Formula 1 returnee Esteban Ocon started work as a Renault driver in Abu Dhabi post-season testing on Tuesday, after a year as a reserve for champions Mercedes, and said it was good to be back behind the wheel.
The 23-year-old Frenchman lost his drive with Racing Point at the end of 2018 but has returned to replace departed German Nico Hulkenberg for 2020.
He told Le Figaro newspaper he might have returned last weekend as a stand-in when Williams’ British rookie George Russell reported sick at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but that did not happen.
“I couldn’t get in the car. It was obviously impossible,” the 1.86m driver said, reporting for duty at Yas Marina.
If the title-winning Mercedes was a squeeze, with six times world champion Lewis Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas both shorter than Ocon, the Frenchman was closer to Hulkenberg’s 1.84m measurement.
“My main focus was to get back up to speed,” said Ocon after his first day. “
“Trying to get a sensible position in the car too, and then once we’ve more or less done that it was also to get a first feel for the car and the new tyres. My position is a bit better in [he Renault], the seating position because there’s more space.
“It was a very exciting first day. I sated to see how the RS19 behaves and I was getting closer and closer to the limit as the laps progressed.
“It was a great feeling being back behind the wheel of a F1 car. The team gave me a warm welcome and the first impression felt good – it as also nie to experience the 2020 tyres – but there are always things to improve. We have a solid base to continue [Wednesday] and I am looking forward to it,” added Ocon.
Teams were testing a mixture of 2019 and 2020 specification Pirelli tyres.