Ricciardo vs Ocon: Will it be war or peace?

Renault ditched Nico Hulkenberg at the end of last season to make way for young hotshot Esteban Ocon who will step back to Formula 1, after a year on the sidelines, to partner experienced veteran Daniel Ricciardo.

Now they have two drivers at different stages of their careers; Ricciardo is established, respected, wickedly fast with canny racecraft hired to lead Renault’s resurgence. But after his first season in yellow and black spent in the heart of the midfield battlefield, the experience turned the ever-smiling Australian dour when he dropped his guard.

Nevertheless, if any driver can lead a charge it is Ricciardo, now it remains to be seen if Renault can provide the tools for him to do the business because last year they neglected to do so.

Ocon spent two and a half years, a couple of those at Force India where he spent a great deal of time locked in combat with his teammate Sergio Perez at the expense of the team. Undeniably quick the Frenchman can be prone to rash moments such as tripping up race leader Max Verstappen while he was being lapped during the 2018 Brazilian Grand Prix.

On that note, if there is one driver who wants to prove he is better than Max, it is young Esteban. Nemesis springs to mind. And this is a feud that has roots in karting.

However long before Ricciardo can set about winning races for Renault and Ocon take on mighty Max, the pair have to contend with each other.

30-year-old Ricciardo has nothing to prove in F1, only lacking for him in what has been an impressive career so far is a drive with Ferrari. At Renault, he will be limited by what they can give him to drive.

Same applies to Ocon, but the 23-year-old has everything to prove. Is he really that good? Can he contain his aggression? Does he have the temperament? Many questions will be answered this year when he steps up again to the biggest stage of all, eager to prove himself and begin carving his own legacy.

Up against the Honey Badger, there will be nowhere to hide for the Frenchman, but the primary target will be how to beat Daniel who, in turn, will have the same thoughts occupying prime time in his mind ahead of the new season.

Of course the ‘feud’ has yet to begin, so for now the spin is all positive, with Ricciardo quoted saying: “I’m looking forward to blending into the team better on the back of having a full season behind us – so things are going to be easier in that sense.

“I learnt a lot about myself and obviously a lot about the team. One of the most important learnings for me was that it’s not just about having the smartest guy in the Formula 1 paddock – you need every individual across the team getting the most out of themselves.

“With the people I work closest with it’s about trying to find a way they work best, trying to help them be their best selves, and then also figuring out where I can perform the best on the day. I’ve enjoyed this experience so far and building something with Renault,” added Ricciardo the seven-time Grand Prix winner his near-decade in F1.

Ocon’s delight to be back was palpable when he lowered himself into the Renault cockpit for testing at Yas Marina Circuitlate last year. He has arrived from Mercedes full of inspiration and ambition: “It’s very exciting and I can’t wait to test the new car in Barcelona.

“We’ve had a lot of time to prepare, and I’m feeling ready for the challenge. I’m really looking forward to racing again – back where I want to be – after waiting for a year. There are a lot of new items on this year’s car and the guys have been working hard to find some additional performance.

“It’s all about details in Formula 1 and I’ve seen quite a lot of details on the Renault R.S.20. It’s exciting to see the design but the next thing you want is to be behind the wheel and feeling what it’s like,” added Ocon, a ‘veteran’ of two seasons if F1.

Meanwhile, Renault also confirmed on the day that 20-year-old Chinese driver Guanyu Zhou has been promoted to Test Driver. As a rookie, he finished seventh in the 2019 Formula 2 Championship

“I’m looking forward to becoming the team’s Test Driver,” said Zhou. “It’s another step up from being Development Driver in 2019. This year I have an even better opportunity, meaning working harder than before, getting as much information as possible for driving a Formula 1 car and, at the same time, improving the areas the team needs to work on to help them get better in the future.”