Sahara Force India F1 Team driver Esteban Ocon says the main reason he was able to make his way up through the ranks to F1, is because of the support and encouragement shown by Mercedes, and specifically Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team Boss Toto Wolff.
Like many F1 drivers, Ocon started out on his motorsport journey in karting, where his successful campaigns in the French championships, saw him take titles in 2007 and 2008, before moving up to the international scene. However, with very little money and just his dad as mechanic, Ocon feared he would have to give up on his dream.
Fortunately, for the young Frenchman, his efforts earned him the backing of Gravity Sports Management, then headed up by current McLaren Honda Boss Eric Boullier and tied to the Lotus F1 Team, and the dream was on again.
Ocon finished third in his first year in the Euro F3 championship, before winning the title in 2014 with nine wins, 21 podiums and 15 pole positions, beating Max Verstappen to the honours. He also got his first taste of driving a F1 car, when he took part in Friday practice at Abu Dhabi for Lotus.
It was at this point that Mercedes came a knocking and enrolled the Frenchman on their junior driver programme. Ocon went straight on to win the GP3 Series title in 2015 and without the help and guidance from the German squad and Wolff, the 19-year-old told Italy’s La Gazetta dello Sport that he believes it is unlikely he would be in the position he is in now.
“Between the end of 2014 and the start of 2015, if Toto Wolff had not been there to help me, I’d probably be flipping burgers at McDonald’s now.
“Without the support, I would not have been able to continue racing. I didn’t have any money. But then Toto came to talk to me…”
Although he is extremely thankful to Mercedes for their continued belief in him, and would always stay loyal to the German squad, Ocon’s dream has always been to drive for Scuderia Ferrari, to follow in the footsteps of his childhood hero Michael Schumacher.
“My model was Michael Schumacher, I raced with the same helmet and red overalls as him.
“Ferrari is a dream and a team that represents so much for me. I did a test at Fiorano back in 2014 and I remember it as if it happened yesterday. So one day, yes, I would like to drive for them.”