Sakhir Grand Prix – Esteban Ocon was in tears as he took his first Formula 1 podium after a difficult season finally came good for him.
Starting from 11th, Ocon benefitted from a first lap collision which took both Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc out of the race and left Sergio Perez right at the back of the pack. The Frenchman then put in a very strong performance for Renault, managing his tyres well enough to make the one stop work and secure the team’s best result of the year, and indeed their best result since they returned to Formula 1 in 2016.
Ocon admitted that emotions got the better of him as he took the chequered flag, saying that he and Renault have stayed motivated despite the tough times and the lack of belief from other people.
“I have no words,” Ocon said after getting out of the car. “I cried on the line, that’s how much emotion is going through my mind actually now. It’s been a tough season on our side. It hasn’t paid off all the time but we never stopped pushing.
“We kept working hard, we kept staying motivated. That was very important. At the moment where less and less people are believing in you, it’s important to believe in yourself and today we made it happen and I’m very pleased with it. It’s hard work but it has paid off.”
After being disappointed not to make it into Q3 on Saturday, Renault had predicted a strong race for the Frenchman with their strategists believing a good points finish was on the cards.
“We had good expectations about [the race]. Obviously we knew what we are going to do with the strategy, coming from outside the top ten, free choice of tyres and that was very interesting for a race like this.
“The graphs were showing that we were going to be coming in the top five, that it was going to be a very strong comeback and the guys on more stops were going to be struggling a bit. But yeah, we never thought, obviously, that we were going to come this close to the win even. It’s been an awesome race.”
Ocon reflected on his difficult road to Formula 1, with his family making difficult financial sacrifices to support the dream when he was young, and then the sabbatical year he had to take in 2019, when he lost his seat after Force India became Racing Point, before managing to get back on the grid with Renault.
“They [his family] must be unbelievably happy, I hope. I didn’t have the chance, obviously, to call them yet but as soon as we are done with everything, I will be spending a good time with them. What a journey. What a difficult journey to arrive here – a lot of sacrifices from my early days.
“Not easy to get into F1 and I stopped, obviously, last year. Not easy to get back in as well. New team, strong team-mate against me and we were seeing the progress this year. It was coming but it never really paid off until today. Today we made it happen. Very pleased. I think this is what was waiting around but we didn’t get the luck we wanted each time.”
The Frenchman ended by congratulating his fellow podium finishers, Perez and Stroll: “Such a cool race – and congratulations to Checo and also to Lance, my mate, we had a good fight together through Turn Four.
“It was good fun, I really enjoyed that race. All the emotions that came when I crossed that line. Unbelievable. I never cried for anything but I tell you, today, the tears, they came, and they came for a good reason. So I’m really happy.”
— Renault F1 Team (@RenaultF1Team) December 7, 2020