Ocon: Year out has made me a better driver

No Formula 1 driver wants to spend a year on the sidelines, but Esteban Ocon believes the knowledge and experience he gained while out has turned him into a “better package” and made him “more hungry”.

After spending two seasons at Force India/Racing Point, the Frenchman lost his race seat to Lance Stroll.

He then looked set for a move to Renault, but that deal collapsed at the last minute and he ended up taking the role of Mercedes reserve driver.

However, patience was a virtue as he will be back on the grid in 2020 as he has signed a multi-year deal with Renault.

Asked by Autosport.com what he gained as a reserve driver, the 23-year-old replied: “A lot of things.

“I didn’t drive as much as I would have liked to. Back in those days you could test the cars and drive millions of kilometres before getting back in it.

“I’ve done that in the simulator. I did test all the parts that the team put on the weekend.

“So I am aware of all the latest news of the current generation of cars. I think that’s a positive thing.

“On the other side not being driving I could also learn the other part of the world of F1, which is more experience, more knowledge for me and more things learned for the future.

“Seeing what the team expect from a driver, some things you cannot think about when you are racing. Because you don’t hear the people speaking internally and all that.

“As Toto [Wolff] always says, the more things you see and the more knowledge you have for the future, the more experience that makes in the end.

“And that makes you a better athlete, also a better driver in the end, a better package.”

Spending time outside the cockpit also means he has renewed hunger ahead of the 2020 campaign.

“This year has been tough mentally and on the emotion side as well, seeing those guys go so well and me being on the sideline,” he added.

“It’s not something that’s particularly great.

“But I think it can only make you stronger and more keen to come back, and I’m more hungry for when I come back.”

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Renault: ‘Race is on’ with McLaren for P4

Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo are both heading to Singapore ready to continue taking the fight to McLaren for P4 in the Constructors’ Championship.

18 points separate Renault and their customer team McLaren, currently occupying the ‘best of the rest’ spot, after the Enstone accumulated a whopping 22 points in Monza with Ricciardo finishing P4 and Hulkenberg coming home P5.

It has given the whole team renewed confidence that they can make a further dent into McLaren’s lead at the Marina Bay circuit and ultimately go on to retain their ‘best of the rest status’.

“We deserved the double top five finish in Italy,” Ricciardo said in Renault’s Singapore preview.

“We clearly had the pace from the moment we hit the track on Friday and, from there, executed a really good weekend to come away with 22 points. It was nice to have my best result for the team.

“We know now there will be eyes on us to repeat that, but I can see no reason why we can’t string together more solid results and really chase down fourth place. The challenge excites me.”

Hulkenberg declared that “the race was on” with McLaren for P4 and warned that Renault will not be “letting up” in the fight over the course of the remaining nine races left in the 2019 season.

“The team left Italy on a real high,” Hulkenberg added.

“The whole weekend was a super effort from everyone, starting with a solid qualifying result and then a strong race to move up a position.

“We’ve made a big swing in the Constructors’ Championship and the race for fourth is on. We have to develop this now and aim to pick up these kinds of results more regularly.

“It’s certainly possible and we won’t be letting up.”

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Ricciardo insists he wants to stay at Renault

He hasn’t made a decision yet and he concedes there have a lot of frustrating moments, but Daniel Ricciardo insists he wants to stay at Renault and get the team to the “next level”.

Having moved from Red Bull to Renault during the off-season, Ricciardo’s first year at the French manufacturer has not exactly gone according to plan as they have struggled to replicate their 2018 success and are currently fifth in the standings.

The Australian, though, has a two-year deal and Renault have already confirmed Mercedes reserve driver Esteban Ocon will be his partner in 2020.

Ricciardo insists he is happy to stay long term.

Speaking during an exclusive interview with BBC Sport, he said: “Do I want to stay? Yes, because ideally we do get this to the next level.

“It was my massive intention to come here. My intention wasn’t to have a two-year layover somewhere else. I know people might still think that, but I really want this to work. I feel like the hours I have put in this year have shown I have the drive to want to do so.”

Team principal Cyril Abiteboul admitted recently that they could promote an academy driver in 2021 with some suggesting the French squad might be hedging their bets in case Ricciardo decides to leave after his contract runs out.

