Esteban Ocon, Renault, Monza, 2020

2020 F1 driver rankings #14: Esteban Ocon

2020 F1 season review

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On his return to Formula 1 following a one-year absence, Esteban Ocon was clearly outclassed by fellow Renault driver Daniel Ricciardo.

Although he did eventually get on terms with his team mate, it took him until the end of the season. He made consistent improvements, though it wasn’t always discernible in his race-by-race results, which were affected by misfortune to a greater degree than many of his rivals’.

After picking up four points on his return, Ocon qualified a season-best fifth in a rain-hit qualifying session at the next round. He didn’t out-qualify Ricciardo again until the final race, though the gap between them was often less than a tenth of a second. In the races, however, Ricciardo was usually quicker, and more than once Renault told Ocon to let him by.

However this wasn’t the only reason Ocon accumulated points more slowly than his team mate. Technical problem were another. A radiator problem sidelined him after that excellent qualifying performance at the Red Bull Ring, overheating brakes ended his run at Mugello on a day when retirements helped Ricciardo grab fourth, and further faults put him out at the Nurburgring and Imola.

Esteban Ocon, Renault, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020
Ocon’s luck finally changed at the Sakhir Grand Prix
While Ocon wasn’t to blame for any of his retirements, he did have one of the year’s most bizarre crashes, when he swiped a barrier while trying to avoid Kevin Magnussen’s Haas in front of him during final practice at the Circuit de Catalunya. This ultimately proved inconsequential on a weekend when both Renaults finished out of the points, continuing a generally disappointing start to the season for both drivers.

At the Hungaroring Ocon fell back at the start, pitted too late for slicks and was passed by Lando Norris on the final lap. He was deeply unhappy with Renault after a missed opportunity of a race at Monza, where he was unable to take the restart on his preferred tyres as the team hadn’t kept them warm. However fifth place in the Belgian Grand Prix behind Ricciardo, following a late pass on Alexander Albon, pointed to better times ahead.

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More misfortune occured at Istanbul, where a tangle with his team mate caused what might have been Ocon’s costliest retirement. He was up to third following a brilliant start when he was knocked into a spin by Ricciardo, who in turn had Valtteri Bottas on his inside.

Esteban Ocon

Beat team mate in qualifying2/17
Beat team mate in race3/12
Races finished13/17
Laps spent ahead of team mate209/806
Qualifying margin+0.20s

In the second race at the Bahrain International Circuit Ocon’s luck finally changed. A timely Safety Car period and the retirements of several other drivers played into his hands. He also put a useful pass on Lance Stroll in order to take the chequered flag behind the other Racing Point in a satisfying second place.

He passed Stroll again on the final lap of the season as his 2020 campaign finished considerably better than it had started. But with the formidable Fernando Alonso replacing Ricciardo this year, Ocon now faces the toughest test of his career so far.

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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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52 comments on “2020 F1 driver rankings #14: Esteban Ocon”

  1. I think it’s a fair assessment but I might have had him and Stroll switched round in the rankings, much as I tend to criticise Lance. I think stroll’s highs were enough to edge it between these two while both had way too many really concerning slow, anonymous, flat races. 2021 is make or break for Ocon (in a more logical or just world, 2020 should have been make or break for Stroll…).

    1. I don’t think being beaten the level stroll was beaten by perez reflects badly on him, he’s deserving of a f1 spot on merit, can’t say the same for vettel 2020.

      1. Or albon, which thanks god is out (I know he was decent on toro rosso).

  2. It won’t be easy with Fernando.

    1. You can say that! To be honest, until I saw the headline of this article, I totally forgot Ocon was actually in a F1 car in 2020. Wow, what a poor year he has had

  3. Yeah, hard to argue this one. I never rated Ocon as high as some, but Ricky really did school him throughout the season, which was quite surprising.

    I don’t think Alonso lost his mojo over his F1 break, given he’s continued to race whatever came on his path with wheels and excelled, so that’s gonna be quite the challenge for Ocon. It’ll be a tough one.

  4. It speaks volumes for the talent on display this season that Ocon only ranks 14th – whilst he was outclassed by Riccardo, DR is one of the best drivers on the grid and EO was putting in some good showings and starting to look his equal by the end of the season.

