Formula 1 has spoken at great length about the battle for a Toro Rosso seat in 2015. I have thrown in my own opinions, for what they are worth, but it is becoming a dominant story in junior racing – potentially at the determent of the other drivers fighting for their own futures.
While not a new name in the realms of single-seater competition, Esteban Ocon’s profile has been rising in recent F1 reports. The 2014 FIA European F3 champion – yes, the same series from which Max Verstappen has emerged – enjoyed two tests with the racing pinnacle in recent weeks. His drive with Ferrari came as a result of his dominant championship win while a test in the 2012 Lotus was met with significant praise. After all, Ocon’s profile has been raced and the Frenchman is sought after, if paddock whispers are to be believed.
Head of Ferrari’s Driver Academy Luca Baldisserri was quick to compliment the young driver following his test at the helm of the four year old F10 last week, his second F1 run.
“It’s always very exciting for us engineers to be there when a young driver gets behind the wheel of a Ferrari Formula 1 car for the first time,” he said.”Even if we are used to working with rookies, it’s a real surprise to see someone to take to the track showing a level of professionalism as demonstrated by Esteban today.”
After all, it is a natural progression. It is fitting that a feeder series title holder steps up to at least an F1 test run. It is almost essential that they do in order to ensure the longevity and credibility of junior racing. His impressive showing is all the more important at a time when rookies are judged, analysed and scrutinised before they even line up on the grid for the first time.
I always used to think that it was harder to maintain your seat in F1 but the more I work in junior racing, the more my opinion now contradicts this viewp
oint. It is not easy to be a rookie, no less a driver fighting to be acknowledged. Indeed, even for Ocon with his connections with Lotus, a chance to join a dwindling F1 grid seems slim at present. Though I am more than happy to be proven wrong!
At a time when other drivers, namely the Red Bull juniors, are dominating the headlines, don’t forget the other feeder series champions. Those who may be sometimes overlooked in debates and seat offerings but let their racing do the talking.
I’ve been keeping a keen eye on the 18-year-old since his first Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup season back in 2012 so it is a pleasure to see his profile rise and the opportunities beckoning. Ocon is certainly one driver I suggest you watch next time he takes to the track.
Photo courtesy: François Flamand / DPPI