Mercedes places its proteges - highly-rated F1 junior Esteban Ocon to DTM
Mercedes Formula 1 junior driver Esteban Ocon will race for the German marque in the DTM series this season, alongside his work as Renault Sport F1...
Mercedes Formula 1 junior driver Esteban Ocon will race for the German marque in the DTM series this season, alongside his work as Renault Sport F1’s reserve driver.
Ocon, who beat Max Verstappen to the 2014 FIA European Formula 3 title and won the GP3 championship last year, will fill the hole in Mercedes’ DTM line-up left by Manor Racing’s new signing, Pascal Wehrlein.
The French driver also has F1 testing experience with Force India and took part in a DTM practice session towards the end of the 2015 season. Ocon explained that he is aiming to fight for DTM victories as soon as possible.
He said: “It’s an incredible feeling to be part of such a professional and strong racing series. I’m very pleased to be driving for Mercedes-Benz. It’s the best team in the DTM and I’m very grateful for this fantastic opportunity.
“Mercedes is the most successful manufacturer in DTM history. You can only achieve that with real passion and hard work, and those are characteristics that we share. After driving in free practice during the final race weekend of the 2015 season at Hockenheim, I can’t wait to start a DTM race.
“I obviously have a lot to learn, but my goal – and that of everyone in the team – is to fight for wins as soon as possible.”
Ocon has been loaned out to Renault for 2016 as part of a collaboration between Mercedes and the French manufacturer to encourage more F1 teams to work together to reduce costs, according to Cyril Abiteboul.
Although the nature of the cars involved may seem to take him off on a tangent, the combination of a high level DTM programme and inside experience at Renault will give Ocon a much more professional grounding than going into Formula 3.5 or GP2.
Speaking at his team’s 2016 launch event last week, Renault Sport’s managing director said: “This is modern F1. Just like there is collaboration between carmakers – we collaborate with Nissan, Infiniti and Mercedes.
“We need to start taking away the walls between people and working in synergies. The cost of F1 is too expensive if we don't work in collaboration.”
Ulrich Fritz, Mercedes’ DTM boss, reckons Ocon’s title winning experience in recent years will help him succeed in Germany’s premier touring car series.
He said: “We’re aiming for stability in the team after a successful 2015. Esteban Ocon has learned a lot as our test and reserve driver and is ready for his rookie season in the DTM.
“Esteban proved his talent last year by winning the GP3 Series title. Of course, he still has much to learn, but with his seven teammates, he can draw on the combined experience of 31 DTM seasons.”
Fritz also paid tribute to Wehrlein ahead of the German’s debut season in F1 with Manor.
He said: “I would like to especially thank our reigning DTM champion, Pascal Wehrlein, who has taken the next step in his career for 2016, as he will be tackling a fresh challenge in Formula 1. Pascal remains part of the Mercedes-Benz family, and we wish him all the best in what we hope will be a successful F1 career.”
Significant F1 experience
Ocon is highly rated by Mercedes and his deal with Renault, which is thought to include some practice running, continues his relationship with Frederic Vasseur, who ran the ART single seater team before taking up his post as head of F1 operations for the French company.
McLaren’s Eric Boullier discovered the 19-year-old when he was the boss of the Lotus team and after signing for the Enstone-based outfit’s junior programme, Ocon tested for the squad back in 2014.
Mercedes signed Ocon to its own junior line-up in mid-2015 and he became the manufacturer’s official DTM test and reserve driver during his title-winning GP3 season. That deal then led to a test with Force India after the Spanish Grand Prix and during that running Ocon impressed the British team, with team sources hinting that he is a better prospect than Wehrlein.What do you make of Esteban Ocon? Will he make it to F1 in the future? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.
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