Esteban Ocon admits 2019 has been a tough year for him mentally as he has watched fellow young drivers Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen picking up race wins while he sits on the sidelines.
Renault was set to sign Ocon 12 months ago but pulled out of the deal when Daniel Ricciardo became available, and Lance Stroll’s move to Racing Point (then Force India) left the Frenchman without a seat. After a year as Mercedes reserve driver, Ocon will now join Renault on a two-year deal and admits it has been tough watching drivers he fought with in junior categories racing in front-running teams.
“For sure, I look forward to racing against those guys again,” Ocon said of Leclerc and Verstappen. “This year has been tough mentally, and on the emotional side as well — seeing those guys doing so well and me being on the sidelines is not something that’s particularly great. But I think it can only make you stronger and more keen to come back, and hungry when I come back.”
Ocon insists there is no strange dynamic to his relationship with Renault managing director Cyril Abiteboul despite last year’s change of plan that ultimately led to him losing his seat on the grid.
“Not at all; I think on my side the page is turned. Now I have a great challenge ahead of me to be racing for the team for two years at least, and that’s the only thing I see. I only look forward. there is no weird relationship between me and Cyril — we are on the phone a lot of times recently, and there is no problem at all.”
Abiteboul says it was not as simple as choosing Ricciardo over Ocon a year ago based on driving talent, with timing playing a major role in the decision.
“I think it is a bit easy to summarize things in this way, but I understand the question,” Abiteboul said. “You know when you have to make a tough decision on the driver, you’re not just looking at the man and his pace in sector 1, sector 2, you’re looking at the whole dynamic. You’re looking at what’s best at a given moment in the life of a guy, of a young man, and in the life of a team, that can be young. This whole dynamic, and energy, you need to analyze.
“I think it is important when given the opportunity to seize that opportunity of an accomplished driver in Daniel last year, and once we had that at Renault, now we think it’s the right moment for some fresher blood. I think it’s a trend you can see in the whole team.
“We’re investing in young drivers in our academy and we hope and expect to have possibly one driver from that academy in 2021. So it’s also a shift in dynamic, to be ready and welcoming young drivers in our line-up.
“It’s not something I would have been capable of doing two years ago but with more maturity in the team we can now envisage that. That will be a good test to see if we’re capable of also managing that, as it’s different. Managing someone in his 20s, (compared to) in his 30s, that’s different.”