Alpine’s Esteban Ocon has shed some light on the mental challenges he faced after losing his race seat with the Force India team at the end of 2018.
Esteban Ocon’s F1 career may be going quite successfully at this point, given his current long-term deal with Alpine and a race victory last season, but it’s been a long road back to F1 prominence after dropping off the grid three years ago.
Ocon was left without a drive at the end of the 2018 season, following the sale of the Force India team to the Racing Point consortium led by Lawrence Stroll.
Force India had been forced into administration after running into financial difficulties under owner Vijay Mallya, with the team changing hands and coming under Stroll’s ownership in August 2018.
With Perez on a long-term deal at the team, and Stroll signing his son Lance to the second seat, Ocon was left on the sidelines for the 2019 season. Finding refuge as Mercedes’ reserve and development driver under Toto Wolff’s management, Ocon said the season on the sidelines had still been tough to deal with.
“It was definitely tough,” Ocon reflected as he spoke on the Beyond the Grid podcast.
Arriving to the first race of the 2019 season, Ocon was dealt a further blow by Mercedes as he found out his track programme for the year had been reduced.
“I had some very low moments, mentally. I think I will remember one from Australia. I got there, at the first race in 2019. [I] was supposed to have quite a big test programme, so I was supposed to drive the car quite a bit,” he explained.
“When I got to Australia, [I was] told that I was not going to drive the car for the next six months – the next time was going to be in six months’ time!
“That’s how it was planned. Unfortunately, the days [were] reduced for some reason, for budget purposes and all that, which is completely understandable. The most important [thing] is definitely to run the race team and to keep all the money for that, but that was quite a big hit.
“I remember leaving the Melbourne track, going into the rental car and I cried in the parking lot. So there were definitely a lot of low moments…”
With Ocon losing his seat despite strong performances at Force India, Ocon said he knew the writing was on the wall the instant Lawrence Stroll purchased the team.
“There were no surprises,” he said.
“Lance was supposed to replace me at the team. But we had options to choose from – two teams. [I’m] not gonna say which ones, but we had opportunities that we didn’t manage to put together for diverse political reasons, which I was pretty disappointed about.
“It was not due to results that we failed in that regard. I think I did learn a lot anyway, in 2019, joining Mercedes as a reserve role. They had plenty to offer to me, big duties, and we dominated 2019. I was working on the sidelines, in the cave [the sim] at night, and then travelling to the track, but I was part of that and that was special.”
Having been the victim of F1’s intensely political side through that time period, Ocon said it had been particularly eye-opening for him to encounter such circumstances so early in his career.
“Yes [I was surprised],” he explained.
“I didn’t know it [the politics] could go that far, clearly. But, I guess in all big sports, it must be like that in all big businesses.
“There’s part of me that knows the job is to drive, to get that car as fast as it can go. But I didn’t know I was not as prepared to learn all the outside aspects, which I know well now. And yeah, I’ve promised myself that this would not happen anymore.”