The only free practice session at Imola this weekend has just ended. It promises to be an exciting qualifying session...
Esteban Ocon has already had to overcome many obstacles to get into Formula 1. The Frenchman will return in 2020 after one year of absence, joining Renault to partner Daniel Ricciardo.
|Team||Renault F1 team|
Max versus Esteban
His parents sold the parental home and travelled all over the world in a motorhome with their son. Father Ocon is a mechanic and soon witnessed that his child was special. Ocon excelled in go-karting, resulting in a French go-kart title, to then switch to Formula cars in 2012. In Formula Renault 2.0, Ocon finished third in his second year and took three wins in the process. In 2014, the Frenchman would really break through.
While part of the Netherlands would be interested in Max Verstappen, another name would also stand out in the 2014 Formula 3 championship: Esteban Ocon. The two were (and still are) big rivals and fought long for the championship. Ocon was the eventual winner, while Verstappen also had to put up with Tom Blomqvist in the final standings. Verstappen won the most races, but with nine victories, the Frenchman had enough for the title.
Whilst Verstappen moved to Formula 1, Ocon had to make do with a year in the GP3. Ocon also won that championship and while he didn’t have any sponsors, he did manage to force a role as a test driver at Force India. In 2016, Ocon would choose not to opt for Formula 2, but would instead drive in the DTM with time to test for Mercedes and Renault, while it is announced that he was included in the junior programme of Mercedes.
The many investments finally seemed to be worth it and by mid-2016, Esteban's dream would come true. The money of Rio Haryanto turned out to be gone, so Manor wanted another driver. With Mercedes as the engine supplier the deal is quickly made that Ocon will accompany the other Mercedes protégé with the team that is last on the grid: Pascal Wehrlein.
Wehrlein had been driving in Mercedes training for some time, but is a bit of a 'difficult guy'. This turned out to be to an advantage for the young Frenchman when a spot at Force India became available for 2017. Wehrlein seemed to be the best option in terms of speed and experience, but the Force India team unanimously chose Ocon. The French talent seemed to have made an impression and was able to join Sergio Perez for a full-time season in 2017.
Apart from Perez, the young Ocon certainly didn’t have an easy time of it. Perez conjured every trick out of his hat and was certainly the better driver in 2017. In 2018 Ocon hit back in qualifying, but Perez was still often outsmarting him on Saturdays. The podium in Azerbaijan showed what was possible in the Force India, but it was the Mexican who took off with the points.
A dark cloud would then form over Force India and Esteban Ocon in mid-2018. The race stable was taken over by Lawrence Stroll, who was assisted by Sergio Perez. The bag of money of the Mexican also played a part in the decision to let Perez keep his seat for 2019, because Lance Stroll had to have a place in his father's team of course.
Esteban Ocon ended 2018 without a seat for the next year, after Cyril Abiteboul did not want to miss the chance to bring Daniel Ricciardo in. A year later, the Renault team boss made up for it.
Ocon in 2020
Esteban Ocon has been out of the sport for a year and that's not always good for a driver, but it's certainly not impossible to get back into it. Nico Hulkenberg handled it well at the beginning of his career and Kimi Raikkonen also came back strong from his break. At Renault, however, Ocon finds himself in a difficult situation. The team has had a dip and so the pressure is well on the team for 2020.
With Ricciardo, Ocon doesn't have the easiest opponent on his return either, so there is work to be done. Ocon has come a long way without a sack of money from mom or dad, but has yet to take the next step in Formula 1 to secure himself a future in the sport. So it is not only a year of pressure for Renault, but also for Ocon.
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