[F1 2019 VIDEO FEATURE] ESTEBAN OCON: BACK TO THE FUTURE

Belgium was a huge relief for Esteban Ocon, with the Frenchman’s return to the F1 grid finally confirmed for 2020. The 22-year-old to join Renault alongside Daniel Ricciardo for a formidable pairing.

One that will heap even more pressure on the French squad to deliver on the promises it had for this year: establish itself as fourth in the standings, and close the gap to the top teams.

SOUNDBITE (English) ALAIN PROST,
4-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“We want to be the best. We know that we cannot win the [F1 World] championship. It’s too soon and we have to be humble. But if we get close, then maybe also with the drivers, as we said before, we can go a little bit faster.”

For Ocon, it’s a matter of pride as a French driver at a French team, one he was reserve driver for back in 2016 supporting its race drivers Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer.

“I am very proud to become a Renault driver,” he said. “I have grown up at Enstone, starting with Lotus in 2010 and then with Renault.”

Ocon will be the first French racer at the marque since Romain Grosjean, with Alain Prost the last French driver to win for Renault - in 1983’s RE40 - and his nation’s only F1 World Champion.

The 22-year-old returns to F1 with 50 races behind him, putting him 19th on the all-time list of French driver starts…Jean Alesi is on top with 201, Prost just two behind. Jacques Laffite in third.

Ocon made the step up to F1 from Belgium 2016 with now-defunct squad Manor Racing for the last nine events, bringing the car home and finishing ahead of Pascal Wehrlein four times.

His full-time debut came with Force India alongside excellent benchmark Sergio Pérez, with a plum drive on the horizon for the Mercedes junior if he took the fight to the Mexican.

SOUNDBITE (English) ESTEBAN OCON,
FORCE INDIA 2017-2018:
“Mercedes AMG is my main sponsor this season. So for sure, if you are in a program like that - the normal way is to be driving the Silver Arrow in the future, but at the moment I’m a Force India driver.

Pérez controlled 2017, going 13-7 in qualifying and outracing Ocon 11-7 when they could be compared. But, the Frenchman turned the tables in year two… despite being behind on points.

His reputation took a turn, however, in Brazil 2018 when he crashed into his archrival Max Verstapen, trying to uplap himself from the leader. He then had an altercation with the Dutchman in the FIA garage.

The pair rivals since their title battle in European F3, with Ocon ready for their next fight right from his full-time debut.

SOUNDBITE (English) ESTEBAN OCON,
FORCE INDIA 2017-2018:
“If I need to race him again, I will be 100 per cent ready. I hope it will be very soon that I can race with him again, and we can put on some great show like we did in Formula 3.”

And he now takes that streetfighting readiness to Renault, and while he missed out on the plum Mercedes seat he’s spent time this year there learning Lewis Hamilton’s secrets.

Making him a potent force for Renault, which is desperate to up its pace, and also keen to bring in French talent. Ocon welcomed with open arms, not just as a top gun but also an ambassador.

SOUNDBITE (English) CYRIL ABITEBOUL,
MANAGING DIRECTOR, RENAULT SPORT RACING:
“Well, Formula 1 is one of the strategic pillars for Renault to promote the brand, increase the exposure of the brand, and increase also the opinion of the brand and the product.”

The fight against Ricciardo could prove to be an interesting one, as this sidelined talent fires up for his return to the grid.