The good, the bad and the ugly: 10 career-defining Esteban Ocon moments in F1

Oliver Harden
Esteban Ocon donning a cap and sunglasses on the grid at Suzuka

Esteban Ocon: F1's Marmite man

Esteban Ocon? You either love him or hate him. And a number of his F1 2024 peers – from Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez to Fernando Alonso and Pierre Gasly – are among those not so keen on his driving.

But why is the outgoing Alpine driver so divisive? Let’s examine Ocon‘s best and worst moments since he arrived on the F1 grid back in 2016…

Esteban Ocon: Best and worst moments

Good: Oconsistency, 2016/17

The biggest compliment you could pay him is that you wouldn’t have known that Nico Hulkenberg was no longer there.

Ocon’s first full season with Force India in 2017 was defined by a remarkable ‘Oconsistency’, which saw him reach the chequered flag at all but one of the 20 races, scoring points in 18.

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That ensured Force India matched their best-ever result of fourth in the Constructors’ Championship from 2016, despite losing Hulkenberg to Renault over the winter.

Throw his nine-race 2016 cameo with Manor into the equation and Ocon reached the finish at each of his first 27 grands prix, before a first-lap tangle with Romain Grosjean brought the run to an end at Brazil 2017.

Ugly: Clashes with Sergio Perez, 2017

That Force India eased to fourth place in 2017, missing just five point-scoring opportunities along the way, was all the more impressive when you consider the simmering inter-team tensions between Ocon and Perez.

It was all going so well until a team orders row developed with a potential podium on the line in Canada.

At the very next race in Baku came the first real glimpse of Ocon’s darker side as he edged Perez into the wall at a restart as they contested fourth place, compromising both and contributing to Perez’s retirement.

Perez got his revenge in two doses at Spa, banging wheels with Ocon on the approach to Eau Rouge at the start as he made space for Hulkenberg’s Renault on his left, before a more sinister move later in the race as he pinched his team-mate at a place where the track narrows.

The result? A puncture for Perez and a piece of Ocon’s front wing flicking up in the air and very nearly over the safety fence.

That was the tipping point for Force India, who intervened with a no-racing pact to stop their drivers racing each other, only to lift it for the following season… only to enforce it again after another flashpoint at Singapore 2018.

Good: A defiant third on the grid, Spa 2018

The writing was already on the wall for Ocon as he arrived at Spa in 2018.

With Lawrence Stroll completing his takeover of the newly renamed Racing Point Force India team over the summer break, it was inevitable that Lance would soon follow and Ocon, not Perez, would be the one to make way.

It is said that Ocon’s instinctive aggression is a function of his relatively modest background for an F1 driver – that sense of having to fight for everything he has, while others have it all given to them.

There was a lot of defiance, then, in his qualifying performance in greasy conditions for third on the grid at Spa – one of the few traditional driver’s circuits on the calendar – behind only the F1 2018 title protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

With few seats still available for 2019, everyone already knew Ocon was on his way out of F1.

But that result, in those conditions and in those circumstances, confirmed he would soon be back.

He came away from that weekend with a lot of credit.

Ugly: Taking out Max Verstappen, Brazil 2018

And what a way to lose all of that credit in an instant.

To understand the genesis of Ocon’s lunge on Max Verstappen at the 2018 Brazilian Grand Prix, and the appalling sight of a lapped car taking out the race leader, it is important to walk a mile in his shoes.

Ocon had comfortably beaten an emerging Verstappen to the European F3 title four years earlier and – at least in his mind – was every inch as talented as Max.

Yet there was Red Bull’s boy wonder marching his way to greatness. And here was Esteban about to spend a season on the sidelines through no fault of his own.

What justice was there in that?

Nevertheless, it was inexcusable, nasty, personal. And no matter what he achieved at Hungary 2021 and what he may go on to achieve in the future, it will likely remain the defining moment of Ocon’s F1 career, an encapsulation of the character of the competitor.

And all those people who had expressed sympathy for Ocon back at Spa?

Suddenly, thanks to that misjudgment, they were quite glad to see him go.

Good: First F1 podium, Sakhir 2020

In truth, there were too many storylines and subplots at the end of the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix for anyone outside of Renault to pay much attention to Ocon.

For starters there was Perez and Racing Point (now without the Force India bit), winners at last after what had felt like a lifetime of trying.

There was George Russell, laid out on the grass with a mixture of devastation, exhaustion and pride after the Mercedes debut of his dreams had ended in a nightmare.

And look! There was Valtteri Bottas, reduced to a dead man walking as a result of Russell’s instant impact.

With so much going on at the Bahrain Outer circuit, Ocon’s first F1 podium flew under the radar.

Yet it was almost poetic that he was joined up there by his old chum Checo as well as Stroll, the driver who had replaced him two years earlier.

Ocon had endured a difficult comeback season with Renault in 2020, dominated by Daniel Ricciardo who took the qualifying head-to-head battle by a score of 15-2 with an average pace advantage of 0.362 seconds.

At the end of his most challenging year to date, however, he was celebrating his best career result.

There, if you looked hard enough, was that typical Ocon grit once again.

