Esteban Ocon: Lucky day or the rebirth of his career?

Esteban Ocon was born in Évreux, Normandy on 17 September to Sabrine Kheifane and Laurent Ocon. He is currently in his 5th season in Formula One and is a driver for the Alpine F1 team. Two and a half years ago in 2018, his contract with Racing Point was terminated by new team owner Lawrence Stroll so that his son, Lance, could drive for them. Even though he had shown the rest of the Formula One paddock that he had the potential to become a future race-winner, he was left without a place on the F1 grid for 2019. It was most likely that he would have never driven for a Formula One team again.

But fast forward to the end of the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix, and he is the 111th Grand Prix winner in the history of Formula One. Now, only the future will tell us whether he can win again in Formula One or will Hungary be the last time he stands on the top step of the podium.

Junior Racing Career

Ocon’s dad was a mechanic who owned a garage in the Évreux area, so it’s no surprise that Ocon had an interest in cars from an early age. He began his karting career at the age of 10. The first competition that Ocon participated in was the French Minime Championship, and he would end up finishing eighth that season. He ended up winning that championship the following year, in 2007. The year after that, he won the French Cadet Championship, after which he would graduate to the KF3 kart category. He competed in the KF3 kart for three years and won the championship in 2011. He would also finish as runner-up in the WSK Euro Series that same year.

Ocon made his single-seater debut in 2013, taking part in the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 with Koiranen Motorsports. He scored three podiums that season and finished 14th in the championship. He switched from Koiranen Motorsports to the ART junior team, stayed in the championship for another year, and got third place in the drivers’ standing with two victories.

In 2014, he took part in the FIA F3 Euro Championship with Prema racing. He beat current Red Bull driver Max Verstappen and convincingly won the title, with nine victories and 21 podiums from 33 races. That year he got his first experience in an F1 as he took part in a practice session at the 2014 Abu Dhani Grand Prix.

Esteban celebrating his GP3 Championship Victory

In 2015, he was announced as the latest addition to the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsports junior driver program line-up. He also took part in a few testing outings with Force India in the 2015 F1 season. Ocon also took part in the GP3 series that year. He claimed the championship that season, even though he only scored one victory.

Formula One Career

In August 2016, it was announced that Ocon would take Rio Haryanto place in the Manor team for the rest of the F1 season. At the end of that year, Force India announced that they had signed Ocon for the 2017 season to partner up with Sergio Perez. Everyone had expected Ocon to act accordingly as the team’s number two driver, but surprisingly he was more than a match for Perez, who had way more experience than him. He was very consistent that season and had point finishes in all but two races. He also managed to get 3rd place during the qualification for the Italian Grand Prix.

Ocon with Force India

He had an even better 2018 season individually as he outperformed his teammate Perez during qualifications throughout the year. Still, at the same time, he wasted a few opportunities to score points for the team.

The arrival of new team co-owner Lawrence Stroll at the end of the year meant that Ocon, who was comparatively less experienced than Perez, was shown the door so that Stroll’s son, Lance, could take his place in the team. This left him with no team to race with during the 2019 season. That didn’t mean Ocon would not be in the racing paddock as it was announced that he would join Mercedes as their reserve driver for the 2019 season. Thankfully for Ocon, it was announced before the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix that he would join Daniel Ricciardo at Renault for the 2020 F1 season.

Even though Ocon recorded Renault’s best result that season, he struggled a lot after spending a year at the sidelines. Out of all the races that year, he would only out-qualify Ricciardo in two races and finish ahead of him in three races. He would finish 12th on the drivers’ standings that year. Renault would get rebranded as Alpine F1 Team for the 2021 season. They also signed former two-time world champion Fernando Alonso as Ocon’s teammate after Ricciardo signed for Mclaren.

The current season had been less than ideal for Ocon even though he had a strong start because he was behind his teammate in the drivers’ standings after ten rounds. He also was out-qualified by Alonso in most of the races. Some changes were made to his car before the British Grand Prix, which allowed him to rediscover his form and fortunately for him, it was just in time for the opportunity on track of his career.

During the opening lap of the Hungarian Grand Prix, a multi-car incident led to 5 cars being retired. That was enough of an opportunity for Ocon to take 2nd place in the race. The race had to be red-flagged because of the cleanup that had to be done. During the race restart, Ocon was handed an even more significant opportunity when Lewis Hamilton, who was leading the race, was forced to start the race alone, only to be called into the pits the next lap. This massive error made by Mercedes allowed Ocon to take the lead. He would eventually win the race after having driven confidently while under a lot of pressure to lead an F1 race for the first time in his career.

Ocon celebrating his victory in Hungary

Frenchman wouldn’t have won it if not for the first lap carnage, but Ocon still deserves a lot of credit. Ocon had to keep former four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel behind him for almost the entire race while trying his best to overtake him. Vettel tried his best to force Ocon into making a mistake, but Ocon didn’t put a foot wrong and made sure he wasn’t about to crumble under pressure.

For someone as talented as Ocon, it would be wrong to say that only luck helped him get the victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix. If it was luck, hopefully for Ocon, it doesn’t start running out any time soon.

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