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F3 champion Ocon to drive Lotus F1 car, but where will he eventually end up?
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Esteban Ocon
Posted By: Justin Hynes  |  14 Oct 2014   |  1:42 pm GMT  |  11 comments

As part of his prize for last weekend claiming the FIA Formula 3 European title in his rookie season, Esteban Ocon will next week test a two-year old Lotus F1 Team E20 at Valencia’s Ricardo Tormer circuit.

It remains to be seen, however, whether it will the next step in his progress with the Lotus Junior Team or a swansong ahead of the highly-regarded French teenager becoming a Mercedes’ development driver.

Eighteen-year-old Ocon, from Normandy, is one of junior motorsport’s hottest properties, having beaten 2015 Toro Rosso wunderkind Max Verstappen to the F3 title at the season’s penultimate round in Imola last weekend. Having amassed 454 championship points, compared to Verstappen’s 368, Ocon can no longer be caught in the three remaining races to be contested during the final weekend of the 2014 season at Hockenheim this coming weekend.

In taking the title in his rookie year, Ocon amassed nine wins, 15 pole positions and seven fastest race laps. In the 30 races contested to date, he has made 21 podium appearances.

Performances such as those, at the wheel of Prema Powerteam’s Merecedes-engined F3 car, brought Ocon to the attention of Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who is reported to want the French teenager for the company’s driver development programme. Mercedes recently announced 19-year-old rising DTM star Pascal Wehrlein as reserve driver for the F1 team and Wolff is apparently keen to add Ocon to the team’s stable of drivers.

Ocon, however, has long been looked after by Gravity Sport Management, the firm owned by Lotus Chairman Gerard Lopez and which was overseen by Eric Boullier, who first spotted the youngster’s talent. It remains to be seen how Gravity will now try to position the new F3 champion.

With Lotus last week announcing that it will race with Mercedes power from 2015 onwards, the natural progression may be for Ocon to become a development driver at Lotus-Mercedes next year, possibly in a reserve driver role. The question is though, whether that would be under the auspices of Gravity or with Wolff and Mercedes.

“Esteban is a tremendous talent for the future,” said Lopez of Ocon’s recent achievements. “He has shown himself to be a superb driver as part of our Lotus F1 Team Junior programme, we are proud of him and he truly deserves to be given every opportunity to take his career to the next level.”

Speaking of Ocon’s F3 triumph last weekend, Toto Wolff said: “Esteban has performed exceptionally well in his first season in this series and has deservedly clinched the European title ahead of time. The junior development programme has been one of our priorities here at Mercedes for many years now – from the early days of Michael Schumacher through to Lewis Hamilton and most recently Pascal Wehrlein. Having recorded his maiden DTM win and having been named as reserve driver for our Formula One team, Pascal has demonstrated that it really pays to work hard in Formula 3. This is where numerous drivers have laid the foundations of a successful future career.”

Whoever Ocon eventually partners with for the long terms what is clear is that, like Verstappen, the teenager is not short of suitors and his rapid rise once again points to the strength of championships beyond GP2, GP3 and Formula Renault 3.5, which recent years have been seen as the proving grounds for putative F1 stars of the future. It also emphasises that F1 teams are sourcing their driving talent at a younger age than in the past.

 

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11 comments

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1

Politics and money - only explanation for how Max vaulted over a driver like Ocon on the basis of those numbers

2

One difference between Verstappen and Ocon besides their age is that Ocon had already driven 2 seasons of Formula Renault while Verstappen is still in his first year driving cars. And while Ocon was quick he wasn't a dominating force or an immediate race winner. He finished 3rd in the championship last year.

Most graduating kart drivers need a year or two to get used to racing in a car while Max Verstappen was quick from the first moment he got in a car. He impressed during a first test in Formula Renault 2.0 car on a track in Wales but when he first tested an F3 car he was very fast from the first moment he stepped in the car. There was a FIA organised F3 test on the Valencia track and most teams who run F3 cars in the various European championships were present. He not only was the fastest after a few laps in the car he continued to be the fastest throughout the day and even broke the track record for F3 cars. I have been told that it was so amazing that he was the talking point among the mechanics.

3

Fair enough - I stand corrected and more educated 🙂

4
F1adrenalinerush

Not sure about politics but money? By way of selling more Red Bull to target age group absolutely.

Look at how much press has been generated about young Verstappen to Red Bull..

5

Just watch this race from last weekend by Verstappen. And it will be pretty obvious why Max vaulted over a lot of drivers to become a F1 driver at the age of 17.

Max started 11th on the grid, because of a three race engine penalty. Everybody said that Imola is a circuit in which you can't overtake, but just watch Verstappen and enjoy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuzBbnxSKu4&list=UUfAxcQdW6mxRiZY-EjH4Axw

6

Thanks much for the link; just watched my first F3 race ever, and you're right. My initial cynicism of the Verstappen signing has just changed in 20 laps to admiration. He is the most electrifying driver I have seen in many years, absolutely on the limit and going for gaps like a young Senna.

7

You think really Megabucks Mateschitz is interested in how much money a potential driver can bring with him?

8

Well, verstappen did drive for a low-end team and ocon for a top team.

when you compare ocon his teammastes results to the results of verstappen his teammates you will see the difference.

if this was f1, ocon was driving a red bull (not a mercedes because mercedes is just a class apart this year) and verstappen a force india.

Verstappen should be driving top 10 max. not win races.

Verstappen did win just as much races as ocon. verstappen just had much more technical dnf's.

9

James any news on jolyon palmer...any tips if he is likely to get a seat next year and who with?

10

Will be really interesting to watch Ocon develop over the next year or so, such a talent and rising star.

Raised an eyebrow to see the Merc badge on the Lotus race suit already.

11

The Merc badge is there because it's the engine he drives in F3 😉

(He's in the Lotus development team so that's why he wears the Lotus F1 team colors but a nice sign for the future of the F1 team)

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