Ocon: "Everything was going against me" for F1 return
Renault driver Esteban Ocon has called his 18-month lay-off from Formula 1 racing a “very strange period” as he prepares to make his grand prix return in Austria.
Ocon has not made an F1 start since the 2018 season finale in Abu Dhabi with Racing Point after being forced to spend last year on the sidelines in a reserve role with Mercedes.
Having missed out on a seat at Renault for 2019 following the signing of Daniel Ricciardo, Ocon was picked up by the French manufacturer to race full-time through this year in place of the ousted Nico Hulkenberg.
But the late cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix and subsequent delay to the start of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused Ocon’s wait to drag on.
“It’s been so long that I’m waiting. A year and a half is just crazy, it seems like everything is going against me for me to restart,” Ocon said during a press conference with select media including Motorsport.com.
“It’s been a very strange period, for sure. I took it as an extended time to prepare, time to get ready.
“It’s been way too long for sure. Last year was very difficult, [but] this year is a different feeling, because I’m into a great team. I have a great challenge ahead with a competitive car. I look forward to restart.
“Having that in mind, you have a target which is very different to when you are trying to find a challenge ahead of you. I knew what I was working for, I knew how much I wanted, and I’m hungry to restart as well.”
Since his final F1 start in November 2018, Ocon has only taken part in five days’ worth of testing, three of which came during pre-season testing with Renault.
The final preparation for Ocon came during a private test day at the Red Bull Ring at the end of June, driving a 2018-spec Renault F1 car.
The Frenchman said that even after so long out of action, it did not take him long to feel he was back up to speed and sharp again.
“I felt good, restarting in the car last week. It’s been so cool to get back to a real track after spending so much time doing Esports,” Ocon said.
“Getting back to the real track felt awesome. Going out of the garage is a special feeling after such a long time.
“It didn’t take me long to get back up to pace. I felt good, I felt sharp, I felt quick, so definitely ready to restart in Austria.”
Renault has confirmed it will bring a triple-upgrade package to the opening race in Austria after completing the development work it had planned for events in Vietnam, the Netherlands and Spain.
“There has been a lot of work going on before the factory has shut down,” said Ocon.
“The car is going to be very, very different to the one we were supposed to drive in Australia, which is also crazy, because some of the parts we will never have driven.
“That’s exciting. It’s going to be a hell of a data gathering [session] on Friday to see where we have improved, how everything is going to feel, and for us getting back to speed in the 2020 car.
“It’s going to be very different, but I look forward to it.”
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