Esteban Ocon feels that he and Renault were “touching something” special by the end of last year, as he made headway on his Formula 1 return.
The Frenchman took some time to get fully up to speed again after a year away from racing and needing to adjust to the characteristics of Renault’s F1 machinery.
After successfully closing down the gap to team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, Ocon took his maiden podium finish with second place at the Sakhir Grand Prix.
Ocon says his improved form at the end of the campaign came as the result of an increased confidence in the car, which allowed him to experiment more with set-up and try things out which delivered gains on track.
“We were experimenting more and more on my side than we were earlier in the year,” he explained.
“Early on, I was trying to sort my driving out, and sort everything I was doing on track.
“And unfortunately in Formula 1, you gain more time by working closer with your engineers and working more on the car because, in the end, that’s going to give you the confidence. The driving is then going to come with it.
“In the end, I feel that we did that a lot better later in the year, and I was happier with the car. I was the happiest with the car in Bahrain 1 than I was the whole season.
“That’s where the car felt very strong. I think we were touching with the finger on something, and it was definitely the right way and the right progression.”
Ocon says it was only when he began competing for Renault that he understood the challenge it would be to learn a new car, as there were aspects of his previous time with Force India and Mercedes he had to start again from scratch with.
“Overall the car doesn’t work the same as the Mercedes does, like I drove in testing, or the Force India,” he added.
“They are not the same and don’t have the same characteristics.
“You don’t take the corner the same way, it’s a little bit different. The way of approaching and the way of tuning the car, it’s not the same.
“So I’ve had to relearn stuff that I thought was already there.
“I thought I was going to come back and do the same way as I was doing in Force India, and, you know, get the car sorted for me. But it’s not the case.
“All the cars are different. And, yeah, that is something I’ve learned: that you need to find the best way, and the best way to set it up to go faster on the lap.
“And clearly, that is something we understood more and more through the year.”