Ocon: Verstappen and I have respect for one another

Formula 1 returnee Esteban Ocon says he has no problem with the prospect of going wheel-to-wheel with Max Verstappen in 2020, a rivalry that has roots to when they crossed swords during their karting years.

On Tuesday, as the post-race Abu Dhabi test kicked off, 23-year-old Ocon got his first taste at the wheel of the 2019 Renault ahead of his return to racing next year.

The Frenchman also sampled Pirelli’s 2019 and 2020 F1 tyres, and observed: “I cannot say right now that the difference is day and night, but I don’t want to get into the details.”

Ocon, who was a Renault junior driver during the Lotus days at Enstone, added, “It’s a moment that I’ve been waiting for a long time, yes. To return to Renault and the factory in Enstone where I grew up… it’s something huge.

“I could not wait to begin my first days in yellow after a year which was not easy for me. It has been long and hard. Especially at the beginning of the season, where there was not much going on in terms of discussions for 2020.

“I worked in the shadows, a lot. I was always at the [Mercedes] factory, in the simulator or with the designers. In the end, I did not stop,” revealed Ocon.

As for the prospect of his return to the grid next year, he says he is more than happy to go wheel-to-wheel again with Verstappen who has been a rival throughout their careers in racing, dating back to their early karting days.

At the tail end 2018, his last season on the grid, while being lapped he punted Verstappen out of the lead of the Brazilian Grand Prix. After the race, he was confronted and shoved by the furious Dutchman which launched a million headlines.

“I’m happy to race all the drivers again,” Ocon told Le Figaro newspaper. “It’s true that I fought my entire career with Max, but what happened in Brazil last year was a big, big thing on the outside but not so serious on the inside.

“Despite what happened, we have respect for one another. The page has been turned and we will fight each other on the track again,” he added of the feud that has roots in their early teens.