Young gun Esteban Ocon returns to Formula 1 next year with Renault, the Mercedes junior has a great deal to prove and will be keen to make up for the frustration of a year on the sidelines.
The youngster’s ambitions are likely to be a handful for Renault management who welcome the 23-year-old Frenchman to sit alongside Daniel Ricciardo in the team next year.
Gone is veteran Nico Hulkenberg, who team boss Cyril Abitbeboul says is not as good as young Ocon.
Speaking on Beyond the Grid podcast the French team principal said, “The problem sometimes in F1 is you have people doing very long careers, and at the end, they are a bit… just to be in Formula 1 and almost [victory] becomes secondary. I don’t want that at any point in the company.
“Don’t get me wrong, when I’m saying that… I am not talking about Nico… But I do feel that when you are 22, its early days of your career – a career for which you had to fight a lot… it’s a different dynamic. It’s the sort of dynamic that I feel is the right dynamic for our team.
“So if you ask me whether we’ve taken Esteban because Esteban is simply a better driver than Nico, I am absolutely unable to tell you… But do I believe that it’s better in the dynamic of our team? Yes, I feel so,” insisted Abiteboul.
The reality is that the team has now created a potentially volatile environment with two alpha-drivers competing to be the best in the team. The harmony of Hulkenberg and Ricciardo will fade away, what happens when the new boy dresses up in yellow and black is hard to predict.
However top of Ocon’s agenda will be to beat his highly-rated Australian teammate, a fact that does not escape Abiteboul, “He will want to beat Daniel And I know that we will have some challenges from a driver management perspective on the pit wall to manage that. But that’s also a nice problem to have.”
This year the damage rivalry between drivers can cause a team is well illustrated by the feuding Ferrari duo, with Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc warring to establish the pecking order within the team, ultimately to its detriment.
For Ricciardo, it is role reversal from the time he stepped up to the Red Bull team to partner Vettel, who at the time was already a four-time F1 World Champion. The big smiling Aussie got the better of the German in 2014.
This time around he is the ‘old guard’ being challenged by a driver many are hailing as the next big thing, p there with Leclerc and Max Verstappen.
Only time will tell if Ricciardo “does a Vettel” or scripts his own course at Ocon’s expense.
Big Question: Is Esteban being keen to beat Ricciardo a good problem to have?