Ocon reveals how close he came to partnering Hamilton at Mercedes

Esteban Ocon has discussed how close he was to joining Mercedes after spending a year on the sidelines.

Esteban Ocon recently featured on the Beyond the Grid podcast, where he spoke all about his Formula 1 journey to date.

The Frenchman, who is only 25 years old, has already had a turbulent career in the sport.

Ocon’s F1 career appeared to be over before it had really gotten going, after being booted from his seat at Racing Point in favour of Lance Stroll.

The French driver joined the F1 grid in 2016 with the Manor F1 Team, having signed as a Mercedes junior driver a year prior.

He spent the next two seasons at Force India/Racing Point, before losing his spot after Stroll’s father bought out the team.

This left the Alpine F1 Team driver without a seat, resulting in a year on the sidelines in 2019, where he was often spotted in the Mercedes F1 Team garage.

Ocon is of course managed by Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who played an instrumental role in getting the French driver back on the grid in 2020.

Wolff managed to negotiate a spot at the Renault F1 Team for Ocon, who partnered Daniel Ricciardo at the French team.

Ocon ended up going to Renault who are now known as Alpine, after rumours of him replacing Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes fell through.

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He was rumoured to replace Bottas in 2020, as the Finnish driver disappointed in 2019.

Ocon discussed his relationship with Mercedes during a recent episode of the Beyond the Grid podcast, where he was asked how close he came to partnering Lewis Hamilton.

“I don’t know. I was very well looked after from James Vowles, from Toto [Wolff]. They were looking after me and trying to find solutions,” he said.

“Toto was quite clear, he said you will drive in 2020. It’s been quite a few times that when he spoke about something [it] actually happened. And it did happen again. Not at Mercedes but at Renault.

“What I know is I was very proud of my choice, in the end going to Renault to race with the team I grew up with at Enstone for so many years.

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“Back in 2011, when I was still in go-karts, I was training at their facilities, just seeing the F1 drivers being there and dreaming of one day being one of the two drivers.

“I’ve joined that team and we have created many great memories, and we hope to create many more.” Ocon claimed his first victory at last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix.”

Whilst on the sideline in 2019, Ocon worked as Mercedes’ reserve driver.

The French driver went on to reveal his incredible insight into what he believes makes Mercedes so successful.

“What impressed me about that team is how much they knew the subject, basically,” said the 25-year-old Frenchman.

“And the dedication. How much work I put in was amazing. I’ve never done that many laps in the simulator before a race weekend. We were doing like 230 laps of the Red Bull Ring before the weekend, from six in the evening to four in the morning, and then I was flying to the track.

“It was dedication and hard work, and it was paying off. And in all of the departments that’s how things were working.”

Mercedes won both the drivers’ and constructors’ titles whilst Ocon was there as the team’s reserve driver.

“People would think it’s very robotic from the outside and they were seeing domination, clearly, but it was not like that at all. There was a lot of debate, a lot of question marks,” he said.

“When there was a failure, people were actually thinking ‘oh, we need to change this thing to make it work’. It was not straightforward and you go and win races, not at all.

“But yeah, just very impressed of how well the subject was executed,” Ocon concluded.