pit lane parley: Host mIKE’s hOT take column: foRMULA 1 DRIVER ESTEBAN OCON

Hot take. I’m pretty disappointed in Esteban Ocon.

While his driving hasn’t been all that bad this season, it’s impossible to ignore that he’s been consistently outperformed by his Renault F1 teammate Daniel Ricciardo, particularly in terms of race pace. Don’t get me wrong, I know he had a top 5 at Spa and some other good results at Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring, but overall, he just hasn’t seemed especially competitive at any point or gotten anywhere near striking distance of a podium.

The cool down lap “incident” where the team told him to keep his complaining off the radio and wait until he was back in the garage was eye opening to me, but not because he was so openly frustrated about having left some potential points on the table. It’s not even because his 2021 teammate is notorious for venting on the radio (sorry, Fred). No, it’s the fact that the team said, in essence, “we understand, let’s debrief in the garage and not on an open radio” and Ocon still tried to get his rant going two or three more times in the brief audio clip that is making the rounds on the internet.

He’s had more than a few transgressions over his 3 full seasons in Formula 1. Most notably, he hit the wall after making contact with 2018 teammate Sergio Perez at Racing Point in Singapore and, later on that same season when trying to unlap himself in Brazil, he damaged both his car and Max Verstappen’s, who was leading the race at the time. Even still, he had a few other gripes with Perez back in his first season (2017) as well, and made headlines for a few on track issues with former friend, Pierre Gasly at Mexico in 2018. 

Photo from grandprix247.com

All of that being said, this Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza exposed another, albeit slightly unrelated Ocon frustration to me. However, in order to fully understand the origins of my irritation, we need to look at a little backstory first. 

Both Ocon and Pierre Gasly grew up in northern France, karting together from about age 6 through 13 or so. During this time, believe it or not, they were actually incredibly close friends. Why did that change? Gasly is quoted as saying the following to racefans.net and also described the situation similarly on “Beyond the Grid: F1” podcast run by Formula 1 with Tom Clarkson:

“I started to beat him and he didn’t like it so we’re not friends any more. We’ve done so many things together with Esteban. When we were like nine, 10 years old we used to go testing in karting when it was snowing, do five laps then come in because it was so cold. Go out on the track together, trying to get warm and then go back on track for three or four more laps.

As time went on in their young friendship, Gasly felt more and more separated from Ocon and their friendship ended. He describes the entire situation by saying:

“We’ve spent a lot of time together but it got to a point where he got a bit too upset and it wasn’t so nice any more. So we kind of stopped [socialising]. Then after we always [had] quite a lot of rivalry. I think we respect each other as drivers.”

He goes on to say they can be cordial in person, as long as they don’t talk about motorsports. Seems that is tough to do when, well, you’re both Formula 1 drivers, eh? 

That brings me to my inspiration to sit down and  write this article, my first written piece of content for PLP, and my first writing in close to 10 years. After Pierre Gasly’s maiden F1 victory, numerous drivers in the Formula 1 paddock came over the radio saying how happy they were for Pierre (Grosjean, Kyvat, etc…) while other drivers from INDYCAR, and a variety of motorsport disciplines also sent congratulatory messages publicly on social media — and I’m sure many sent messages privately to Pierre. It was amazing to see the enthusiasm shared across the motorsports community for a young driver’s first win in Formula 1.

Esteban Ocon? Not a peep. This longstanding rivalry, which appears to stem from the fact that Esteban can’t get over Pierre winning the karting battles of their teenage years, could have ended with a simple “congratulations” message. While I wouldn’t expect this simple act to instantly repair the harm and reunite them as best friends again, but given their similar positions as two young drivers in Formula 1 who have known each other for years, it doesn’t seem like much to think that Esteban might have at least tried to be cordial with a perfunctory congratulatory message.

In the end, none of this takes away from Gasly’s amazing victory, but I’m incredibly disappointed that Esteban Ocon couldn’t swallow his pride to congratulate someone he’s known for nearly his entire life. Undoubtedly, it would have meant an incredible amount to Pierre and allowed Esteban the opportunity to show the Formula 1 world that he is maturing, but what’s left unsaid often says it all. 

Photo credit for cover photo: XPB Images/PA Images

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