Naturally, Ocon’s 2021 season will be best remembered for his standout, breakthrough victory at the Hungaroring.
Ocon was handed a huge slice of fortune to find himself in the lead after Bottas cleared a path by taking several contenders out of the equation with his Turn 1 bowling antics and Mercedes made a strategic gaffe with Hamilton.
He nevertheless grabbed his chance with both hands by delivering a measured, faultless drive that was worthy of a maiden grand prix victory as he fended off intense, race-long pressure from four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.
While the highs of Hungary were never repeated in machinery that was largely restricted to the mid-to-lower-end of the midfield fight, Ocon still turned in a very strong season with some remarkably consistent performances.
A flying start – including four points finishes in the first five races – ensured that Ocon held the upper hand at Alpine as teammate Fernando Alonso took his time to get up to speed. Ocon was rewarded for his early-season form with a deserved, multi-year contract.
A couple of off-key displays aside, the majority of the Frenchman’s lows came due to reliability issues. But even then points were never far away, with Ocon putting together three separate streaks of four or more top-10 appearances over the course of the year.
Question marks were raised of Ocon after a difficult comeback season alongside Daniel Ricciardo last year, but he has answered his critics with an overwhelmingly positive campaign that has highlighted the faith Alpine has placed in him.
Ocon secured 11th place in the drivers’ championship and helped Alpine seal fifth place ahead of AlphaTauri. He ended the year with a total of 14 points finishes and was just seven points behind Alonso.
He performed admirably against the double world champion, with Ocon’s Saturday showings proving particularly impressive as he edged out Alonso 11-10 in the qualifying head-to-heads. Fifth place on the grid in Spain was Ocon’s qualifying highlight and matched Alonso’s Qatar lap for Alpine’s best result of the year over one lap.
While Alonso came out on top against Ocon more often than not on Sundays, he can end 2021 very satisfied with his efforts.
Alonso has gained something of a reputation for his ability to dominate his teammates in the past, but Ocon proved to be a much tougher opponent. That was reflected with Ocon and Alonso finishing the year as the most evenly-matched teammates.
Alonso’s age – and having two years on the sidelines – did not prevent him from producing the excellent high standard we have come to expect from the Spaniard, further underlining the great job Ocon has done.
The Ocon-Alonso pairing has also formed one of the strongest and most harmonious driver line-ups on the grid.
Ocon repaid Alonso’s incredible defence against Hamilton in Hungary with an equally important role as he slowed a charging Sergio Perez in the closing stages of the Qatar Grand Prix, enabling Alonso to clinch a hard-earned podium.
In what was a make-or-break year, Ocon proved beyond doubt that he is an extremely competitive grand prix driver who can hold his own against some of the best that F1 has to offer.
Expectations will naturally be higher for Ocon going into a 2022 season which promises much for Alpine. If he can continue to keep Alonso on his toes, it could be a big year for both team and driver.
Come back tomorrow to find out who sits at #8 on our list.