How Esteban Ocon helped Pierre Gasly ditch football for racing

Maurice's Memories: Malaysian Grand Prix (2:31)

Maurice Hamilton recalls a special day for Fernando Alonso back in 2003. (2:31)

SEPANG, Malaysia -- Pierre Gasly has compatriot Esteban Ocon and his family to thank for giving him his first taste of motorsport some 15 years ago.

The 2016 GP2 champion will make his Formula One debut with Toro Rosso -- at the expense of Daniil Kvyat -- this weekend in Malaysia after the team opted to undertake a multi-race evaluation ahead of 2018. Gasly has been impressing in Japan's Super Formula this season and earlier in the year took part in tests for senior team Red Bull in Bahrain and Hungary.

Speaking on Thursday, Ocon joked he should be entitled to a bonus as it was he who first helped launch Gasly's career.

"When we were seven or eight our parents were friends and he was playing football while I was driving go-karts," Ocon said. "My dad said to him to try Esteban's go-kart and after that he quit football for racing."

Naturally, Gasly, 21, has been following Ocon's career for quite some time but stressed he never compared himself to the Mercedes junior.

"We've known each other since we are six years old," Gasly said . "We lived in pretty much the same place and we grew up in karting.

"I was happy for him when he got his opportunity in Formula One, first with the Gravity [Sport Management] programme and then afterwards with Mercedes. He then had the opportunity after his DTM season to go with Manor. I was with Red Bull and I had to wait a bit longer for my opportunity but I never really compared my little career so far to his."

On Sunday, Gasly will become the 75th French driver to take part in a Formula One race and he admits he is "living the dream".

"Starting my first Formula One race this weekend is a dream coming true for me. I worked really hard these past few years to make it happen and struggled to be patient.

"It's worth it and I'm so excited and really looking forward to this weekend. This weekend I will remember for the rest of my life."