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Ocon set to join elite club

11 May 2020

Reanult Megane RS Trophy-R Esteban Ocon

When F1 eventually gets underway in 2020, Esteban Ocon will become the first French driver in 35 years to start a season as a full-time Renault driver and he has big boots to fill…

Romain Grojean (now with Haas) is the only French driver since to have competed for Renault in F1 – when he contested the second half of the 2008 season for the team.

 

However, to find the last driver to have been hired full-time by Renault one has to go right back to the manufacturer’s first years in F1 from 1977 to 1985.

 

The ‘scenery’ back then was very different – Renault was not yet the multi-national corporate manufacturer it has since become and everything was still very much 100% French, including the drivers!

 

Here are the four French drivers to have gone before Ocon as an official Renault team driver at the start of a new F1 season…

Jean-Pierre Jabouille

 

Renault’s first F1 driver when the team debuted in F1 in 1977 and who stayed with the team through to the end of 1980… Jabouille achieved Renault’s first pole position and victory in the sport – both in 1979, in South Africa and France respectively – and added to this with victory in Austria in 1982.

 

 

Rene Arnoux

 

Joined Renault in a second car in 1978 and stayed through to the end of 1982. Arnoux won the Brazilian and South African GPs in 1980 to sensationally lead the standings early on. He then took two more wins in 1982, in Canada and Italy.

 

Alain Prost

 

Raced for Renault from 1981-83 and, in that time, became its most successful driver of the era, winning in Holland and Italy in 1981, South Africa and Brazil in 1982, and Belgium, France, Great Britain and Austria in 1983 when he also narrowly missed out on the title.

 

Patrick Tambay

 

After spending 1983 as a team-mate at Ferrari to Renault outcast Arnoux, Tambay moved to the French team for the 1984 and 1985 seasons but it proved fruitless. Although competitive, the 1984 Renault was no match for the all-conquering McLarens and 1985’s car – Renault’s last of that era – was some way off the pace.

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And so, now, after 35 long years, France’s wait for a French driver fully ensconced in the Renault DP World F1 team looks to be over with youngster Ocon.

 

Although he has previously raced Racing Point and been a reserve driver for Mercedes in F1, the 23-year-old from Evreux still has a long-standing relationship with Renault Sport.

 

From 2012-14 he competed in its Formula Renault Eurocup (2.0) and World Series by Renault (3.5) single-seater categories and in 2016 he became a reserve driver for its F1 team.

 

After being forced onto the sidelines for 2019, Ocon is undoubtedly hungry to make an impact on his return to the grid and both Racing Point and Mercedes have spoken of him in glowing terms.

 

His efforts to achieve the levels of greatness in a Renault achieved by his French predecessors – thereby joining a very exclusive club – are something we will all be watching with eagerness.

 

 

 

 

Photos © Group Renault

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