Italy last month.

Ocon hopes Suzuka’s track characteristics can play to his advantage in the race with overtaking chances particularly tricky at the narrow Japanese circuit and feels if he can get a good start and fortune favours him he could break into the top three.

“It is going to be great starting in the top five,” Ocon said. “It is a bit like Monza as I am starting in front of big guys. Hopefully we can keep them behind. In Monza the Ferrari was struggling to pass us so hopefully it can be the same here.

“Podium is my goal and we never know what can happen. I still want to achieve my first podium and unfortunately it is not completely down to me, it is a bit of luck as well, and we want to have a perfect race from our side.”

Ocon is confident Force India is now the fourth-fastest car on the F1 grid after comprehensively out-qualifying its midfield rivals in Japan.

“I think since after Singapore we clearly saw the step which is massive in performance and the car is totally different to drive now than it has been in the past,” he said. “It is great to see that and what I think we bring race by race is really working and that the team continues to develop that car which is fantastic.”

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