    Now that he’s comfortable at Renault I expect he will give Alonso a headache next season.

    1. @marcusbreese does make you wonder where some other drivers are being ranked though, and why there seems to be a fairly extreme disparity between certain team mates when Keith previously noted they were fairly closely matched in his end of season comparisons between drivers.

      1. I assume you’re referring to Magnussen, anon.
        All the others at least had some daylight between them.

        The other odd one is Stroll vs Perez. It seems that many rankings focussed primarily on the latter part of the season.

        1. Magnussen is indeed one driver I am thinking of, though Kimi may also fall into that category too.

          Whilst he did have a bit of an edge over Giovinazzi, the potential gap between them in terms of ranking does also seem larger than you would expect from the driver comparison article.

          You do have a point that the comparison does seem to be weighted towards the back end of the season, which may also be resulting in a wider than expected gap between some drivers, like Stroll and Perez.

        2. @coldfly This ranking doesn’t seem biased towards the end of the season though, since Ocon was performing better at the end than at the start but still has a relatively low ranking. I’m a little surprised to see him this far down behind the likes of Magnussen, Raikkonen and Kvyat as I think he has a much harder benchmark to compare against than any of them and while the head to head scores look bad, often he wasn’t that far behind. But I do find it hard to judge the performances at the three teams who could rarely score points as you often don’t see much of them and good performances can go completely unnoticed, so perhaps I’m underestimating some of them.

          1. I was referring to Stroll/Perez.
            We don’t know about a possible bias until we see where/why Perez ends up, @keithedin.
            Stroll was better than (or at least as good as) Perez during the initial part of the season. If Perez ends up very high (I’ve seen people ranking him as #1 in 2020) and Stroll as #15 then this smells like end of season bias to me.

          2. @coldfly I posted this in a previous article, (although I have slightly adjusted it now), but I don’t think Stroll was better than Perez in the first half of the season, although it is close.

            Austria – Stroll retired early but Perez was still faster in qualifying and the early stages of the race. Perez struggled at the end of the race, but I would say Perez was slightly better here.
            Styria – Perez battled from the back to take fifth, although he then lost it by hitting Albon and came sixth. Stroll got stuck behind Ricciardo and was much slower than Perez. Although they finished less than a second apart, and Stroll outqualified Perez, I think Perez was much better than Stroll in Styria. Perez is still ahead overall
            Hungary – Stroll is significantly better than Perez all race, and cancels out (and a bit more) the advantage Perez had after the first two races to go just ahead in my rankings.
            Britain 1 and 2 – Perez missed these races, so we have to pretend he had an average race and his overall ranking is not affected. However, Stroll was very poor in race one and also underperformed in race two, so I think it is fair for Stroll’s rating to go down, but for Perez’s to stay the same. Perez is now just ahead in my opinion.
            Spain – Perez outqualifies Stroll, but is overtaken by him at the start. Stroll is then ahead for most of the race, but Perez’s superior tyre management gets him ahead. He then loses his fourth to Stroll because of a penalty for ignoring blue flags, but as I don’t agree with the penalty, I rated them equally for Spain, so Perez is still just ahead overall.
            Belgium – Perez outqualifies Stroll, but is beaten by him in the race. However, this is mainly due to a bad strategy from Racing Point. Perez eventually finishes right behind Stroll, but as Stroll was ahead at the start before they went on different strategies, I rated him very slightly ahead here. Perez is still ahead overall, but by a tiny margin.
            Italy – I actually thought this was quite a poor drive by Stroll. He was quite a few places behind Perez on the grid, but then lucked into second place because of the red flag. He then messed up the start, and was very lucky that his lock-up and slide off the track came at a corner where he could re-join the track in the same position. Perez, on the other hand, was very good in qualifying, and although his race was less good, he extends his lead over Stroll in my ratings.
            Mugello – Stroll was much better than Perez in both qualifying and the race, and almost cancels out Perez’s advantage. Perez is still rated slightly ahead, because Stroll had the new update in Mugello and Perez didn’t. At this point (halfway), Perez was very slightly ahead of Stroll in my ratings, although neither were in the top ten. Over the second half of the season, Perez actually had the highest rating of anyone, while Stroll had one of the lowest, and Perez ended up third overall, with Stroll 17th. Of course, these ratings are all subjective, but I still think that over the first half of the season, Perez and Stroll were nearly equal, but with Perez slightly better, while Perez was so much better than Stroll over the second half that, overall, it makes sense for him to be over ten places ahead. You may disagree with some of my ratings from the individual races, of course.

