2021 F1 driver rankings #9: Esteban Ocon

2021 F1 driver rankings

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Esteban Ocon’s 2021 campaign had one obvious highlight: That stunning and completely unforeseen breakthrough victory in Hungary.

Esteban Ocon

Beat team mate in qualifying11/22
Beat team mate in race9/18
Races finished19/22
Laps spent ahead of team mate502/1128
Qualifying margin-0.35s

But that wasn’t the only impressive moment in a season during which he measured up well alongside one of F1’s top drivers, Fernando Alonso, who was playing himself back in at Alpine after two years away.

That didn’t come into focus immediately as Ocon’s season got off to a less than ideal start in Bahrain. He was compromised by Carlos Sainz Jnr in Q1 and got no further, then was taken out by Sebastian Vettel during the race. But over the races that followed it was clear Ocon was immediately more comfortable in the Alpine than his team mate.

At Imola Ocon reached Q3, lost ground at the start after pitting to swap wet weather tyres for intermediates, but recovered and passed Alonso. In Portugal he qualified an excellent sixth and came home ahead of a McLaren and a Ferrari. He did well in Spain on a one-stop strategy and bagged points in Monaco too.

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However Azerbaijan proved the beginning of a more difficult spell. Ocon retired early in the race with car trouble while Alonso impressed on his way to the points. He had a disappointing home race as well, failing to join Alonso in Q3 and finishing six places behind his team mate.

The two Austrian rounds proved a double disappointment: Ocon failed to reach Q1 at both, and was eliminated in a lap one collision at the second. Puzzled by his downturn, Alpine replaced his chassis and Ocon was soon back on form again, collecting ninth at Silverstone.

His confidence in his car restored, in Hungary Ocon out-qualified Alonso for the first time in six races, which proved incredibly timely. After Valtteri Bottas and Lance Stroll helpfully skittled half-a-dozen cars out of the way at the start, Ocon moved up to second behind Lewis Hamilton, then wisely pitted for intermediate tyres before the restart. From there he kept Vettel at arm’s length to take the shock win of 2021.

Esteban Ocon, Alpine, Hungaroring, 2021
Ocon saw Vettel off for shock Hungaroring triumph
Despite that points boost, Ocon slipped behind his team mate in the points standings by the end of the year. He was passed by Alonso at the start in Zandvoort and collected a penalty for tangling with Vettel at Monza, leaving him tenth. Another tenth place, in Turkey, was the product of an audacious gamble on a no-stop strategy on drying Istanbul track, after Alonso had been knocked out of contention at the start.

Both Alpine drivers were in great form at Losail, Ocon claiming fifth, two places behind his team mate. But he excelled himself at another new venue, Jeddah, where he worked his way forward to the extent that he took pole position for one restart, and only narrowly lost third place on the line to Valtteri Bottas.

He concluded a generally strong season with another points finish in Abu Dhabi, albeit two places behind his team mate. Alonso had marginally the better season of the two but Ocon sustained the improved form he showed at the end of his first year back in 2020 – and took the team’s biggest result of the year.

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What’s your verdict on Esteban Ocon’s 2021 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments. Add your views on the other drivers in the comments.

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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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41 comments on “2021 F1 driver rankings #9: Esteban Ocon”

  1. I am not a Ocon fan. But this season he did not put a foot wrong. His fighting in Hungary ( protected by Alonso) was great stuff.
    And in a faster car he would have deserved a higher position in this list. But the differences are getting harder to point out in the last 10 places.

    1. in a faster car he would have deserved a higher position in this list.

      It’s a driver ranking, not a car&driver ranking like the WDC.

      1. Better: It should be a driver ranking. But the car has an enormous influence on the ranking here.

        i.e. Put Bottas in a Haas and he never would have made the position he has now.

        1. i.e. Put Bottas in a Haas and he never would have made the position he has now.

          You don’t know. I don’t know.
          We don’t even know how well he would have performed.

          1. I presume bottas would’ve performed relatively better at a weak car than a mercedes, remember he was pretty good back at williams.

    2. When i saw him in F3 he didn’t gave champion vibes if he didn’t was in the fastest car he wouldn’t be champion.

      This year he doesn’t give me the feeling like Charlers, Pierre, Lando or Norris.

      1. Between Lando and Norris, it is difficult to decide ;)

        1. Personally I find Lando better than Norris.

          1. @ldom Nonsense, clearly Norris is better than Lando.

