2016 F1 season driver rankings #19: Ocon

2016 F1 season review

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It’s hard to draw much of a conclusion on Esteban Ocon’s Formula One career so far. It’s only consisted of nine races in a car which was only on the pace of the others on its better days.

Esteban Ocon

Beat team mate in qualifying2/8
Beat team mate in race3/6
Races finished9/9
Laps spent ahead of team mate183/371

Unsurprisingly after being plucked from Mercedes’ DTM squad he wasn’t on terms with Pascal Wehrlein on qualifying at first. But given the scale of the challenge facing Ocon he deserves praise for the first Manor driver home on half of the six occasions both were running at the finish.

The most striking of these was in the rain at Interlagos where Ocon was only ejected from the top ten with two laps to go while his team mate had already slipped back in the dreadful conditions. Ocon was one of few drivers experimenting with the same wet weather lines as Max Verstappen, though he was doing it in a car with much less downforce.

In Abu Dhabi the chips were down for Manor having lost tenth in the championship to Sauber. Ocon led the charge in the race, going wheel-to-wheel with Felipe Nasr. That ended in contact, and before the race was over Ocon had also ‘traded paint’ with his own team mate, who he beat to a strong 13th.

There’s no love lost between Ocon and his fellow Mercedes junior driver – even less so since Wehrlein was passed over for a promotion to Force India. Wehrlein impressed more throughout 2016 but he had more than twice as many chances to impress. Ocon’s rate of improvement at the end of the year suggests an exciting future lies ahead.

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Over to you

He had a great ‘half’’ season and sometimes quicker than Wehrlein, but still to early to judge.

What’s your verdict on Esteban Ocon’s 2016 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments.

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View race-by-race notes on Esteban Ocon

Belgium – Admitted his first F1 qualifying session had been “tough” after Wehrlein beat him by half a second. However he kept it clean in the race – something many of his more experienced rivals failed to do – and beat Nasr’s ailing Sauber. With his team mate out there was little to judge him on besides the fact he was the one who brought his car home.

Italy – Utterly luckless as his car stopped in practice and again in Q1, leaving him at the back of the grid. He did ran a long stint on mediums at the start of the race but slipped to the tail of the field and was lapped twice.

Singapore – Didn’t get to grips with Singapore as well as Wehrlein on their first visit to the track and was comfortably out-qualified by his team mate. In the race he was penalised for overtaking under the Safety Car – a big no-no – and his pace was quite a bit slower too.

Japan – Also had his first experience of Suzuka but enjoyed a smoother weekend. Nonetheless the Manor didn’t appear to have the pace to challenge the other cars, consigning him to 21st.

Malaysia – Took advantage of his team mate’s problems to beat him in qualifying, then made a brilliant start to briefly hold seventh. It all started to fall apart when he put the hard tyre on and struggled for pace, then picked up two penalties for pit lane speeding.

United States – His final run in Q3 was compromised by a sticking wheel nut which delayed his exit from the pits and forced him to run a hard out-lap, spoiling his tyre preparation. He started the race on the mediums and found it a struggle, eventually pitting after just 17 laps. He’d also picked up some damage and pitted twice more by the end of the race, finishing a distant 18th.

Mexico – A difficult Friday left him with a lot to do in the Saturday morning session. A problem was identified with his car’s handling and Wehrlein beat him by half a second in qualifying. He was unable to overcome those problems in the race and finished a distant 21st.

Brazil – Dropped back to last on the grid by a penalty for impeding Palmer. However in his eighth grand prix – and first wet one – he gave a fine account of himself and only dropped out of the points places two laps from home. Staying off the intermediate tyres helped and it was striking that Verstappen’s former F3 rivals was one of few other drivers exploring the outer edges of the track in pursuit of more grip.

Abu Dhabi – After sitting out first practice so Jordan King could drive Ocon pipped Wehrlein to the team’s quickest time. But in qualifying he was another driver who was stumped by the ultra-softs, unable to find more time from them. “I was standing still and my team mate and everyone else was improving,” he lamented. The race went better as he moved up to 11th at one stage but contact with Nasr damaged his front wing. Given Manor’s championship situation the move was a risk worth taking.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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20 comments on “2016 F1 season driver rankings #19: Ocon”

  1. Ocon is definitely one to watch. Lots of potential, if he can navigate the minefields.

  2. Ocon is probably one of the most difficult to place in these rankings, but it’s hard to argue that he deserves to be above Wehrlein.