“I definitely haven’t made any decisions yet,” Ricciardo said. “I haven’t had this discussion with Cyril. I don’t want to speak for him, but he’s frustrated with this year.

“I think part of him feels like – I don’t want to say [he feels] he’s let us down, but we did expect to do better.

“When we chatted last year, there were higher hopes for this year. We’re confident next year is going to be a lot better, but he’s thinking probably: ‘If it doesn’t go [better], why would Daniel want to stay?’ That’s probably where his head’s at and that’s probably where those comments come from.

“It’s him just being brutally honest with himself and wanting to do better and wanting the team to do better – to basically keep me and any other assets.”

Ricciardo is down in eighth in the Drivers’ standings with his best result coming at the Italian GP where he finished fourth, but it has been a frustrating campaign as he only has five top-10 results.

The 30-year-old, though, says he expected it to be a difficult transition season.

“Definitely not to be negative, but regardless of even if we were coming sixth every weekend, I knew there were still bigger targets and that we were still not going to be where we want to be,” he said.

“Yes, we’re at times further back than we expected and hoped, but I knew there would be work to be done and a lot of hours to put in. I feel like I was prepared for that.

“Even though I feel like I have worked more hours and probably worked harder this year than in previous years, it has still been quite enjoyable because the environment is different – new people, new relationships.

“If anything, it has reiterated what I want in the sport.”

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Renault PU has helped McLaren’s resurrection

Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul has acknowledged the strength of McLaren’s chassis but feels Renault’s power unit has also had a role McLaren’s resurrection.

McLaren currently occupy the best of the rest spot in the Constructors’ Championship, but their engine supplier Renault have narrowed the gap to 18 points following a strong points haul at the Italian Grand Prix.

McLaren’s chassis has received plenty of praise over the course of the season for its role in the team’s upward trajectory, but Abiteboul also wants to draw attention to the progress Renault have made with their engine, too.

“It’s a bit of an awkward situation, but clearly McLaren’s resurrection is also due to a combination of a resurgence on the power unit side and on the chassis side,” Abiteboul told Autosport.

“I think they have a better chassis in certain conditions, we have a better car overall and a better chassis in the other conditions.

“That’s a fact, so I think it’s going to be about track characteristics and who is capable of seizing the opportunity offered by the track.”

Abiteboul feels recent results have made finishing P4 a more achievable target and said the level of the pressure he and the team are facing has remained at the same level throughout the season.

“It was the target to finish fourth, and it remains the target. It was looking like a difficult target, now it’s looking like an achievable target, and that’s what we are focusing on.

“The pressure is not changing, and indeed when you are not in line with your target, you feel pressure, but I’m sure it’s the same for everyone on the grid, otherwise you don’t race in F1.

“It’s good to have targets that are challenging to achieve, because that keeps us on our toes.

“Targets need to be realistic, and they are realistic for this year, being P4 was and is a realistic target. We need to keep on working and keep on delivering against it.”

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Wolff: Ocon snub didn’t affect trust in Renault

Despite Renault pulling out of a deal to sign Esteban Ocon last season, Mercedes principal Toto Wolff insists they didn’t lose trust in the team.

The French manufacturer had agreed to take Mercedes’ reserve driver Ocon for 2019, but when Daniel Ricciardo became available and interested in joining the team, they cooled their interest in Ocon.

That left Ocon without a drive for 2019, much to the frustration of Wolff following the collapse of Force India.

However, Wolff insists that he continued to trust Renault and their principal Cyril Abiteboul, and now Ocon will indeed move to Renault for 2020 and 2021, replacing Nico Hulkenberg.

“No, we never lost the trust,” Wolff told Motorsport.com. “There are so many common things that we discuss between Renault and Mercedes, where we discuss how the sport should go, and that as much as the situation on Esteban affected us and we let some words slip, this is part of the game.

“There were phases where we were upset with each other, but then you need to move on. It hasn’t changed anything on the respect I have for Cyril, and the respect I have for Renault as a brand. That’s why we moved on. We need to play hard and forgive quickly.”

Abiteboul admitted that the situation was not handled well last year by Renault or Mercedes.

“I was not feeling extremely comfortable at the way things developed last year,” he admitted.

“Certainly it was absolutely not a good thing, but it was clearly not our intention to leave this guy [Ocon] behind, and to trigger the chain reaction that our decision to seize the opportunity of Daniel would cause.

