Esteban Ocon’s rise from ‘rags-to-riches’ is a heart warming story, and now the likable Frenchman has revealed that without the help and guidance of Mercedes F1 chief Toto Wolff he would probably have been working at a hamburger joint.
“Between the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015, if I did not have Wolff helping me I would now probably be flipping burgers at McDonalds. Without funding I had no chance to continue racing. I did not have the money to race, and then he spoke to me…”
Wolff has made no secret that he believes Ocon is a champion in the making, funding the Mercedes junior driver at Force India this season. Increasingly it is obvious that the money is well spent as the 20-year old challenges his much more experienced teammate – Sergio Perez – on a regular basis and impresses with every outing.
Wolff recently said of Ocon, “He’s developing just in the right way, he’s going to be a superstar of the future.”
After a solid career in karting, living out of a camper van and his father doing the spanner work, Ocon moved to Formula 3 and after his second year won the FIA European F3 Champion with Prema – the team he credits for the impressive consistency he shows on track.
He explained how his race-craft evolved, “My consistency was born from the time I was running in F3. My engineer always told me to get the most of every race, thinking about the points. He would say: if you cannot win, then get points for second place. This I now apply to Formula 1.
He added that with Prema he also learned about “humility, always tell the truth, because you cannot make excuses when there is telemetry.”
Ocon’s battles with experienced Force India teammate Perez have been one of the highlights of the season. In Canada the Mexican refused to let Ocon (who was faster and on fresher tyres) to pass and challenge for the podium.
The incident changed the dynamics within the team as it became evident that the young charger was getting under the skin of the experienced campaigner.
Ocon said, “I’m still convinced that in Montreal the podium was possible. I think I had the pace by far to do it, but the team and Checo made different choices. But that’s how it is, that’s racing sometimes.”
In Baku the pair collided when Ocon made an ambitious move on Perez who, in turn, did little to avoid contact, the Frenchman acknowledged, “It was a problem when we collided in Baku. The team called us for a meeting and asked us to pay more attention to avoid such things in the future.”
Regarding Perez, Ocon insists, “There is much respect between us.”
When Nico Rosberg unexpectedly retired from F1 at the end of last season, Ocon was one of several names linked with a drive at Mercedes.
That this did not transpire does not faze him, “I’m part of the Mercedes junior program, but for now I’m in Force India, I’m still young.”
As a Frenchman Ocon has many great French drivers he could have looked up to in his rise through the ranks, but he admits that he had only one hero, “My role model was Michael Schumacher. I had the helmet with his colors and the red race suit like his.”
As for the future, Ocon’s ambitions in Formula 1 are crystal clear: “I want to stand on the middle step of the Formula 1 podium.”
Big Question: Is Esteban the real deal?