          3. I like your detailed review of the performances, @f1frog.
            Maybe Keith can hire you for the Stars/Strugglers reviews or the driver rankings.

    2. Lol did you see the last race ricciardo was so much faster then ocon

  5. Esteban Ocon is a mystery to me. Back in 2017 and 2018, he was doing an outstanding job and was as good as Perez, despite being relatively inexperienced. It was a travesty when he was kicked out of Formula 1, and he was thought of by many as the man to replace Bottas. But since he returned, he has been a long way off Ricciardo’s pace, and has not looked like the same driver who was seriously considered by Mercedes. However, he didn’t particularly seem like a future world champion in Manor, either, as he was usually slower than Wehrlein. Maybe he just struggles adjusting to a new team (although that wasn’t the case in Force India), or maybe he was never particularly good, and Perez just had a couple of bad seasons in Force India. With the returning Fernando Alonso as his next teammate, it could give us more of an indication of how good he is, although Alonso could be quite an unknown quantity (he could have a Schumacher return).

    I think this is a good rating for Ocon, although I would have him above Magnussen. I definitely think Magnussen and Grosjean are now too far apart.

    1. @f1frog
      Comparing him and Wehrlein at Manor in 2016 isn’t possible. Pascal had the whole of winter testing and half a season at Manor, while Ocon was racing at DTM during that time. At the final rounds he was already matching Wehrlein and put in a stellar performance in Brazil, only finishing 1 sec outside the points and well ahead of his teammate.
      IMO Ocon’s subpar performances were more down the lack of racing he experienced in 2019, than his overall pace. Considering he was starting to match Danny Ric in the final couple of rounds, I expect him to improve further.
      As for Alonso, who knows?! I doubt it will be like it was with Schumi. First of all, Fernando is two years younger than Schumi was at that time. Secondly, he did race in other categories since his departure from F1 (Le Mans and Indy 500), while Schumi only did races in the German motorcycle championship (IDM) and that was only for fun.

      1. Jose Lopes da Silva
        19th January 2021, 10:57

        Schumacher hadn’t raced with the Pirellis before. Alonso has tons of experience with them.

      2. @srga91 Alonso is only 6 months younger than what Michael was when he rejoined the sport in 2010.

        1. @mashiat
          Are you sure? Schumi was 41 when he returned in 2010 (born in January 1969), Fernando is 39 now and will be at the start of the season (born in July 1981). O.K., it might not be full two years, my bad, but still one and a half years less compared to Schumi.

          1. Yes, I agree, pretty sure alonso won’t have lost as much performance as schumacher had on his return, compared to their respective bests, but decline on average starts at 35, so I think it won’t be peak alonso either.

    2. petebaldwin (@)
      19th January 2021, 11:01

      @f1frog – I think he’s still as good as Perez – it’s just that he was up against Riccardo and Perez was up against Stroll.

      1. Ricciardo isn’t that much better than Perez. In 2014-2016, Perez was teammates with Hulkenberg, and beat him, although not by much. In 2019, Ricciardo was teammates with Hulkenberg, and also beat him, but by a slightly bigger margin than Perez did. However, he totally dominated Ocon, whereas Perez was fairly equal to Ocon. I think Ocon genuinely did a considerably better job in 2017-2018 than he did in 2020, but the question is why.

        1. @f1frog it is not really all that surprising when you consider the extended gap that Ocon has had in his career between 2018 and 2020 though.

          The pre-season tests for 2020 was the first time in 15 months that Ocon had sat inside the cockpit of any racing car, and the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix was the first time that Ocon had raced a car in over 19 months. We saw how Hulkenberg was praised for his performances in Silverstone when he turned up and drove the Racing Point car – but Ocon hasn’t raced for more than two and a half times longer than Hulkenberg has.

