At the 2017 Japanese Grand Prix, Estaban Ocon equalled the record held by Max Chilton of 25 race finishes in his first 25 Formula 1 races. In fact, Ocon hasn’t retired since August 2014, making that an astonishing 53 consecutive single-seater races without a retirement. While the phrase ‘slow but steady’ comes to mind in the case of Chilton’s achievement, that clearly isn’t the case with Ocon. This statistic just underlines the fact that Ocon is going to emerge as one of the real stars of this new generation of drivers.
He may have been lucky with the reliability of his Force India machinery, but it takes real talent to tangle with your team-mate and fight near the front without coming into any trouble. It is not as if Ocon has pottered around towards the back in order to finish; he has scored points in all but one race of 2017. A puncture dropped the Frenchman down into 12th in Monaco, still a respectable finish for a driver who had not yet completed his first full year of F1.That’s difficult to achieve. You don’t get those kinds of results by accident.
Force India could not have asked for more when they signed Ocon. He’s pushing Sergio Perez to an extent that the Mexican perhaps hadn’t bargained for. At the moment Perez still has the upper hand, sitting one place higher in the championship standings with an extra 17 points, but Ocon has made it clear he’s not here in a supporting role. He’s in it to win it and to make his mark as a Mercedes protégée.
This is the driver who beat Max Verstappen to the 2014 European Formula 3 championship. While Verstappen was whisked away to Toro Rosso for 2015, Ocon stepped up to GP3, to claim another title and to gain more vital experience for when his time in the spotlight came.
Ocon needs to prove that he is one of the very best of his generation, a driver who can be the future for Mercedes or Ferrari. He has everything to gain from beating Perez. He’s a highly rated known quantity, with years of F1 experience behind him. Ocon might not be taking the world by storm in the way that Verstappen or Lewis Hamilton did in their debut years but he’s almost doing something better. He’s laying the groundwork, building the foundations for a fantastic career. He’s got an opportunity to become a more rounded, prepared driver. He doesn’t need the hype. He’s learning how to walk before he runs.
That said, he’s doing everything that can be asked of a young driver. He’s consistently bringing home the points, he’s pushing his experienced team-mate and making the most of the car. People may not be shouting it from the rooftops and it might not be making the headlines but Ocon’s first full season in F1 has been very impressive indeed.
The next time you’re voting for your driver of the day look past Hamilton storming to victory with ease once again. Look past Verstappen’s breathtakingly brave passes and Sebastian Vettel’s final desperate attempts to save a championship that once looked to be going in his favour. Instead remember Ocon, quietly, rather ingloriously gathering points and showing that whatever the circumstances he can be relied upon to do what he needs to do. Max Verstappen, watch your back.