« I’m still here, right? »

Esteban Ocon, before the season, all the drivers had, all things considered, high expectations. In your case, how did it go? Were you expecting more from 2022?

If I think back to the difficulties we had during the tests in Barcelona and Bahrain, I think that the results are positive. At the start of the season the car was difficult to drive and very heavy, but race after race the improvement has been impressive, resulting in an overall better car than last year. I’m happy to have contributed to this step forward by giving the right information to the engineers, and I’m also optimistic because we’re still going to bring new things at the end of the season. Of course, this positive trend also gives me confidence for 2023.

Like in 2021, you started the season well, then the level of performance went down a bit. Is this really the case?

Last year we found things on my car that weren’t perfect, let’s say they affected me in some races. This season, what penalizes us is the lack of regularity: on some circuits it’s going very well and on others it’s more difficult. There are certain types of corners in which we have problems, and we try to understand the reasons.

What do you think of the performance of your power unit? You are the only team that does not have a customer team and it is difficult to understand the true competitiveness of your engine…

It is always an advantage when the same power unit is used by several teams, because there is more data to compare. Personally, I think the engine is one of our strengths. We analyzed the top speed data and it was obvious at Spa that we didn’t lack the power to overtake. Afterwards, we saw several drivers being affected by the lack of reliability but on this point, I would say that it has been a good season for us so far.

Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon.

Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon.

When Fernando Alonso joined the team two years ago, many people said that your career would soon be over…

Yes, I heard that too, but I’m still here, right? It’s a good confrontation that started last year, both in qualifying and in the race. Fernando is very, very fast, I don’t think he has anything to prove to anyone. And to those who ask me if I learned with Fernando, I answer that yes, of course, but I also hope that he could learn something from me.

Is it difficult to work with Fernando?

No. We have good relations, we are similar in our set-up work and obviously, when we are on track, everyone wants to win.

How has your life changed in the past two or three years?

My personal life has not changed much. I always spend my free time with the same people, and my parents came to Monza last weekend. I have the same friends as before arriving in Formula 1. Other aspects have changed, those related to my sporting life. I managed to do some very nice things and I hope to do more. I won a Grand Prix, I got on the podium and I ride for a factory team.

When you think back to your victory last year in Budapest, how important is it?

Very important. The most important thing is to show the team that you are capable of winning, that you are ready to seize every opportunity. And on a personal level, I’ve always been convinced that you can win, but when you really do it, it gives enormous confidence.

You are playing your fifth full season in Formula 1. Do you think you have gained the respect of the paddock, or is there still something to be done to gain reputation?

It’s a good question. I don’t read everything that is said about me. I hope when I do something good it gets reported as such and those watching can make up their minds. But it’s true that there are people who tell me: « Ah, I hadn’t noticed your qualification at Spa » Where « I forgot you won last year ». I have to admit that I find it a bit strange. Finally, in qualifying the comparison puts Fernando ahead of me at 9-7, but I have a few points more in the championship. Last year, we finished tied in qualifying: 11-11. If I look at Fernando’s career, the only one of his teammates who has matched him is Lewis [Hamilton]. No one else has done better than me. Personally, I feel like I’m doing a good job, and yes, it’s sometimes a little strange to see that from the outside, there are people who perceive it a little differently.

Ocon's double overtaking at Spa-Francorchamps.

Ocon’s double overtaking at Spa-Francorchamps.

In the paddock, there are also those who say that if your double overtaking at Spa had been done by a famous driver, we would have talked about it for days. Do you think you are a little less prominent than some of your competitors?

I wouldn’t know what to answer. As I said, my job is to give my best on the track, to do good qualifying, to bring as many points as possible to the team, and maybe even to overtake like this of Spa. If you ask me about another context, it’s not my universe.

Next year, you will be the most experienced rider on the team. Do you feel ready for this role?

I have to be ready for every challenge that comes my way. Those who arrive in the team will have less experience than me, I am already invested in the development work which will lead to the 2023 single-seater.

We know that you are friends with Mick Schumacher, just as we know that relations are not excellent between Pierre Gasly and you. Would you be ready to turn the page and work together if Pierre arrived in the team?

The respect is there, we are professional drivers and beyond who will be by my side next year, I will have a correct attitude towards the team.

Would you like there to be more testing in Formula 1?

Yes, although I don’t think it would be possible today. With this schedule, it’s tough, we’ve just come back from three Grands Prix in three weeks. It would take two separate teams, which is partly the case with us, but our second team is running a test program with last year’s car. Today, with 23 Grands Prix on the calendar, that’s impossible. I would love to, no doubt, because the more I drive, the happier I am, I was born for that.

Esteban Ocon during the Italian GP at Monza.

Esteban Ocon during the Italian GP at Monza.

Do you still have so much passion?

Absolutely. When I have a day off, I often go drifting with friends. A few years ago, we had a family garage with all kinds of vehicles, but because of the difficulties we encountered when I went karting, we had to sell it. Recently, I had the chance to buy it back.

I did everything, and the next morning I saw the car that I had virtually tested getting podiums and victories.

Esteban Ocon

These are milestones in someone’s life…

Of course, that was my first goal. I spent a year [en 2019] in the simulator, often until five in the morning, and it was the hardest year of my career. I worked in the shadows, I did everything, and the next morning I saw the car that I had virtually tested getting podiums and victories. Sometimes I didn’t sleep for two or three days, but I had the determination to give back to my family what they had sacrificed for me. And I still have this hunger, I haven’t done everything I wanted to do.

Where do you see yourself in two or three years? Do you think you will be a key player in Formula 1?

I realized that nothing was certain in Formula 1. Even if we won, that we stood up to a double world champion like Fernando, the future is not guaranteed. We have the example of Daniel [Ricciardo] : two years ago he was among the best drivers and today he is not sure of having a seat next season. You always have to be on top. Woe to you if you give up.

Are you still in contact with Mercedes? Do you still speak with Toto Wolff?

Yes, we are talking. Also because in the management of my career, I am always helped by Gwen Lagrue, a manager who also works with Mercedes. So there is always this link, even though I am an Alpine rider and my job is here today. I have a great contract that expires at the end of 2024, and a very interesting future ahead of me.

Read also:

Laisser un commentaire