Esteban Ocon has explained his “cautious” approach to the planned Formula 1 season-opening Australian Grand Prix, which he described as being a “very strange” experience.

The Frenchman, making his return to the F1 grid this year with Renault following a year on the sidelines, was seen sporting a face mask in the paddock during the build-up to the race as a precaution amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Australian Grand Prix was ultimately cancelled when McLaren pulled out of the event after a member of its team contracted COVID-19 in the Melbourne paddock. The next seven races have also since been postponed because of coronavirus, leaving F1 with a hugely delayed start to the 2020 campaign.

"In all honesty, I found Australia pretty strange,” Ocon said in his first column for the official Formula 1 website.

“I decided to wear a mask when I arrived and left the track on Thursday.

“It was well over 450 days since I last arrived at a race weekend in preparation for a race and I wanted to take every measure possible to not miss out, it’s been too long. I’ve trained this whole time and I wanted to be as strong as possible.

“So I thought it would be best to be cautious with what’s happening and be sensible for others.

“Of course, it’s out of all our hands with what’s going on, but I wanted to make sure I was doing all I could to be ready. I didn’t want anything stopping me from racing again.”

Ocon revealed he was still half-asleep when he was told the full extent of the situation and that the race would not be going ahead.

“It was quite a shock to receive the news when I woke up on Friday to be leaving the race,” he explained.

"I went to sleep quite early on the Thursday night. When I woke up, I was about to go in the shower and I saw tonnes of messages from Cyril [Abiteboul] and many other people saying someone from McLaren had tested positive and the race was compromised.

“It was a big shock. I was half asleep, half-awake, so it was tricky to fully understand the situation.

“Of course, Australia for round one is when you see what everyone has to offer, including yourselves, but quietly, I thought we could have done well there.

“We arrived there feeling confident and the engineers with experience had a good feeling with how we were going to perform. I guess, we’ll have to wait and see now!”