    We can only judge him properly after a season in a points-scoring car alongside Perez (assuming that line-up stays set!).

    1. Agree. It’s difficult because of his late season draft in to the team. He seemed to have the measure of Pascal on several racedays, so I thought he did pretty well.

      I think the ranking if #19 does do a little injustice to him. His performances were limited but on an average better than Palmer and Ericsson. I would put him at #17

    2. ColdFly F1 (@)
      7th December 2016, 11:43

      During the 9 races he participated in I’d put him just ahead of Wehrlein. They split the ‘laps ahead’ statistic, and Kvyat (and Verstappen to a lesser extent) has shown how difficult it is to jump into a car a beat a more experience teammate from day 1.

      PS – for the full season Wehrlein is maybe still ahead as he (consistently) impressed me more in the early races than later on in the season

  3. No19 is possibly the best place for Ocon.He didn’t impress that much,he was more conpetitive than Haryanto,but with the exception of Brazil,he didn’t impress.He failed to progress out of Q1 as well.

  4. Hard to place, better than Harayanto (who wasn’t awful) Ocon seemed weak at first but definitely improved, though of course you couldn’t put him above Wehrlein.

    Gotta say the Manor is a nice looking F1 car and in comparisson with it’s peers definitely not as basic looking as past seasons.

  5. I’ll admit, I thought he’d destroy Wehrlein on talent, but Wehrlein had more experience in this car, and more in F1 in general, and did well. Ocon has the Wurz problem too of being too tall, not sure that affected him but have heard that it might. Future world champion in talent.

    1. @hahostolze I don’t know why Wehrlein is so underrated. He has achieved something probably more telling of a great driver than either of Ocon’s title. His DTM title, which admittedly was a three-year project (the first year of which saw him languishing in last in the standings – but he was only seventeen), saw him pitted against drivers like Jamie Green, Edoardo Mortara and Marco Wittmann, drivers who not only would have been deserving of an F1 chance, but likely would have been very competitive had they got it.

      In his title year, going into the season he was Mercedes’ anointed title challenger; a lot of pressure for a young driver with the hopes of a manufacturer’s title bid at his back, especially when his opposition is almost unquestionably the finest congregation of driving talent outside of F1 (albeit Porsche’s newly announced #1 LMP1 squad of Lotterer, Tandy and Jani is similarly awe-inspiring). All the more absurd that Mercedes had to go and plead for a superlicense not afforded by winning the DTM title…

      I don’t remotely think he is better than Ocon, but I do think he is a comparable talent, and giving the additional car experience he had over Esteban, I wasn’t expecting a walkover. That said, I was surprised this year when Mercedes initially looked to be giving Wehrlein precedence over Ocon by giving him the Manor seat and awarding a DTM stop-gap to Esteban.

      1. @william-brierty All of what you’re saying is true, Wehrlein is by no means a driver to be sniffed at, but Ocon I consider to be near Verstappen levels of amazing, and that is just at least another step up from Wehrlein. I was surprised he wasn’t able to show that.
        As to the difference with Ocon and Wehrlein in treatment, Ocon hasn’t always been a Mercedes youngster, he was Gravity first, then Renault (Lotus), only then Mercedes after Verstappen turned them down. Wehrlein has been theirs for years. I think rewarding continued loyalty, and further progression, was on their minds, althought why not GP2 for Ocon, I don’t know. I think they think they can monitor drivers better in their own series and cars, which is fair enough.
        Intrigued to see what next season brings.

        1. @hahostolze I think you hit the nail on the head with my final point, loyalty, which is nice to see on occasion in the cutthroat world of junior programmes.

          In terms of why DTM and not GP2 for Ocon, it’s quite simple. Mercedes had an opening in their DTM programme with Wehrlein exiting for F1, so could develop some of Esteban’s skills in a professional team environment without having to fork out for a GP2 drive. Also rookies don’t tend to perform that well in GP2, and Ocon’s junior results were already worthy of an F1 promotion, so better give him a stop-gap year rather than put him in a GP2 car, have him struggle, and inadvertently put an asterisk next to the results of their headline junior driver.

