F1 Experiences Features

Esteban Ocon: I’m sure I’ll be back

Last weekend in Abu Dhabi, Force India’s Esteban Ocon joined us for our Friday night Paddock Club Party ahead of his last F1 race weekend for the foreseeable future. Here’s the highlights of our Q&A with the likeable 22-year old Frenchman, who will be joining World Champions Mercedes as their reserve driver in 2019 and is targeting a return to an F1 race seat in 2020.

F1 Experiences Abu Dhabi 2018 Friday 204-1 

It’s a bit different here in Abu Dhabi, because we practice in the day time and race at night. How does that affect your preparation?

It affects everything. The temperature changes dramatically. It’s also very different for the driver. Everything feels faster at night. You need to choose the right [helmet] visor to get used to it. With experience, you manage to get it right, but early on it’s quite difficult. Luckily, the sun sets on the right side in a straight line, so it doesn’t get in your line of vision. They thought about everything here.

Which part of Yas Marina Circuit do you like the most?

I like the part when you go under the Yas Hotel. That’s beautiful, and it feels unreal at night. It’s a bit like being in a movie, especially when the fireworks go off at the end of the race.

It’s been an excellent year for you with some great on-track battles. We’ve seen highs and lows, but your journey is coming to an end for now.

It’s a long story, really. For various political and off-track reasons, not for performance, I won’t be driving next year. I will be with Mercedes as their reserve driver. I will be learning alongside [Bottas and Hamilton] then hopefully coming back in 2020. That’s our target. I will be preparing myself, trying to learn as much as I can from the World Champions and then come back into a car. I don’t yet know which one, but that’s the target.

You debuted in Formula 1 here at Yas Marina in a test session. You were 19 years of age, driving a Lotus. How was that?

It was fantastic, a great memory. My teammate was Pastor Maldonado. After winning the Formula 3 title, it was my first time out on track in an F1 car on a Grand Prix weekend. Everything was beautiful! It was very special and I enjoyed every moment. I will always remember it.

What about your first Grand Prix?

When you get to your first Grand Prix, you look around and see who is next to you. Oh look, it’s Vettel. I’d better be careful. The first time you drive with a legend, it’s very special but the more you drive with them, the more they become just an opponent. Now, I feel very settled in the F1 world; it’s where I want to be living the rest of my life.

Have you got any really good friends in the Paddock?

I do. We have a lot of respect for each other, even if we have some difficult periods with some drivers. Some you will not go on holiday with [laughs]. Lance Stroll is a good friend of mine, we see each other off the track as well. Very cool guy. You can have good friendships with fellow drivers in F1.

What do you plan to do in the off-season? Eat pizza and drink beer?

I wish. I’ll be training the whole winter. I’ll have some time off for Christmas and New Year, then straight back to my training programme on the 2nd or 3rd of January. My time will be split between training and simulator time at the factory. It will be a very different year; to prepare and be ready for a comeback. It will be difficult to keep focused all the time when you are not properly racing and you need to have one goal in mind.

Any chance you will be driving in any other races next year, like Le Mans?

I had some possibilities to drive in another Championship, but it’s not my target at the moment. I want to stick to F1. In the future, maybe. At the moment, my only aim is to be F1 World Champion.

Where does your motivation come from? Where did you find your passion for racing?

From Michael Schumacher, back in the day. When I turned on the TV, he was fighting for wins in the Ferrari with Alonso in the Renault. I’m very sad that Fernando is leaving. He and Michael gave me my love for the sport. Racing with Fernando is something unbelievable for me.

How is your relationship with Sergio Pérez?

I have big respect for him. I’ve learned a lot working beside him in my first year. He’s one of the best drivers on the grid; very talented and always there taking the maximum out of the car. He pushes me very hard. If I am the driver I am now in Formula 1, it’s also thanks to him. Maybe we won’t go on holidays together, but we respect each other a lot and have a great relationship inside the team.

Has Formula 1 lived up to your expectations?

I love the sport as much as I did on day one. I enjoy every single lap in the car and I have met some fantastic people in the Paddock, but there is some side of it that can be frustrating. I don’t have a seat for next year, but everything happens for a reason and I’m sure I will be back.

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Topics: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Esteban Ocon

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