Esteban Ocon may have landed his F1 seat midseason in 2016, following the departure of Rio Haryanto from Manor, but the Frenchman arrived on the grid with plenty of relevant experience, having tested both that season’s Renault and Mercedes F1 machinery.
Born in Evreux, Normandy in 1996, Ocon predictably began his career with success in karting, before progressing to single-seaters in 2012, scoring three podium finishes in Formula Renault 2.0 with Koiranen Motorsport.
He moved to ART the following year, securing two wins en route to third place in the Euro standings, and also took a top-ten finish in the prestigious Macau F3 race. In addition he became a member of the Lotus F1 junior team.
Proving his Macau result had been no fluke, Ocon continued his relationship with the Prema Powerteam in 2014 by winning the FIA F3 Euro championship in some style - his season included nine wins, 21 podiums, 15 pole positions and seven fastest laps. He also made his F1 Grand Prix weekend debut, with a Friday practice outing for Lotus at the Abu Dhabi season finale.
More F1 tests followed in 2015, this time with Force India. More importantly, Ocon’s race career progressed with the addition of Mercedes backing, another title - the GP3 Series crown with ART - and a debut DTM outing for the German auto giants at Hockenheim.
Now a member of Mercedes’ junior driver programme, Ocon was ‘loaned’ to Renault as their F1 reserve for the start of 2016 and he impressed behind the wheel during several Friday practice sessions. He also tested for Mercedes’ F1 squad, and began his first full DTM campaign with the company.
Everything changed, however, with an announcement during that year's F1 summer break that he would join the Mercedes-powered Manor team for the remainder of the season, making his Grand Prix race debut at Belgium’s famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit. He acquitted himself well against highly-regarded team mate (and fellow Mercedes protege) Pascal Wehrlein, and surprised many by beating his German colleague to a 2017 race seat with another Mercedes-engined team, the ever-improving Force India squad.
There, his rising-star qualities continued to shine through as he pushed his far more experienced partner Sergio Perez hard - so hard that their wheel-to-wheel battles ended in contact more than once, prompting Force India to enforce team orders. Come the end of the season, his 87 points - with best results of fifth in Spain and Mexico - put him a commendable eighth in the table, just one spot and only 13 points behind Perez.