After waiting 14 years to end its winning drought in Formula 1, France is now celebrating its second grand prix victory in successive seasons. 

It was little over a year ago at Monza when Pierre Gasly became the first French F1 winner since Olivier Panis was victorious at Monaco in 1996 to complete a rollercoaster 12-month journey for the AlphaTauri racer. 

Just shy of a year to that day and France has its latest new victor in Esteban Ocon, who pulled off the biggest shock of 2021 so far by taking the most unlikely of wins at an extraordinary Hungarian Grand Prix. 

A chaotic start that took title favourite Max Verstappen out of contention, coupled with a strategic blunder from Mercedes that saw polesitter Lewis Hamilton drop to the rear of the field, opened the door for Ocon and Alpine to capitalise.

The 24-year-old Frenchman kept his cool and soaked up relentless pressure from 53-time grand prix winner Sebastian Vettel to secure a stunning maiden victory and provide the latest memorable moment to saviour from the best F1 season in years. 

Ocon’s breakthrough win was the first for a Frenchman driving a French car with a French engine since Alain Prost’s final win for Renault in 1983. It also marked the Enstone-based outfit’s first victory as a full works operation since Fernando Alonso triumphed at the 2008 Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji. 

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“What a moment, what a moment!” said a jubilant Ocon as the realisation of what he had just achieved hit him. “It feels so good. 

“It is an awesome moment in my career. I don’t have words to describe it – but it’s the first win for the Renault Group since they came back in Formula 1. 

“After what we’ve been through, after the difficult times, just the trust that they’ve put in me, I’m glad that they get this reward.”

Much like Gasly’s victory a year ago, Ocon took his own slice of redemption as he crossed the line to become F1’s 111th different winner in Hungary and claim his first single-seater victory since his title-winning GP3 campaign in 2015. 

Ocon’s road to F1 has not been easy. From humble beginnings he has forged his career with the help of sacrifices from his family, who even had to sell their house to help fund his progression through the junior ranks at one stage.

The challenges remained even when he finally made it to the pinnacle of motor racing. He had to prove himself in uncompetitive machinery at back-markers Manor, though Mercedes’ backing helped him move up the grid to Force India in 2017. 

Despite two strong seasons at the Force India/Racing Point squad, Ocon was forced out of the team - and lost his place on the F1 grid altogether - to make way for Lance Stroll following Lawrence Stroll’s takeover. 

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An unforeseen sabbatical meant a year on the sidelines followed for Ocon, who carried out a reserve and test driver role for Mercedes before he secured his return with Renault in 2020. 

He initially found his re-adjustment to F1 difficult at a new team, while he faced a stern test from his new teammate, seven-time grand prix winner Daniel Ricciardo. Following a shaky start, Ocon found his feet and some much-needed momentum to end the season strongly, capped off with a first podium at the Sakhir Grand Prix. 

Ocon carried his new-found confidence into 2021 and impressively held the early advantage over two-time world champion Fernando Alonso amid a great run of form, for which he was rewarded with a new long-term contract. 

Fortunes can change very fast in F1 and four races outside of the points - including two Q1 eliminations - quickly followed across a difficult spell of races, before Ocon hit back with points at the British Grand Prix, finishing ninth. 

The driver who sat 13th in the championship heading to Hungary now finds himself back ahead of Alonso having pulled off one of the greatest upsets of the modern era. 

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Ocon showed great maturity and experience beyond his years with a performance that vindicated the faith Alpine has shown in him. 

“Just a big thank you, for the trust that everybody is putting in me,” Ocon said. “In difficult moments when you are out of Q1, when you are P17, you don’t know where you are exactly and the team kept a big trust in me and we are back where we belong so that’s fantastic.”

It was a display which drew praise from multiple world champions Hamilton and Vettel, whose attacks Ocon resisted throughout the 70-lap race. 

“I’ve got to say a huge congratulations to the Alpine team and to Ocon,” Hamilton said. “He’s been a shining star for some time now so it’s been a long time coming and I’m really, really happy for him.”

Vettel added: “I thought we really have a chance for a big surprise today but the surprise was on Esteban’s side and he deserves it, so not much point to look for excuses. 

“The guy won his first grand prix and it's his day and his moment. I tried everything to push him into a mistake. He had some minor lock-ups, but nothing big. It’s obviously not easy to pass here but it’s also not easy to stay controlled and smooth like he did under pressure. So well done Esteban.” 

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Ocon’s win was a real team effort and showed a side to Alonso many had doubted existed. The Spaniard’s defensive masterclass in holding up Hamilton’s charge through the field for 10 laps proved critical in protecting Ocon’s lead, something he was quick to acknowledge afterwards. 

“I also want to say a special thanks to Fernando [who] has been fighting like a lion in that race, because that probably contributed to give us a gap, give us a bit of a breather,” Ocon said. 

“I said it to many different press out there: I received a lot of bad comments about Fernando before he joined the team but we are forming a great duo together, pushing the team in the same direction and hopefully it’s the first win of many for us – and hopefully we can share the podium in a short moment.” 

With a formidable partnership blossoming and two race winners on its books, there’s plenty of reasons for Alpine to feel optimistic heading into the second half of the season and F1’s new regulation era in 2022. 

For Ocon, Hungary marked a coming of age that cemented this well-liked Frenchman up there with F1’s impressive crop of up-and-coming stars.

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