In just a few short years, Lucas Auer has gone from being a Formula 3 frontrunner to a DTM title contender - and now he's about to have his first F1 test with Force India. Jonathan Noble caught up with the Austrian.
As a man who battled with and sometimes beat Max Verstappen, Esteban Ocon and Antonio Giovinazzi in F3 a few years ago, you could forgive DTM title contender Lucas Auer for being slightly envious about the way Formula 1 doors opened up for his former rivals.
But, as he prepares for his own maiden F1 outing with Force India at the post-Hungarian Grand Prix test, Auer has no complaints about the way his career has developed.
Instead, talking about his former rivals, Auer says he takes encouragement for what they have done, as he hopes an impressive job for Force India next month will open up further F1 opportunities for himself.
In fact, as he knuckles down for a DTM title assault, Auer is being tipped as someone who could have what it takes to make that F1 switch – and follow in the footsteps of Ocon, Pascal Wehrlein and Paul di Resta.
“To be honest, it is incredible,” Auer told Motorsport.com when asked about the growing interest around him.
“In motorsport you go from hero to loser in three months, and you go from loser to hero in three months. It is just crazy this motorsport world because things can change so quickly.
“In my first year in DTM I had to learn, as everybody saw Pascal had to do as well, and it is very difficult for a young guy. Last year being with a customer team and winning a race, that was my breakthrough.”
That win, at the Lausitzring for Mucke Motorsport, showed the progress that Auer had made as a driver since his switch from F3.
And it was a no-brainer for Mercedes to keep him on board as part of its consolidated HWA works outfit this year, while more experienced hands like Dani Juncadella and Christian Vietoris were left out in the cold.
Auer’s two wins so far this campaign, which leave him two points adrift of points leader Mattias Ekstrom, have put him on the radar of Mercedes and F1 teams – which is what has triggered the Force India run.
“This year I had a pretty good start to the season and, as the youngest DTM driver and with teams looking for somebody, Force India with the Mercedes engine fitted very well,” he said. “I had a great start, and had a couple of contacts, so people are looking at supporting some young guns.
“And you can imagine for me it is a childhood dream come true. When I started out as 4-5 years old in karting, my eyes were only on F1. But after F3, it changed for me. I got an opportunity from Mercedes to drive in DTM.
“I am very happy there and it is a great championship, but of course to get now this test and an opportunity to drive an F1 car is amazing and of course I am excited – especially to be doing it with a top team like Force India.”
But the test is not just about fun for Auer – for he is an ambitious youngster who learned plenty during that epic 2014 Euro F3 campaign against Ocon and Verstappen.
“Of course I have big respect for those two – and I raced with Esteban also in DTM,” he said. “They were always impressive.
"Of course sometimes you look back to the F3 races and you think you overtook this guy and won this race…. But anyway, everything happens for a reason. I went to DTM, so let’s keep on working and then see what is possible.”
It is Ocon though who perhaps provides Auer with the biggest encouragement about what is possible. The Frenchman had a season in DTM and got an F1 opportunity thanks to backing from Mercedes – and showing so strongly for Force India during test sessions.
Auer added: “It is no secret that if you impress in those tests, this is a good plus point for you and your career. Esteban did a great job there, so it was right to sign him up.
“Pascal and Paul [di Resta] also showed it is possible to go from touring cars to F1, but for me it is quite early. I have to be happy I get a test, and it is also an opportunity to do well.
“Let’s see what else will happen. But first you have to do a pretty impressive job in DTM to get somewhere else.”
Auer has certainly come on a long way since his F3 days, although he feels that the development has been more in his off-track approach to the job than behind the wheel.
“For sure my driving got better but when it comes to the DTM there are other factors too. For the first time you get money, you get security, and you work with manufacturers like Mercedes – which is very big – and I think for a young guy, I learned really a lot.
“Especially about how to behave, how important it is to work well in a big team. From this perspective I learned a lot. My driving got better, more consistent and when it counts I am there.
“It is also about how to behave in a big team, who are the important people, who I need to speak a lot. What I have learned is massive and not comparable to two or three years ago.”
It is perhaps why this Force India test has come at the perfect time.
“At the moment I have the feeling it is a one-off but it is also an opportunity,” said Auer.
“Most important for me, because it is a childhood dream, is to enjoy every second and try to perform well, work hard and give the team the impression that you are able to drive the car, able to develop the car. After that, we will see what happens.”