Esteban Ocon says his absence from the Formula 1 grid in 2019 was “one of the toughest times” he has endured throughout his entire career.

After a year on the sidelines, Ocon has returned to racing in F1 this year with Renault, having replaced Nico Hulkenberg to partner Daniel Ricciardo for the upcoming campaign.

The Frenchman lost his seat at Racing Point to Lance Stroll over the winter of 2018 following the team’s takeover by Lawrence Stroll, leaving Ocon without a full-time racing programme as he instead carried out development duties for Mercedes last season.

"It is very different [compared to 2019,” Ocon said.

“It was probably one of the toughest times I have ever had here.

“I have been on the sideline just watching and seeing drivers performing well on track, the team performing, but me not doing anything pretty much.

“I didn’t know at the time when I was going to drive a car again as the next test was four or five months later and that got cancelled so it happened a bit later so it was a tough moment that is for sure.

“But now it is time to turn the page and I am looking forward to the future.”

While the start of the 2020 F1 season has been heavily delayed by the coronavirus outbreak, Ocon hopes that Renault’s RS20 challenger will surprise the team in a “good way” once the campaign does get underway.

“Hopefully it will surprise us in a good way,” he said. “We made a step up but hopefully we have made more of a step up than the others. That is our target.

“There are always little things that we put on the car to have small improvements, during the year it is aim to progress race by race and make the car stronger.

"We know the direction and how we should improve it so it is all up to us now.”

Asked if Renault’s 2020 car has any particular weakness, Ocon replied: “There are always plenty of little things.

“It is not only downforce, there is a lot of other stuff that we can play with on the engine and improve things on the mechanical side that you can improve.

“Optimising all the tools is very important and the obvious one is always downforce but it is a little bit more than that and it is so close in the midfield that all of those aspects are going to be important to fine tune.”