        2. Ahah, that’s a good one.

        3. Oeps i meant George of those Norrises :)

      2. Ocon and Gasly are in the same category. I don’t what Gasly ever did to give anyone a special feeling lol.🤣🤣
        He got one of the worst beatdowns I have ever seen in a top team.

        1. I think he tried to hard, during test he crashed the car too often and that cost him his confidence and as you saw his performance went down fast. But in Torro Rosso went went much beter but it could be the pressure is too much for him.

          1. I really think Red Bull should send Gasly to Alfa Romeo on loan imo. And partner him with Bottas. Like they did with Sainz at Renault in 2018. Kvyat made Sainz look like a million bucks. Sainz beat him 90-8 in points. But as soon as he went up with Hulkenberg he got beaten. Now Tsunoda and Kvyat again make Gasly look like a million bucks but I want to see him go up against a established and experienced teammate like Bottas and see how he fares before probably signing him for Red Bull in 2024 or decide to let him go.

  2. OCO had some really good drives – Hungary and Saudi Arabia come through my mind here!
    But there also some Q1 eleminations and weekends where he was nowhere compared to ALO.

    You could argue to put him behind PER and BOT but all in all I agree with this ranking.

    1. ALO had a Q1 elimination when he was getting a tow from Ocon, who accidentally made it to Q2, in Mexico. Lol.

  3. It was a great season. Arguably deserved #8 above Russell if he didn’t have that chassis problem from Baku to Austria, but it is what it is. He was amazing in Portugal, Monaco, hungary, Qatar, Jeddah. The spa qualifying was great where he beat Alonso by. 0.8 s in the wet

  4. I would have put him above Russell. But no higher than 8th.

    1. yep, a bit generous to George the 8th or better, but Ocon is spot on

      1. Yes, probably generous indeed to russell, who seems special, but after getting the mercedes promotion didn’t impress me as much as earlier in the season.

  5. I wonder where the unproven overhyped Mr.George Russell will end up?🤔🤔
    Well surprise surprise he is getting ranked above a F1 race winner and the only one who battled with Lewis and Max in the penultimate race. And someone who matched Alonso in pace throughout the year. Won’t be surprised if Russell ends up in the top 5 with the way this is going. Mick at 17. Russell at 8 or higher. Truly baffling.

    1. Well in 2018 Leclerc was 3rd overall so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in top 3

      1. Nah, both of you are exagerating, true the ranking seems overly generous to russell, but I expect him to come next, he can’t be that far ahead with the car he drove.

    2. People really do have short memories. Russell took a car that was not really capable of making it to Q2, into Q2 on a regular basis. He was punching above the car’s weight on nearly every race weekend. He put it on P2 in Spa.

      What did Ocon do exactly? Besides being gifted a win in Hungary that saw Lewis drop to last, Bottas take out two Red Bulls and Lando and Leclerc, who were all ahead of Ocon on merit at the time? I agree that Saudi Arabia was a good race for Ocon, but still, he hasn’t done anything exemplary all season long. Russell has.

      1. @todfod Ironically, Bottas took all of those cars out in Hungary trying to avoid hitting Ocon.

  6. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    18th January 2022, 16:57

    I’m curious to hear the reasons Alonso is ranked higher. I had a hard time splitting their performances.

    1. @freelittlebirds Alonso was the better of the two. They were 11-11 in qualifying and 9-9 in races, but Alonso got more points despite Ocon getting lucky at the start in Hungary (which was a huge swing in points). Alonso shouldn’t be much higher, but he should be higher nevertheless.

      1. @Mashiat: You seems to forget that ALO was also a beneficient of Hungarian GP mess. You seems to forget that ALO was ultra lucky with a mess in Baku, when he was driving in hopeless 11th (while Ocon had no chance at all, since his fresh engine expired on lap 1). You seems to forget that ALO was lucky again in Qatar, when Bottas and Perez were caught with unexpected tyre blowouts (for Perez – precautionary pit stop), and got lucky again with VSC in the end, which stopped Perez from catching him.

        And even in the end, in Abu Dhabi – Ocon was on a points position all the time, while Alonso had no pace to pass anyone ahead, until a VSC occured, helping him to get a cheap pit stop, and pass drivers from hopeless P11 (maybe P12, since Gasly passed him later). If that didn’t happen, Ocon could get P8 or P7.

