‘We had more performance on the table’ says Ocon despite securing P5
Starting fifth on the grid in only his second race since returning to Formula 1 was an impressive effort from Renault’s Esteban Ocon. But the Frenchman felt he could have been even higher up the order in qualifying for the Styrian Grand Prix, had a strategic error in Q1 not put him on the back foot.
Perhaps scarred by the experience of starting last week’s Austrian Grand Prix in a lowly P14, Renault opted to give Ocon two sets of wet weather tyres in the first segment of qualifying to help him make it through into Q2.
But with Ocon looking at home in the wet conditions – he's a native of rain-prone Normandy, after all – the Frenchman comfortably rose into Q3, where he was then left without a fresh set of wet weather tyres to try and book his spot on the grid, eventually securing an impressive P5 in spite of that hindrance.
“I felt confident straight away from the go, but we didn’t have new tyres in Q3 because we used two sets in Q1, which was a mistake,” said Ocon. “From then on, it made Q3 a bit difficult, so I think there was performance left on the table.
“Each time it rains, I feel very comfortable in Formula 1,” added Ocon, who lost his seat with Racing Point at the end of 2018, before spending 2019 on the side lines as Mercedes’ reserve driver. “It’s been great to have those sensations again, very happy to be in the top five with my new team in this new season… Overall I think it’s a great starting position for tomorrow, and if it’s dry, we should have a great car as well, so I’m looking forward to it.”
On the other side of the Renault garage, Daniel Ricciardo also made it to Q3 before winding up P9 – which will become P8 on the grid thanks to a penalty for his future McLaren team mate Lando Norris.
But Ricciardo admitted to mixed feelings, having been outqualified by Ocon on the one hand, but having been faced with the possibility of starting P20 had qualifying been cancelled on the other, after failing to set a time in Free Practice 2 before his session-ending crash yesterday.
“When… FP3 got cancelled, I was like, ‘20th doesn’t look good right now,’” said Ricciardo. “So I’m glad we got to qualify. I think it’s the first time we’ve driven this year’s car in the wet from memory, so it was nice to do a session and get to grips with it, and get into Q3.
“So I’ll take it if 20th was my other option. But just in the middle of that last session, I did a bit of a cool-down lap and tried to create some space and then I think the [tyre] pressures dropped, aquaplaning was getting tricky [and] it probably got away from me a little bit there.
“But not too bad, both cars in Q3. Just happy to make it through, obviously after yesterday. The mechanics did a good job repairing it. We can race from here. I’m okay with this.”
Renault will now aim to get both cars to the finish in the Styrian Grand Prix, with Ricciardo having been forced into retirement last weekend with an overheating issue, as Ocon finished eighth on his Grand Prix return.