Alpine racer driver Esteban Ocon grew up idolising seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher. In our latest edition of F1 Icons, the Frenchman explains why the German legend was such an inspiration to him – and how he even used to imitate the Ferrari driver’s appearance while karting…

    When I was younger and watching the TV, I was just seeing how much Michael Schumacher was dominating the sport with that red car – and when you’re young, red is a very recognisable colour!

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    My Dad always watched Formula 1, and back then it was on TF1 in France, with Jean-Louis Moncet commentating, and we’d sit in front of the TV on Sundays.

    I have a memory of playing with a model car when the Monaco Grand Prix was on, and it must have been 2004, because it was the race where you see Michael go into the tunnel – and back then there were not such good images inside the tunnel – and then we see him coming out with three wheels!

    And then I was like, I just could not believe my eyes, like, what has happened?! And I was just I was not understanding. I think I cried that day! So yeah, it was that bad.

    I only went to one race as a fan, and it was the French Grand Prix in 2006, back when it was at Magny-Cours. I remember I was sat in the grandstand three corners before the end of the lap – the 90-degree right-hander – and I was wearing a Michael T-Shirt.

    MAGNY-COURS, FRANCE - JULY 16:  Michael Schumacher of Germany and Ferrari celebrates winning the
    A young Esteban Ocon was in the crowd at Magny-Cours in 2006 to see Michael Schumacher win for Ferrari

    I remember there were so many passionate fans, and there were some fun gestures, especially after the special qualifying when they were fighting. Michael didn’t win the title that year but he won that race!

    When I was karting – I’m sure everyone has seen the pictures – I had the red suit and a Michael helmet. I was very fortunate that my Dad painted my first helmet back then. We only had really bad Google Images results, because computers were still in their infancy back then, so we didn’t quite get every detail right!

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    It was very emotional for my Dad when I was able to show him the real helmet [Ocon wore at the 2022 Italian Grand Prix – see the Tweet below] because he had worked so hard on the design.

    It was also very special that when I had my first Formula 1 test, it was in a Ferrari at Fiorano, as a prize for winning the 2014 Formula 3 title. It’s obviously a dream come true, especially when you are young, and it’s a beautiful memory for me.

    The more I grew up, the more I began to look at what Michael has done, and what he has achieved in the sport. You can see how much he changed Formula 1, because from when he started to when he retired there was a very different way of expectations for the drivers inside teams.

    Teams were much more detailed on specifics because Michael was very detailed. He was very linked to his team, and he was sharing the success he had with all of his teams: he remembered the birthdays of his mechanics, and their families, details like that.

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    All of these things made him so successful, and he was to me definitely the most complete driver of all time.

    I obviously race for Alpine – which is where Michael spent four years and won two titles when the team was Benetton – and some people are still here that worked with him. And they just confirmed what I heard and what I saw on TV – that he was such a humble guy, so determined, and very detailed in every way.

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