Esteban Ocon biography
Esteban Ocon was only 17 years old when he won the European Formula Three championship in 2014. Yet his even younger F3 rival Max Verstappen gained a place in Formula 1 more quickly, making his debut with Toro Rosso the following season.
Birthplace: Evreux, France
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Ocon had reached F3 after two season in Formula Renault 2.0, taking a strong second in the Eurocup in 2013 by winning two of the final three races. While Verstappen took a few rounds to come good and was hampered by some engine problems, Ocon put the championship beyond doubt with relentless points-scoring. In a 17-race period he finished in the top two 15 times.
In GP3 he again achieved remarkable consistency, achieving nine consecutive second place finishes in a category where alternate races featured partially reversed grids. Having won nine times in F3 he managed just a single victory in GP3, but 14 podiums from 18 races allowed him to pip Luca Ghiotto to the crown in a tense finale at Yas Marina.
Meanwhile other developments had played in the French driver’s favour. Renault were poised to take over Lotus and would surely be on the market for a driver of Ocon’s skills and background. However it was Mercedes, stung by their failure to get Verstappen’s name on a contract, who moved first.
For Ocon this meant a deal to drive in the DTM in 2016: a route few drivers had taken directly to F1. But Mercedes were willing to let Renault run him in F1 practice sessions, which he did on four occasions before the summer break.
He also had a chance to test for Mercedes, adding yet further to his experience with F1 hardware. He had already driven a Ferrari F10 as a prize for his F3 victory and tested separately for the Mercedes-powered Force India team.
Ocon’s first campaign in the DTM had, not unexpectedly, got off to a more difficult start in the highly specialised category. But as events transpired he would not complete it.
Rio Haryanto’s bakers had promised Manor €15 million for his race seat but as the season passed its halfway point only half of the money had been paid. Ocon was therefore handed the opportunity to take over and make his F1 race debut in the Belgian Grand Prix.
A nine-race stint in the least competitive car in the field was not much of a chance to demonstrate what he was capable of, particularly given his initial discomfort with an ill-fitting seat.
But he fared increasingly well alongside fellow Mercedes junior driver Pascal Wehrlein, and impressed in the season’s most difficult race. Ocon kept his Manor in the points places until the final laps at a soaked Interlagos.
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A spirited drive in the final race included clashes with Wehrlein and Sauber’s Felipe Nasr. But Ocon had already done enough to secure a place on the grid for 2017 at Force India.
Ocon demonstrated his consistency from the off, picking up a point for the team on his debut and repeating the result in his next two starts. That was underlined by fifth place behind team mate Sergio Perez in Spain. He missed the top 10 next time out in Monaco, but brought the car home in the points at every other one of the opening 17 races.
There were flash-points with Perez along the way, however. His team mate refused to let him by when ordered two in Canada, the pair collided at Baku and again at Spa. But the team ended the year repeating its best finish of fourth in the constructors’ championship.
Ocon’s 2018 campaign was better – he decisively out-qualified Perez – but a more trying season for the team, which went into administration at the middle of the year. Ocon brought cheer to the squad by leading a second-row lock-out on their return after being rescued in Belgium. However he squandered a major points-scoring opportunity in Azerbaijan by tangling with Kimi Raikkonen on the opening lap, allowing Perez in to score the team’s only podium finish that year.
There was another tangle with Perez, in Singapore, and an even more controversial one with his F3 rival Verstappen at Interlagos. Ocon was attempting to un-lap himself when he knocked Verstappen out of the lead of the race, prompting a physical response from Verstappen after the race.
The arrival of Lawrence Stroll as co-owner meant the inevitable appointment of his son Lance Stroll to the line-up of the team now known as Racing Point for 2019. There was therefore no room for and Ocon. Renault courted him, but signed Daniel Ricciardo instead following his unexpected departure from Renault.
Ocon therefore spent 2019 on the sidelines, working on Mercedes’ simulator and occasionally testing for the world champions. But Renault came calling again 12 months later, and he secured a race seat with the team for 2020, alongside Ricciardo.
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Esteban Ocon articles
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