          Given the job they’ve done with Checo Perez’s post-McLaren rehabilitation, if there is any team that is going to bring out the superstar in Esteban Ocon its Force India. Watch this space…(provided he isn’t drafted in to replace Rosberg!)…

    2. I think it has affected him massively with the car fitting. I reckon he would wipe the floor with Pascal if the car had been designed with him in mind.

  6. A coming star, I have no doubt. Ideally, he would be the one that Mercedes would draft in to replace Rosberg, he is after all, on junior series results, seemingly their answer to Verstappen and Vandoorne. However it is a shame that this news came a bit prematurely in Esteban’s development cycle, when in several years time he could lay claim to that seat on merit alone, now he will be likely undercut by a more experienced name.

    But he simply needs to show the F1 paddock the kind of drives that took him to the F3 and GP3 titles in concurrent years and he will get the opportunities he deserves. Every scrap of data on Ocon’s junior indicates stardom: he took the European F3 title as a seventeen year old rookie against experienced returners Rosenqvist, Blomqvist and Auer, and won races in his debut weekends in both F3 and GP3. Not many F1 graduates of recent years have such commendable credentials.

    With time and a car capable of comfortably accommodating his lofty frame, I am sure he will sparkle.

    1. Yeah I agree, especially with the last point. I did hear that he wasn’t able to feel comfortable in the car until Suzuka, which was the first occasion he out qualified and out raced Wehrlein.

    2. Ocon beat Verstappen to the F3 European championship in 2014. A season I saw in it’s entirety (as an old Jos Verstappen fan who took great interessest in his karting ace son)

      I have to say Ocon had previous experience in Formula Renault 2.0 whilst VES came straight out of karting. The Frenchman drove for Prema Power, a junior formula powerhouse team, whereas Verstappen drove for a lowerbudget team in Van Amersfoort Racing. Prema had won the previous two titles and Ocon’s teammates finished quite high in the standings behind the Frenchman, whereas Verstappens teammates where nowhere to be seen. Verstappen won 10 races, one more than Ocon and had quite a few reliability issues compared to Ocon.

      That all beeing said, Ocon was a master in qualifying (15 poles to Verstappen’s 6) and at controlling the pace from the front, much like Rosberg this year really. In wheel to wheel batles with others and in particular with VES, Max won out more than Ocon but the Frenchman showed some great moves and car control of his own as well.

      Verstappen, Ocon and Giovinazzi where the standouts in that order and the fact that VES proved himself in F1 the following year whilst Ocon went on to win the GP3 title shows that F3’s biggest 2014 talents are the F1 stars of the future imho. (PS if you want to see , all the races are available on the F3 official Youtube channel)

      1. 2014 really was a classic F3 season with a really competitive field
        Ocon, Blomquist, Vetstappen, Auer, Rosenquist, Giovanazzi etc.

        Shame it went downhill a bit the last two years, a lot of people scared off my Stroll and his development cash it seems.

  7. difficult to judge..
    He earned his F3 title by having better material and less failures than Verstappen in 2014.
    For sure one to watch, but he has to deliver in 2017 next to Perez.

    Let see what he can do with a midfield car, as Verstappen did in F3.

  8. Chris (@tophercheese21)
    7th December 2016, 23:25

    To be fair to Ocon, he looked utterly ridiculous in the car this year because he was about 10cm too tall for it. He nearly covered the air intake! It’ll be interesting to see how he goes in a car that will actually be designed to accommodate his stature, especially since he’s replacing Hulkenberg.

    1. @tophercheese21 Exactly. It’s because of those 2 weekends that Ocon is 19th on this list.
      Why aren’t the Renault drivers here?

  9. I think #19 is fair for results – but that if Ocon had had even a few more races, he’d probably have warranted a place a few positions higher. Austria and the purple patch surrounding it explains why Wehrlien has a higher position – I think they are on similar levels, but while Pascal’s lows were a bit lower, his highers were substantially higher.

    2017 will more likely give us a better insight not only into Esteban’s future potential, but also his present performance level.

  10. Force India is a great move for Ocon, if Wehrlein does end up in the Mercedes seat it will most likely be on a 1 year contract. Force India will be less pressured and without Hamilton on the other side of the garage chance to develop and measure himself against another driver who took some time to bed in to F1.

    2018 would see him with a good drive, another 12 months under his belt and ready for promotion if Wehrlein struggles in 2017.

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