Do not worry, we still don’t have an F1 driver born in the 21st century; you’re not THAT old (yet). But we do have a good crop of young guns eager to grab their first podium, first win or even first Drivers’ Championship. This week, we learn how 20 year old Esteban Ocon came to his current seat with Force India.
You may remember Esteban from 2016, when we took over for Haryanto’s seat at Manor for the second half of the year. His driving was impressive enough that when Force India learned that Hulkenberg was leaving for Renault last winter, they called Ocon up to fill the available seat. It’s fair to say that Ocon hasn’t disappointed. The rookie scored points in the first five races of the year. He missed out on points in Monaco, but so did his highly regarded teammate, Sergio Perez. So, the question on everyone’s mind: how did this prodigy get there?
Esteban was born in Normandy, France in 1996. When he was only four years old, he was on vacation with his family and had the opportunity to try out a small kart. He loved it and started lobbying his parents to get him his own kart. Esteban’s dad was a mechanic, so he may have been paddling downstream, but Esteban got his wish soon thereafter as a Christmas present. He wasn’t practicing on ovals, or even pavement at first, but rather the grass around their house.
After a few years goofing around, Esteban began to get more serious about his karting. He toured with
his dad (a common theme in “How He Got There”), but this dad also functioned as his mechanic! Esteban entered a French series for youngsters at age 10 and came in 8th. The next year he won the championship. He continued his success in the French karting leagues over the next several years and moved up to cars in 2012. He worked himself through the Renault series, scoring frequent podiums, and was signed by a sports management company two years later at age 14. (Was Esteban still going to school at this point? We will have to wait for The F1 Newsletter’s paddock interview to get that answer.)
Esteban raced in Formula 3 in 2014 against Max Verstappen. Ocon won the championship with one race to spare, but it’s fair to say that Esteban would trade his junior championship for Max’s F1 win in Spain last year. Esteban was and is in the Mercedes junior driver programme. He was able to drive the Force India car in 2015 during one of the tests because Force India is a Mercedes customer.
After 2016, as Manor was folding, Force India brought on the promising driver they’d seen the year before. Ocon has impressed in his debut season and, as a member of the Mercedes team, may be going places. Unlike so many Frenchman, this guy is not a born loser!