“I don’t think we can provide all the details, but I think it’s been a whole dynamic probably was not well handled last year by our two companies.

“And that’s why I think we’ve done better this year, I think we’ve been a bit clearer with each other about parameters and timing, and we simply stick to timing and deadlines.

“I think it’s been an extremely fluid discussion, it’s been extremely transparent, with one simple objective.”

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Renault may be looking beyond Ricciardo for 2021

Renault principal Cyril Abiteboul says the team want to promote an academy driver in 2021, that could spell the end for Daniel Ricciardo.

It was announced after the summer break that Esteban Ocon would leave his role as the Mercedes reserve driver to join Renault for 2020 where he will partner Ricciardo.

However, the Aussie’s contract is up with the team at the end of next season, and Abiteboul has confirmed that Renault want to promote an academy driver into a race seat for 2021.

Ocon’s seat is unlikely to be up for grabs just a year on, so that suggests that Ricciardo could be in trouble.

As quoted by Racefans.net, Abiteboul said: “It was important when given the opportunity to seize the opportunity of a complete driver in Daniel last year and we don’t regret that at Renault. Just like right now we think it’s the right moment to start having some fresher blood.

“I think it’s a trend actually you can see in several teams. We are also interested in young drivers with our academy. We hope and expect to have possibly one driver from that academy by 2021. So it’s also a shift of dynamic to start really welcoming young drivers in our line-up.

“It’s not something that we would have been capable of doing two years ago but I think with more maturity in the team we can now envisage that. And that would be a good test to see if we are capable of also managing that because it’s a different type of management. Managing some who is 20, 22 or in his thirties, that’s different.”

Formula 2 duo Jack Aitken and Guanyu Zhou are Renault’s most senior Academy prospects.

Anthoine Hubert, who was tragically killed in the F2 Feature Race at Spa, was also part of the Renault junior set-up.

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Ocon to bring ‘new perspective’ to Renault

Esteban Ocon hopes he can bring a “new perspective” and “a different way of thinking” to Renault.

The Frenchman will return to the grid in 2020 after a one-year absence to replace Nico Hulkenberg at Renault, leaving behind his reserve driver role with Mercedes.

Despite still being only 22, Ocon will bring experience with him, having also raced for Force India and in the DTM series, and he hopes this will help him breathe “fresh air” into the Renault team.

“I’m currently working with the world champion team which has dominated Formula 1 for a few years. I learned a lot from Mercedes this year,” Ocon told Auto Motor und Sport.

“I will also contribute my experiences with Force India. You must not forget my time in other racing series, like the DTM for example.

“I see certain things from a different angle and bring in a new perspective. They expect that from me.

“They want fresh air, advice and a different way of thinking. I hope I can help move the team forward.”

Ocon insists that his season on the sidelines has been very beneficial to watch from outside everything that goes on in a team and teaches him “aspects that you usually do not notice”.

“What the team expects from a driver, how the team reacts to difficult situations, how to deal with their drivers, these are aspects that you usually do not notice,” he explained.

“The driver in the cockpit doesn’t hear everything. I was able to look at it for a year from the outside.

“This will help me to make the right decisions and respond correctly to different scenarios, to make the team happy.

“I was in the middle of ‘silly season’, so I now know the politics around it. The work on the other hand is very complex. I prefer racing.”

Ocon signed a two-year deal with Renault and he admits that the security through to 2021 is a huge relief for him.

“Long-term contracts give you security in this sport,” he said.

“Sometimes a drive will quickly slip through your fingers. I learned that in 2018.

“It’s good that I do not have to worry about the next two years. I can concentrate on racing and I am not distracted from the outside. That whole thing is a job in its own right in Formula 1.

“This year I had the time to take care of it because I wasn’t driving. But you cannot combine both. I’m in the fortunate situation where I have people in my environment who help me.”

The Frenchman is developing a very close relationship with Renault advisor and four-time Formula 1 World Champion Alain Prost, revealing that they talk for “hours” as he absorbs the support from his compatriot.

“I’ve been in contact with him a lot lately,” Ocon confirmed. “He will be a great help to me.

“He’s become a mentor, a teacher, and he’ll give me good advice. When I talk to him, I never want it to stop. I am absorbing his words and we talk for hours.”

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