'Excited' Ocon relishing return to F1 with Renault

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Renault F1 Team RS19.
© XPB 

After a year on the sidelines, Esteban Ocon was delighted to finally be back on track behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car again on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi.

Ocon took part in 50 Grand Prix events between 2016 and 2018, initially with Manor and then for two seasons with the Force India squad.

However he was ousted from his race seat at the end of last season, leaving the Mercedes protégé without a place in F1 this year - but with a promise from Toto Wolff that he would definitely be back on the grid in 2020.

That's ended up with Ocon replacing Nico Hulkenberg alongside Daniel Ricciardo at Renault, and he had his first outing in his new team colours at Yas Marina in the official post-season tyre tests.

“It was a very exciting first day," the 23-year-old French driver said after setting the eighth fastest time on the first of two days of testing.

"The team gave me a warm welcome which is always very satisfying. Seeing some old faces - some new faces as well - which is great.

"There’s always a lot to say on the first day," he admitted. "Getting to know everyone and getting to work with new people, it’s very different.

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Renault F1 Team RS19.

"This is what’s going to take the most time, for all of us to understand each other perfectly.

"But it's a fantastic feeling to be back," he beamed. "It was a great feeling being back behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car.

"I was so excited for today, I've been waiting for this day for months, and finally it's happened, he added. "The first impressions felt good ... but there are always things to improve.

"[In the afternoon] we properly started to work on all the little details," he continued. "I started to see how the R.S.19 behaves, and I was getting closer and closer to the limit as the laps progressed.

"We have a solid base to continue tomorrow and I’m looking forward to it."

While most of the other teams have elected to share out driving duties among their drivers over the two days, Renault will stick with Ocon for the whole test in order to give him the best possible introduction to the team.

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Renault F1 Team RS19.

Getting as much time before the wheel is especially important for Ocon, given the reduced opportunities for testing in 2020.

"I didn't get much driving time this year," he admitted. "To have even fewer days in February is a big problem, so to have these two days here is basically a counter for the days we are lacking in February.

"It's crucial and definitely it's going to help me massively, because you arrive to testing in February with an advantage

"You have your [seating] position fixed, you have things that you verified on track. It's great to have the chance for that."

The move to Renault from Mercedes had been a benefit to Ocon in another way. As one of the taller drivers on the grid, the R.S.19 is actually a better fit for him than the W10 would have been.

Cap worn by Esteban Ocon (FRA) Renault F1 Team.

"Nico and Daniel are taller than Valtteri [Bottas] and Lewis [Hamilton]," he explained. "[So] my seat position is a bit better than that car because there’s more space."

However Ocon is experienced enough to know that his return to F1 isn't going to result in instant success, especially after Renault struggled to deliver in 2019. The French squad ended up finishing the season in fifth place in the constructors championship, behind McLaren which uses customer engines from Enstone.

"Despite good progress in recent years we do not have the car to win yet - and we wont have it next year either," he admitted to Le Figaro. "There is clearly something missing in the set-up.

“But the important thing is to keep ourselves motivated, make progress and get there one day. I want to be world champion, not seventh or eighth.”

And having a strong team mate like Ricciardo is part of Ocon's master plan.

"I want to compare myself against Daniel because I always want to fight with the best," he said. "The goal is to be in front of him!"

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