Stars of the future: Esteban Ocon

IMGP4453The European Formula 3 Championship is one of the toughest proving grounds for the world’s best single-seater talent, and competition is high. Winning in the series is no mean feat, but one man who has shown that both talent and wins aren’t hard to come by is 17-year-old Esteban Ocon.

The Lotus Formula 1 protégé leads the championship after finishing outside of the podium places only once in 12 races, after running out of fuel in Hockenheim, as well as taking five wins.

“For the moment we have had good results and everything has gone fine,” Ocon told the 24 Motorsports Blog. But the youngster knows that with 21 rounds to go, the job isn’t done yet.

“We still have to keep focus and we still have a lot of races to come, a lot of work ahead, not everything is perfect. We have to improve a lot of things but I’m happy about what we have done for the moment.”

Ocon has produced many magnificent displays this season, most recently in the last round at Hockenheim, where in race two and three the Frenchman drove away from pole position into the distance, creating gaps of over seven seconds in both races.

His performance was made even more impressive by the fact that the car behind was Prema Powerteam team-mate Antonio Fuoco, and despite having the same equipment, Fuoco had no answer for Ocon’s pace.

“It was good because in Formula 3 when you’re at the front it’s easier because you don’t get the understeer and the hot wind from the car in front,” said Ocon of the Hungary races.

“In Hungary it’s impossible to overtake so if you have a good start, a good first lap, you just have to manage really and that’s what I did. And I think the car was really good also, so it was a really good day.”

The youngster’s modesty is present in spade-fulls here, as although Hungary is known for being hard to overtake at, it’s certainly not impossible, ask Marcus Ericcson. And then there’s the small matter of the 7 second gaps to a driver using the same machinery, that doesn’t happen without some extraordinary talent in the cockpit.

Part of the teen’s allure is the intelligence he shows, his talent for controlling a race is something rarely seen by a driver his age, his composure inside the car is quite remarkable and allows him to measure his performance to the rest of the field, as he did in Hungary. Anytime Fuoco tried to make in roads into Ocon’s lead, he simply picked up his pace and maintained his gap.

As well as his extraordinary composure and intelligence in the cockpit, if you need any proof of Ocon’s stunning natural talent, take a look at race two in changeable conditions from Paul Ricard in the Formula Renault Eurocup at Paul Ricard last year. Ocon remembers it as his best performance of his career so far.

“We didn’t have the speed that weekend, and the rain came on the parade ring, then we had to make the choice of slicks or not.

“Mainly all the drivers took the slicks, but it was really good because we didn’t have the speed in the dry and this [the weather] happened, but we had the speed in those conditions and I won the race from P8 so it was a really good weekend.”

The win looks all the more impressive when you consider Ocon beat out present Formula Renault 3.5 Series racers Piere Ghasly and Oliver Rowland, who sit second and third in the Championship standings in that series this year so far, as well as current McLaren youngster and Formula Renault Eurocup championship leader Nyck de Vries.

Ocon’s development has been in no small part down to the influence of Lotus, who help the developing Frenchman develop both on and off the track.

“I’ve been with Lotus for five years now. Without them I would not be here, definitely. It’s a full development, going training in the factory many times a year.

“Also I have meetings, a mental program, my coach is the coach for Romain Grosjean for physical training, and also they help me financially with my season. They really help me and I thank them.”

Something that is striking about Ocon is his maturity, despite only being 17-years-old. He admits that his aim is Formula 1, but he won’t be caught up in the future, his focus is on the here and now.

“For sure it’s my goal but there are still a lot of steps to take and I’m still in Formula 3, I don’t think about that yet. I still have to focus on my championship and then we will see, but there is still a long way to go.”

With 21 races left in the European Formula 3 season, there is still a lot more for Ocon to do before he is crowned champion. However, the 82 point lead he holds over second place Tom Blomqvist will take some overturning, and the simple fact is, championship or no championship, Ocon has displayed the speed and the attitude both this season and last that will see him in Formula 1 in the future.

You heard it here first.


Featured image – courtesy of Michael Roberts
Portrait image – courtesy of David Merrett

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