        And we can start here with unlucky events occuring for Esteban. Even in Bahrain, when he was dropped in Q1 due to yellow flags, stupid strategy in Imola (altought he overtook Alonso on the track), engine in Baku, chassis issues in Austria (triple-header, so no chance of fixing that at all, since the car had to be taken into Enstone for checkups), lost race in Spa (yes, a reminder – Ocon beaten Alonso in quali, who is an alleged rainmaster, but actually both drivers were expected to move up some places, so maybe I shouldn’t count that), BS penalty in Monza (possibly cost him only one spot, behind Russell, because for some reason Alpine got away with serving that BS penalty under SC!), and finally – relatively to Alonso’s Qatar, Ocon didn’t get a help from VSC in Jeddah, but he still gave Bottas a hard time fighting for that P3, while Alonso was spending his time spinning in the back of the pack.

        Alonso got luckier by much. He had some great races, no doubt about that (Russia, Netherlands was great – maybe even the best of the year for him), but sometimes he was getting ahead just by being lucky.

        That “huge swing” was just 5 points, if you consider that Alonso scored points in Hungary as well, and add lucky shot in Baku.

        1. I don’t remember how the overtakes-based standings closed the season, but ALO was around the top throughout the season.
          He also showed a good performance on sprint qualifying a, which I guess is a plus over Ocon, being tied in other areas but scored points

          1. Sprint races:
            Grid: ALO P11, OCO P13
            Sprint: ALO P7 (+4), OCO P10 (+3)

            Grid: ALO P13, OCO P14
            Sprint: ALO P11 (+2), OCO P13 (+1)

            Grid: ALO P9, OCO P10 (both moved up a spot after Hamilton’s DSQ)
            Sprint: ALO P12 (-3), OCO P9 (+1)

            Overall gainers: ALO +3, OCO +5


    2. Yes, they were very close.
      But Ocon got a win that was largely due to the side of the track that he started on.
      Despite the points bonus that comes with a win, Ocon finished behind Alonso on points,
      This suggests that, overall, Alonso had the better race pace.

  7. The obvious problem with rankings is that the difference between 1st and 2nd, or 8th and 9th, or 15th and 16th isn’t always the same. In this case the drivers ranked 6th to 10th could easily be arranged in another way by emphasising different points. This particular midfield group is also hard to judge, because a slightly wrong turn on the set-up or a mishap early on in the race can have a big effect on how well these guys do. Alonso being furious after qualifying in Austria was with good reason: once you start 15th in a midfield car, the chances of making much progress are slim.

    Did Ocon do worse than Alonso, Gasly, Leclerc, and Russel? Maybe, maybe not. The fact that he was so close to Alonso is both a pro and a con. On the one hand Alonso isn’t getting any younger and has been out of the sport for a while. On the other, it’s Alonso. One of the undisputed best drivers of the last 20 years – and not just in F1.

    Hopefully the 2022-regulation cars live up to their promise, so the midfield can be a bit more competitive on race days, rather than merely shuffling the order of the cars around a bit from weekend to weekend. It would give guys like Ocon more opportunity to show their abilities.

  8. Ocon always struck me as as a dependable, reasonably fast, if a tad uninspiring driver. Better than Gasly but having Alonso as a teammate skews your performance they way Tsunoda flatters it.

  9. I thought Ocon acquitted himself really well.

    The general expectation was he’d get buried by Alonso and I was pleased to see him hold his own and hold it well.

    The next couple of years are pretty critical for him – it could go both ways, but I’d not discount him rising further up the rankings as he certainly has skill, not necessarily the car, and resilience to come back well after being dropped out through no fault of his own.

    If he gets the right car, I expect him to be up there with the likes of Norris, Russell, Leclerc & co

    1. And his old friend Gasly😉

  10. I must say, before the season, I thought Ocon was going to get obliterated by Alonso. I was pleasantly surprised to see he was a match for him. They’ve got a pretty strong line-up. Hopefully they have the machinery to match this year.

  11. Piastri needs one of these alpine seats

    1. Alphatauri and Helmut Marko should seriously look at signing Piastri for their team. I don’t see any reason for Gasly to continue at Alphatauri in 2023.

  12. This ranking is probably the perfect example of why attempting to rank the whole field is such a difficult exercise. As many point out, did George really do a better job than Ocon? Or Alonso for that matter? But one could also argue the other way round!

  13. The most evenly matched of team mate battles
    Ocon matched his more experienced team mate
    Delivers a victory (please let’s not give Alonso the credit there, lol)
    Ranks 9th whilst Alonso will be at least 6th
    Makes sense?

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