When racing resumes next week in Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix, all eyes will be on Manor Racing’s new signing Esteban Ocon, who comes in to replace Rio Haryanto as teammate to Pascal Werhlein at the British squad. That places two Mercedes proteges in the Manor team and gives them a chance to carefully assess both.
The 19 year old Frenchman says he did not expect to step to Formula 1 so early in his motorsport career.
Like Wehrlein, Ocon is a Mercedes-backed junior driver and he competed for the German marque in the DTM championship during the first half of 2016. Ocon, who also made four F1 practice appearances for Renault over the first 12 races of the year, beat Max Verstappen to win the FIA European Formula 3 championship in 2014.
The Frenchman clinched the GP3 crown last year and drove at the in-season F1 test at Silverstone earlier this season for Mercedes.
Although Ocon says he did not expect his F1 drive to come about so soon, he reckons he has had enough preparation with Renault and Mercedes to make his F1 debut.
When asked if he had thought the opportunity to drive in F1 would come so early in his career, he replied: “No, not at all. But thanks to all the tests and my preparation this year, I feel ready for it. It’s helped me a lot.
“But I never thought that I would be offered this opportunity quite so soon. At the same time, I’m very happy about it and I’m looking forward immensely to my first Formula 1 race weekend in Belgium.”
Ocon was 23rd in the DTM standings before he signed for Manor, but felt he was beginning to make progress in the category before his F1 deal was announced.
“I’m a bit sad that I cannot complete the DTM adventure,” he said. “I’ve kept raising my level of performance in the course of the season and gained a lot of experience. My pace has been steadily improving.
“So from that perspective, it’s a pity that I’m unable to finish the season with the team. But it’s not possible to compete simultaneously in both championships. Consequently, I had to decide, and the decision went in favour of Formula 1.”
As the F1 paddock prepares to return from its summer break, Ocon described how he spent his time off relaxing before focusing on training, and how he will make the final preparations for his F1 debut before heading to Spa.
He said: “It was nice to relax on vacation with friends. It helped take my mind off things. But since the announcement was made, of course, I’ve also been training hard. The training isn’t all that different from in the DTM.
“I’m preparing as thoroughly as possible so that I’ll be ready for my first F1 race weekend. Before going to Spa, I will meet up with my new team again and we’ll go through all the details together.”
It's now official i will be having the "31" as my race number, i won my first national championship with this one😉! pic.twitter.com/GhRLJsLQVP
— Esteban Ocon (@OconEsteban) August 15, 2016
Mercedes loaned Ocon, who will use the number 31 when he joins the F1 grid, to Renault to act as a development and reserve driver for the Enstone-based team during the first half of 2016.
When the teenager’s deal with Manor was announced, the French manufacturer’s managing director, Cyril Abiteboul, stated that it would use the remaining races of the season to “evaluate him in a representative environment”.
With both of Renault’s drivers reportedly under pressure to keep their drives for 2017, there is a chance that Ocon could be slotted into one of those seats next season depending on his performances in the nine upcoming F1 events.
What do you make of Esteban Ocon? Do you expect him to make an impact on F1 this season? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.