Ocon ‘never scared’ of Verstappen during junior years

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Esteban Ocon says he was never scared of going up against Max Verstappen during their formative years in the sport contrary to many of the Dutchman’s rivals at the time.

Ocon and Verstappen first crossed paths as young teenagers in the wild ranks of karting, a period he remembers well.

The future three-time F1 world champion had already developed a reputation as an uncompromising racer, an image that his father Jos only helped to reinforce as Ocon recalled.

"Everybody was a little bit scared of Jos and Max at the time because Jos was driving in F1 before and is known for how fierce and scary he can be, talking to other young kids at the go-kart tracks," Ocon remembered, speaking on the High Performance podcast.

“But me and my dad were never scared because we just wanted to race. We raced hard, we raced really hard and at times, we crossed lines in certain races.

"Sometimes we didn't finish where we were supposed to because of how hard the fights were but that made me learn a lot on how to race and I hope it made him learn a good amount.”

In 2014, the pair went head-to-head in the European F3 Championship, a series which Ocon won ahead of Briton’s Tom Blomqvist and Verstappen.

“We met again in F3 later, from karting in 2011, a three-year break and then we met in F3, racing for the title.

“There it was hard racing as well. I have always enjoyed racing with Max. Tough racing is always cool to me, side-by-side, being very close - that is what racing is all about and there is nothing else that makes me that excited.”

Esteban Ocon and Max Verstappen clash at the Red Bull Ring in F3 in 2014.

In 2015, Verstappen was promoted to F1 with Toro Rosso, while Ocon joined motorsport’s elite a year later, in the second half of the 2016 season, serving his apprenticeship with Manor Racing.

The Frenchman admitted to feeling frustrated seeing his rival join the big time while his own racing programme ground to a halt, albeit one that would be temporary.

"So, I got into the Mercedes Junior Programme,” he recounted.

“From there on, it was back on route but from Max not winning the title and then finishing third and then going into F1 and then me not even having an option to continue racing, that was tough to swallow.

“I was very pissed off in those times. That was very difficult," he added.

"To me, it was not fair... not saying that I would go to F1 because I always believed that my time would come if I put hard work in, got the results.

"But in those moments, I wasn't sure that I was going to even continue racing and, for me, that wasn't fair.

"I am glad all those guys saw it wasn't fair and found solutions for me to continue."

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