        2. Lol Ricciardo would destroy Perez. Ricciardo destroyed Hulkenburg and ocon both guys who beat or tied with Perez. Ricciardo is easily the best and most consistent driver on the grid. Max with the full preferential treatment of redbull was only able to match Ricciardo after all their time together. Look at albon and gasly how red bull slows maxs teammates down

          1. Ricciardo the best driver of the grid is absolutely overkill. There is no data that indicates he would beat hamilton, ricciardo, leclerc, and now that I’ve seen russel we could add him too, but I would say he’s the 5th, maybe 4th best driver on the grid, as in best of the rest.

          2. As for albon and gasly, they are unable to drive a top car, see how ricciardo and russel immediately performed when number 2 on a top car, I wonder if perez will do a good job, he’s never driven a real top car before, but I don’t think doing a better job than those 2 I mentioned will be hard.

  6. A pretty fair assessment. Getting up to speed indeed took quite long for him. Next season with returning Alonso as his teammate, he can’t afford to underperform to the same extent, especially considering he’s got the advantage of more recent racing experience in F1. Losing to a driver who hasn’t driven in a single F1 race for two seasons would be quite embarrassing.

  7. I never rated Ocon as highly. He falls in category midfield with Hulk, Grosjean. He was barely a match for Perez.

    The fact that he beat Max in F3 in 2014 still resonates with people. But looking closer that wasn’t all that impressive as Max was in midfield car in his first year of single seaters. Discounting for that, Ocon became champ in a weak field

    1. @trib4udi I wouldn’t call a field with Blomqvist, Rosenqvist and Giovinazzi a weak field, though I guess 2015 was better overall in hindsight (Rosdnqvist, Giovinazzi, Dennis, Leclerc, Stroll, Russell, Albon and Ilott…ok, 2015 was amazing).

    2. In F3 Ver suffers 8 DNF (and 1 DNS) and OCON only 3.

      1. Yes, ocon beat verstappen is a myth, just like bottas beat russel in that race at mercedes… people need to analyse numbers, not just take them as they are, otherwise hamilton would be the best driver ever, and I don’t see how you can make that argument with, schumacher aside, clark, fangio and ascari on the field, and the few races they had.

  8. I thought he was pretty anonymous this season really, I’d occasionally forget he was on the grid he’d be that unremarkable. No really bold strategy calls, or qualifying sessions where he put the car well beyond where it belonged, no major shunts (other than the weird FP3 Spanish one, which I sort of think he has to take a fair bit of the blame for, not that Kmag isn’t blameless either). It was just a bit of a ‘non-year’ for him I thought.

    1. @bernasaurus Same. He was pretty invisible for a large portion of the season. The same also applies to Kvyat. As if they weren’t even in the races.

  9. Personally, I’d put Stroll ahead of him and Magnussen behind both of them (don’t know why he was rated so highly).
    Ocon had a fairly unspectacular sesaon, despite his podium finish at the 2nd Bahrain-weekend, and was often clearly outpaced by Danny Ric. But let’s not forget he had a year off and that can have quite a massive impact on a driver, because Ocon hadn’t raced in any category in 2019 (correct me, if I’m wrong). You can’t really substitute wheel-to-wheel battles (as good as those race sims are getting) and the pressure of having to put in the laptime when it really matters the most. That’s why you need the real racing experience, which Ocon didn’t get in 2019.
    I believe he will do better this season, despite his teammate being one of the toughest racers in the field. Now that Ocon’s back in his racing rythm, I expect him to up his game.

  10. I think Ricciardo pretty much conclusively ended any chance of Ocon making to a top drive last season, and if Fernando has a similar advantage next year, which is quite likely, Esteban will quite likely be out of F1.

    I’d also dispute the notion that he got on terms with Ricciardo as stated in the article – he may have gotten a bit closer in qualifying, as you’d expect as he got more comfortable with the car, but he only actually qualified ahead in the dry once, and only in Portugal did he have as good a race pace as Daniel – other than that, he was always miles off.

  11. Pretty fair summation. I expected him to slowly improve given he’s had a year out of a seat and he did.
    I also expect him to be better in 2021.

  12. All a bit Stoffel Van Door wasn’t he. Underwhelming return and never really got going. DR is a tough team mate but his beating of Seb is probably reappraised in light of his subsequent decline and he got bested by Max to the point where he left a race winning car to join one that hadn’t and couldn’t.

