Esteban Ocon was forced to take a step back in his racing career this season, only to make at least 3 steps forward next year. Following last year's unusual moves on the drivers' market, Mercedes-backed young talent currently occupies the development role in the champions team. Renault's rejection last year was the worst moment of his career, but it didn't let him lose the faith in the team from his motherland, which ended up hiring him for 2020 F1 season as a full-time driver. Season 2019, spent under Mercedes' wings, has taught him not only very important insights from the sport but also let him understand the things that make him a better person overall. During Singapore Grand Prix, Esteban Ocon sat down with ŚwiatWyścigów.pl's Wojtek Paprota to discuss all these topics.
How is your season going so far?
It is good so far. It has been of course a different one than usual, but I have discovered other things and also being totally involved in the team that successful with so much knowledge, it has taught me a lot, I think. I learned a lot of things that are gonna help me in the future. I was also less focused on driving. I had more time to discover a lot of all the things, how this complicated world works as well which is something that as a driver you don’t have time to normally see and work with. This year I had more time to focus on all those things and overall I think it is a good year on that side and what I learned, I will bring it to the future.
How does your typical race weekend look like? I saw you flying over from the UK to the place where the race is organized.
During European races I used to fly to the factory on Thursday evening or Friday morning, then we start the work and I go to the race support rooms, where they follow the track action during FP1 and FP2. I followed them with the team in the factory in Brackley. After FP2 there was a debrief so I was taking part in the debrief and had all the information about what we need to test in the simulator before the FP3 the following day. We used to start work in the simulator at 6 pm more or less to 2 or 3 am in the morning, we used to run and do all the testing possible. Then in the morning, I was flying to the track, so not much time for me to rest, getting a small debrief with the engineers if they need and a few questions from them, and then they were ready and they got me to FP3 on their side.
Sometimes you are also doing some hot laps in a sports Mercedes car. How do you like this experience?
Yeah, this is cool. That’s the best moment of the weekend, definitely! It is fun. I always have the chance to bring cool people. Also, I could take Didier Drogba, the other day, which was cool, also Will I am from the Black Eyed Peas, lots of cool people that I don’t meet always. And you Felix [Mercedes' press officer]!
You mentioned that this season you have experienced some things that you wouldn’t experience if you had been the full-time racing driver. So if you had to point out one thing that you have learned as a development driver in Mercedes this year, what would it be?
When you are in a car, you don’t hear what internally is being said. I learned things that the team wants from the driver at a certain crucial point of the race and how certain people react and what you do. So I have a clearer view of what the team wants from a driver’s perspective. It’s a big help definitely. Also, all the political decisions. Now I know how everything works, which is good because normally you are not involved in that too much, but this year I was a lot more involved so had the chance to experience how all that works. But it is a full-time job, so it is not on my side to be a manager but it is good to have an idea of how everything works.
How about the mental side of this whole thing? Did you learn any sort of humility over this year or anything else that made you a better person?
You realize how lucky you are when you have a seat and when you race because when you are outside it is, of course, difficult on the mind and there are not always easy moments. And it makes you a lot more hungry to be on the sideline and you just want to deliver on track and give your heart more than ever.
This weekend Robert Kubica announced that he is leaving Williams by the end of this season and he is seeking new opportunities where he can race at the top level but on the other hand there are still some options for him to be a test driver and work in the simulator, but nothing has been confirmed yet. Having a similar experience, do you think that it is generally better to be a test driver or development driver in a top team like Mercedes, or a full-time driver in a team like Williams which is dead last and has no potential for improvement?
I think it is always better to race, but it depends on what’s Robert’s goal and what he wants to do. it is always better to race from a racing driver’s point of view. On my side, it was a bit different that this year I decided not to race, but this is a difficult choice. If it was only my heart, I would have loved to race but I wanted only Formula 1. So I don’t know what is in Robert’s mind but it is sad to see him leave because, to be honest. As an athlete, an achievement to get back to the sport is very very impressive and we all recognize his talent and we are all very impressed with the comeback he did. To race at the top in his situation is quite something so I wish him the best for the future.
Yes, for you it was definitely a good decision to work as a test driver in Mercedes because we can clearly see it is a benefit for you now… Anyway, last year Toto said that the reason why you ended up without a race seat is, let me quote, "some teams don't have the balls to stick to what they say". How frustrating it was?
Yes, it was very very frustrating… Probably the worst moments of my career, but I turn the page on that. It is now over and the importance is to focus on the future. I have an exciting challenge ahead and I want to prepare well for that so now the page is turned and we focus on the future.
Have you lost the faith in Renault after this situation?
No. Look, things have changed now. I am part of the team. It was of course not an easy decision but Toto gave me a piece of great advice to understand the people in front of you, to understand how they feel and what decision they have to take. I don’t think it was an easy decision for them last year and it was always an unfinished story with the team and I always knew that at some point that would happen and I would drive for them, because I know the team for a long time and wanted that to happen. And it has happened.
Well, it is great that you mentioned that because 4 years ago when I asked you the same question in the GP3 paddock, even before Renault made its official comeback to F1, if you see yourself as a Renault driver, you answered: "At the moment no, because I have a contract with Mercedes". Someone has changed his mind...
Did I really say that? What did I say? Show me! [Esteban takes a look at the interview] Oh, really, I said that…
Ok, easy, I know this PR staff… How do you expect yourself to find within those people?
It is not exactly a new team for me. I worked with them in the past, not so long ago. Of course, there are some new people that I need to discover, but I know like 70% of the team which is already a great help and I know most of the engineerings who are working on the track and that makes it easier. But that comes with experience. The more you work with different teams, the better. For example, my experience with Manor will help cause some people have moved from Manor to Renault. It is going to be the same. Getting used to know them, working in the simulator, as usual, getting to prepare to the weekend, because we don’t have so much testing so we need to be on it straight away.
So what is going to be the most challenging thing when settling down in the Enstone?
Nothing major. Nothing is going to be the biggest thing. It is all about details in Formula 1. I think to put all the details together is going to be a key and that is what I am going to be working on most of the time.
Ok, so what is your target for the next season?
The target for the next season is going to be of course try to get closer to the top 3 teams, that's the aim of Renault. They want to score podiums also, which is going to be a big test but we want to improve from where they are now and just trying to constantly move forward because they want to get to that top 3. That’s the target.
Ok, so let’s take a 15-year perspective. What is the team that you would like to win the world championship title with?
I will be 38 then… Well, first of all, I hope I will have a great career, couple of times world champion, that would be great and hopefully, I will retire and do some rallycross or drifting, I don’t know. I think 38 is great to retire…
So you are not brave enough to pick a team that you would like to win the world championship with?
As long as I win the world championship, it will be a success and it doesn’t matter in which team I am.