Sahara Force India Formula One driver Esteban Ocon, who started from a career-best third on the grid at last week’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza, will join former F1 World Champion Jenson Button at the Barbados Festival of Speed on Saturday, October 14. The rising French star, who turns 21 later this month, returns to Bushy Park Barbados, where he and fellow-countryman Romain Grosjean – now an F1 rival – reached the semi-finals of Race Of Champions in 2014.
Ocon’s appearance, confirmed today (Tuesday, September 12), is part of a wider commitment to BFoS from Sahara Force India, which will also be sending a VJM09 show car, to be displayed in the Festival Village at Bushy Park. The outfit already has island connections, as Team Principal Dr Vijay Mallya is the franchise-holder of the Tridents of Barbados in the Caribbean Premier League, while Rock Hard Cement is a sponsor of both the Tridents and the F1 team.
The one-day Festival of Speed will be the first event to benefit from the facility’s new all-arena lighting, currently being installed, and will run from day into night, starting at 2.00pm. In addition to the headline acts, which also include the spectacular Twister Aerobatics Team and the hugely popular Dreamers Banger Racers, the eight-hour show will include a cross-section of local motor sport disciplines.
On his last visit to the island in December 2014, having already won Minime, Cadet and KF3 Kart Championships in his home country, Ocon had recently been crowned the FIA European Formula 3 Champion in his Rookie season; he won nine times en route to the title and defeated a wealth of driving talent, including Max Verstappen, another of his current F1 rivals.
He immediately demonstrated his skills to local fans, by winning the inaugural ROC Skills Challenge presented by TAG Heuer #DontCrackUnderPressure. Over a course designed to put the drivers through their paces with a range of tests such as slaloms, 180 and 360 degree turns and parallel parking, Ocon set the fastest time, ahead of nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen and Petter Solberg, who had just become the first driver to win FIA World Championships in different disciplines, Rally and Rallycross.
Ocon went on to win the GP3 Series in 2015, before spending the early part of 2016 driving for Mercedes-Benz in the DTM (German Touring Car Championship), alongside his reserve driver role at Renault Sport F1. After making his F1 debut in that year’s Belgian GP, the Mercedes F1 Junior contested the final nine races of the season with the now defunct Manor outfit, with a best finish of 12th, before being signed by Sahara Force India.
Interviewed just before the start of the 2017 season in Melbourne, Ocon said: “My personal target would be to score points at every race”, a target he has almost delivered on, Monaco being the only race where he has been outside the points. With a best result of fifth and three sixth places, including last week in Italy, he is eighth in the F1 Championship standings, just one place and three points behind team-mate Sergio Perez, who has been with Sahara Force India since 2014.
Of his forthcoming return to the Caribbean, Ocon said: “I had great fun last time I visited Barbados for the Race Of Champions, so it’s great to be coming back for the Festival of Speed. The fans in Barbados really love motor sport and I will try my best to keep them entertained.”