    But then if you dig down all drivers seem to have gaps, I,daily, see people even on here question Lewis and say hes not that good and its because of this or that and yet the talent in f1 is probably as deep as its ever been. Even so if Ocon gets the Alonso hairdryer he may well be out with another similar season.

    1. Ricciardo and max were tied in points stop making this up that max beat ricciardo. Ricciardo got 3 poles to maxs 0 in the same car. And this is the red bull team that heavily helps max beat his teammates. And despite red bull heavily helping max he still was only able to tie with Ricciardo

      1. Absolutely false, ricciardo had the edge on verstappen in 2016, but verstappen over time became faster than him and by 2018 he was superior, ricciardo was more unlucky with reliability, but even performance wise at that point verstappen was ahead. Red bull, or any other team, doesn’t randomly decide to favour leclerc, hamilton, verstappen etc., they build the car around the best driver they had, and verstappen was number 2 in 2016, he became number 1 by beating ricciardo, like leclerc, that’s an even better example, it’s widely known he joined ferrari as number 2 to vettel, silly team orders in vettel’s favour, eventually he beat him anyway and took number 1 from him, that’s how it is in f1.

  13. We have to wait to see if Alonso returns with a form similar to 2018. If so, it will be very difficult for Ocon, because the Spanish is possibly the best driver of the post-Schumacher era

  14. Admittedly I expected him to be better than he was. He did improve, but he never really seemed as fast, consistent or reliable as Ricciardo and probably worse, never really looked like the same driver he had been at Force India. If he couldn’t beat or at least equal Ricciardo often I doubt he’ll be able to do so with Alonso, either.

    1. I won’t be surprised if he’s greatly improved this season. Spending a year out of a seat is tough and he showed glimpses during 2020.

      Expect him to hit the ground running far better – will it be enough to match Alonso? That remains to be seen, although tbh I don’t expect much from Alonso given that the Renault is a long way from competitive.

      1. @dbradock
        That’s what I was thinking as well. People tend to think that it’s easy getting back into your rythm after a year or more without any kind of racing. You can’t emulate the pressure you’re under in qualifying and races. Only racing itself can fix that.

  15. What I particularly remember from Ocon’s season was the tone of his engineer on the radio, both after the Spanish free-practice crash, and after Esteban’s mini-rant at the end of the Monza race. Neither exchange exactly dripped respect from team to driver…

    I agree with others. 2021 is make-or-break for Ocon. He has to really push Alonso, otherwise it’s difficult to see what his next move will be. But I also agree that Ocon could have been slightly higher up these rankings.

  16. Kevin, where are the you?
    Kimi shouldn’t be that far away either, when Gio is ranked that low…

  17. Marinated Monolith (@)
    19th January 2021, 15:29

    I do wonder just how much of his mediocre performance is down to being sidelined for a season and a half, these things can really mess up your momentum. Like Gio, he’s still showed improvements throughout the year and I believe they’re still some ways off their ‘peak’, so to speak.

    I honestly don’t think we’ll be seeing the best out of Alonso next year as well, given he barely did any track time in 2020, and I won’t be surprised if they end up performing closer than expected in 2021.

  18. If we consider the machinery, Giovinazzi performed better than Ocon and Stroll. Indeed, Giovinazzi completely matched Raikkonen (same points, better in quali) which is going to be ranked higher than 14th

  19. He was pretty invisible in 2020

  20. Ok from the start this article is horrible, did the guy who wrote this even watch all the races. Ocon was always slower then Ricciardo in almost all races, and in qualy ricciardo would consistently out qualify him by several positions

  21. I think Ocon gets rated harshly for the points lost due to the DNF’s. Which he didn’t even cause himself.

    Ocon and Ricciardo in reality were not that far apart. If Ocon’s car kept going, he consistently finished one or two places behind Ricciardo. Plus, especially after he had some time to settle in, also ahead of Ricciardo.

    I get that people will mostly look at the scoreboard, since that’s the easiest thing to do, but when you look beyond the numbers and correct for technical issues then I think you get a fairer picture.

    When you take the points only for races where both drivers finished then Ricciardo got 71 points and Ocon 58. For a driver just getting new into a team, and at that a team that’s pretty much settled around Ricciardo, I don’t think he did that poorly.

  22. @marinatedmonolith
    Yeah, or you realize that ocon never touched a car for 1 full year and raced for only 6 months in 2020.

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