Ugly: Taking on Fernando Alonso, 2022

Only the bravest souls go up against Fernando Alonso in the same car, fight fire with fire and live to tell the tale.

And Ocon handled him just about as well as anyone apart from Hamilton (2007) and Jenson Button (2015/16), outscoring Alonso by four points over the course of two full seasons in 2021/22 (even if, yes, he was very flattered by Alonso’s wretched reliability record in 2022).

Together Alonso and Ocon produced the best results Renault have seen since repurchasing Team Enstone in 2015, but with such two headstrong drivers occupying the same space it was only going to end one way.

Tensions may have bubbled away for some time, yet only when it became clear that Alonso was leaving for Aston Martin did that friction rise to the surface.

Less than 24 hours before Alonso’s move to Aston was announced, Ocon blocked his team-mate on the opening lap of the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Nothing out if the ordinary there, you might say.

Except he did it three times – first edging Alonso towards the pit wall, then hanging him out to dry at Turn 2, before crowding him off the track when Fernando tried one of his classic clean-air passes around the outside of Turn 6.

Months later came the Brazil sprint, where Alonso “lost the front wing, thanks to our friend” after Ocon moved in defence as they approached top speed on the pit straight and his team-mate closed in.

Alonso’s response when asked if he had spoken to Ocon about the collision?

“No, not really – I don’t need to. One more race and it’s over. Finally.”

Good: Hungary 2021

Exactly a year before their relationship took a turn for the worse, Ocon and Alonso had threatened to become quite a productive partnership for Alpine.

No race demonstrated that better than the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix, where Ocon sneaked through a first-corner pile up to set himself up nicely for his day of days.

But his maiden win may not have happened had Alonso not held up Lewis Hamilton’s charging Mercedes for so long in the closing stages – the old warrior wrestling with the big bad wolf, delaying it just for long enough to allow his team-mate to escape to victory.

Ocon saw his chance and took it, becoming a hero even if just for one day.

Yet Alonso – who held his team-mate aloft during the immediate post-race celebrations in parc fermé – was widely heralded as the winner too, having played such a decisive role in the outcome of the race.

How quickly, you wonder, Esteban must have grown tired of being told that he wouldn’t have won without Fernando’s help…

Bad: Australia 2023


That’s the only way to describe the end of the 2023 Australian Grand Prix from an Alpine perspective.

If the race had continued uninterrupted until the finish, Pierre Gasly would have finished a fine fifth and everyone would have been talking about a potential breakthrough race for Alpine.

Yet the series of stoppages, red flags and grid restarts saw the race descend into farce, putting Gasly and Ocon on a collision course.

So instead of a positive day for Alpine, everyone instead was left to discuss the deeply ingrained rivalry between Ocon and Gasly, that this was the first of a series of inevitable flashpoints and how it was a grave mistake to ever pair them together.

Who was at fault?

Gasly was certainly guilty of walking across the track after rejoining from a trip over the grass, resulting in him being collected by Ocon.

Yet the race management in Melbourne was so wrong that it felt unfair on the team and the drivers to read too much into it.

It was just an unlucky situation all round.

Still, at least it made for a decent episode of Drive to Survive…

Good: Monaco 2023

Take a glance at the results of the F1 2023 season and very little stands out.

Pole for Max Verstappen, win for Max Verstappen. Win for Sergio Perez. Podium for Fernando Alonso. Win for Carlos Sainz. Pole for Max Verstappen, win for Max Verstappen.

Even by standards of modern F1, 2023 was the dreariest season for some time.

The only team other than the Big Five to register a podium all year long? Alpine. Twice.

If Gasly’s third place in the Netherlands owed much to the August weather at Costa del Zandvoort, Ocon’s P3 in Monaco – the greatest driver’s circuit of them all – was all touch and feel for a racing car.

His qualifying lap for fourth was almost half-a-second faster than Gasly in ninth and quick enough to put him ahead of Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari and both Mercedes drivers.

And when Charles Leclerc was hit with a grid penalty for impeding, a podium was in his hands.

Ugly: Monaco 2024

It was reported in the hours after Alpine’s announcement that Ocon will leave the team at the end of F1 2024 that he was informed of the decision four days after the Monaco Grand Prix.

Yet after persistent rumours of interest from Audi and Haas, was he already aware heading into Monaco that he was on his way out?

Ricciardo, racing in the pack with the Alpines, noted an escalating aggression as the first series of corners unfolded with Ocon and Gasly initially making minor contact on the entry to Massenet.

Who started it?

Ocon finished it, not for the first time taking it a step too far with a team-mate – and when a red flag was already inevitable after the accident involving Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen.

It was unnecessary, in the same ballpark as Brazil 2018 for the sheer mindlessness of it all.

Let’s leave the last words to Martin Brundle who, as ever, called it best…

“Ocon is a fine and fast racing driver, but history clearly demonstrates that he has an irrational red mist when it comes to racing, particularly against his team-mates,” he wrote in his post-race Sky Sports column.

“He has been heavily criticised before by Sergio Perez and Fernando Alonso for his intra-team aggression and contact, and now Gasly too.

“It will cost Esteban heavily as no front-running team would entertain that kind of mentality, or even perhaps any team.”

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