Esteban Ocon says the security of his new long-term Alpine Formula 1 contract is something he has never experienced before.
Ahead of his and the team’s home race in France this weekend, Ocon has signed a deal keeping him at Alpine until 2024.
It is a transformative contractual situation for Ocon, who rejoined the F1 grid on an initial two-year deal in 2020 after being forced onto the sidelines altogether in 2019.
Speaking for the first time publicly on his new deal, Ocon has admitted it is “not easy” to get such a commitment from a team and that “not many drivers have that”.
He joins a select group of highly-rated young F1 drivers – compromising championship leader Max Verstappen (Red Bull), Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) and Lando Norris (McLaren) – on long-term deals.
“It’s the first time I have such a long contract,” Ocon said in an F1 Instagram Live appearance.
“We have to remember where I come from, 2019 I was with no seats, so it’s been a long way.
“It’s awesome to be back and secure a long-term future like this.”
Ocon’s background is complicated, as an F1 protege and an F1 driver. He first worked with his current Enstone-based team back in its Lotus guise in 2010.
His time as a Lotus protege morphed into a Mercedes role in 2016 but he was still a Renault test driver that year as well, as the French manufacturer re-purchased the Enstone team.
Mercedes facilitated Ocon’s F1 debut in mid-2016 with its customer team Manor (pictured below), and kept him on the grid in 2017 and 2018 at Force India – but he lost his seat at Force India as that team’s ownership change meant Lance Stroll took his place, and Renault went back on a supposed ‘gentleman’s agreement’ to sign him for 2019.
Ocon spent 2019 as Mercedes’s test and reserve driver again but with no immediate future at the world champion team, he was able to finally agree on a two-year deal with Renault (now Alpine).
The long-term deal means Ocon finally has a clear future and he said it is “crazy” it is with a team he has had on-off associations with since 2010.
He said he was “delighted to keep the story going” and said “hopefully we can write more memories”.
“It has changed names over the years but I grew up there, pretty much,” Ocon said. “People in the factory used to call me Mowgli because of my long hair.
“It’s a long story and it’s awesome to keep it going at the top level. I saw drivers in the sim getting ready for races and I wanted to be there one day. Now I am.”
Ocon’s first season racing for the Renault-owned team in 2020 was difficult at first as he was outperformed by team-mate Daniel Ricciardo initially, but he improved in the second half of the season and scored his first F1 podium in the Sakhir Grand Prix.
He has since started the 2021 season strongly, initially outscoring new team-mate Fernando Alonso but falling behind the two-world champion in the standings after Alonso finished sixth in the recent Azerbaijan Grand Prix and Ocon retired.
Ocon and Alonso will form the driver line-up for Alpine’s first season in the new era of car rules starting in 2022, with Ocon effectively positioned as the team’s long-term bet and thrilled by “the stability” he now has that means “we can build with the team together”.
“There was a lot of discussions but to have that early in the year, it’s a big weight off my shoulders,” he said.
“I can focus on what matters and that’s performance. It’s awesome. We have a great thing to play for.
“The team has a great aim, to fight for the top positions in the future. It’s not where we are at the moment. We want to push on to improve the car and our weaknesses, to get more performance.
“With the new regs we have a chance of doing that. We are all working towards that aim.
“When you’re a driver you want to be with a manufacturer and to be with a great one like Alpine is fantastic.”