Esteban Ocon has been one of the stars in this season’s Formula 1. The Sahara Force India driver made the leap from nine races at Manor in 2016 to the Silverstone based team with a multiple year contract in 2017, beating fellow Mercedes academy driver Pascal Wehrlein to the seat.
Ocon has an impressive CV in racing; winning the FIA European Formula 3 Championship in 2014, the GP3 Series in 2015 as well as number of tests with Mercedes AMG, Lotus F1 Team and Force India. A brief spell in DTM before being called up by Manor to replace Rio Haryanto for the second half of the season showcasing what the Frenchman can do behind a wheel of an F1 car. But Ocon’s story to his rise into Formula 1 is unique from others.
Majority of drivers in the sport started their story in Karting, sign up with partnerships relating to Formula 1 teams, make the jump to single-seaters and get into Formula 1. Ocon’s journey from Karting to F1 was unique in a way, filled with sacrifices and changes to his youth to pursue a dream of reaching the top. At a young age to pay for Ocon’s Karting, his parents sold their house and lived in a caravan for years during his Karting career. His father was his only mechanic during his youth. Ocon never lived a normal kid’s life, instead lived a young racing driver’s life filled with a lot of pressure.
“I only can say if I had not have succeeded it would have been terrible. I had big, big pressure from a very young age. I was not a normal kid! I didn’t have a kid life! Probably you could say that I went straight from being a toddler to an adult life.”
–Esteban Ocon (Official F1 Website)
Ocon’s life was filled with moving to location to location as often he would race at the weekend, travel back to outside his school, sleep in the caravan, wake up and go to school. It was a tough and hard life but the Frenchman didn’t mind it and understood why they were made. By the age of 14, Ocon was signed up by Gravity Academy, a sister company to the Renault F1 Team. It was a start of what will be a successful journey.
After successful spells in Formula Renault 2.0 for two years, Ocon would make the jump to FIA European Formula 3 championship with Prema Powerteam. He would quickly catch the eye of Formula 1 teams like Lotus and Mercedes’ Toto Wolff. Wolff saw something in Ocon and encouraged him to sign with Mercedes. Ocon signed to the Mercedes Junior Academy, a moment Ocon says today that Wolff was like his own fairy godmother.
“Between the end of 2014 and the start of 2015, if Toto Wolff had not been there to help me, I’d probably be flipping burgers at McDonald’s now. Without the support, I would not have been able to continue racing. I didn’t have any money. But then Toto came to talk to me…”
-Esteban Ocon (La Gazetta dello Sport)
Ocon would continue his success in F3 with 9 wins to his name to take the Championship in his first season. What’s striking about that season was he beat Max Verstappen, who would make the jump to Formula 1 a year later. Ocon participated in the first practice session for the final round of the 2014 Formula 1 World Championship in Abu Dhabi with Lotus, ending the session sixteenth fastest overall. It all started look like it was paying off for Ocon and entered a step closer to F1.
2015 would saw Ocon another successful year with the GP3 championship sealed with ART Grand Prix with only 1 victory throughout the whole season against title rival Luca Ghiotto’s 5. He gained more F1 experience as a test driver for Force India but the following year, Ocon made a loan switch to Renault Sport F1 Team as a test driver, with the promise of FP1 runs and instead of racing in GP2 that year, he would join DTM with ART. His spell was difficult, only grabbing 1 points finish at Zandvoort.
Going into the summer break, Manor announced that for the rest of the season, Ocon would replace Haryanto and partner alongside fellow Mercedes Academy driver, Pascal Wehrlein. Ocon wasted no time and got straight into work, challenging Wehrlein for the second half of the season with occasion Ocon getting the best of the German. Before the season ends, Ocon was announced as Nico Hulkenberg’s replacement at Force India whilst the German would leave for Renault Sport. The move so far in 2017 is a success with a best result in 5th at the Spanish Grand Prix and close to grabbing his first F1 podium in Canada, if his team-mate Sergio Perez didn’t hold him up.
Ocon’s path to Formula 1 could of easily gone wrong if the pressure overcame him at a young age. In a sport where money can make the difference, Ocon’s parent making sacrifices for him to reach the ultimate goal of F1 has paid off. His parents say they never doubted him to reach the top and Ocon looks on course to be heading into the right direction in Formula 1.
“My parents were believing in me and they knew I had the talent to do it.”
-Esteban Ocon (Reuters)