Such is the excitement over Fernando Alonso’s return to Formula 1 after two years out that it has overshadowed even his team’s rebranding.

The Renault team with which the 39-year-old won titles way back in 2005 and 2006 is now Alpine, then, but what of its other driver?

It wasn’t so long ago that 24-year-old Frenchman Esteban Ocon was being touted as the next big thing. Rare among high-level racing drivers in not coming from a wealthy background (his father is a garage-owning mechanic in a Normandy village), he was supported through the junior ranks by Mercedes.

Winning the Formula 3 title in 2014 and then the GP3 title in 2015, he was sent to DTM and then parachuted mid-2016 into the Mercedes-powered Manor F1 team. There he put in some impressive performances in the slowest car on the grid, earning him a seat at midfield masters Force India.

Despite frequent coming-togethers with team-mate Sergio Pérez, he impressed over two seasons at the Silverstone team, and there was discontent when he missed out on a seat for 2019 (not from supporters of Max Verstappen, mind you, after that unlapping incident in Brazil...), leaving him to perform Mercedes' reserve duties.

He was soon snapped up by Renault, but he remained in the shadows throughout 2020, performing inconsistently and being outshone by team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. This, combined with the meteoric rise in stock of Mercedes’ newest next big thing, George Russell, meant Ocon was somewhat forgotten as a star of the future.

But nobody can be expected to explode back into F1 after a year out, much less in a new team and with a new car, across the garage from an established superstar who already has experience of both. 

Ocon began to pick up form as the season progressed, qualifying excellently in very tricky conditions in Turkey and heartbreakingly being taken out at turn one after a strong start, and then putting in a brilliant performance to take second in the penultimate Sakhir Grand Prix.

It was his first F1 podium at his 67th attempt and the best result that Renault had scored since its return to the sport in 2016 ("Yes! It was fantastic," he beamed at the very mention of it), yet once again he was overshadowed – this time by old nemesis Pérez, who drove the race of a lifetime to take his first win.

But this result clearly gave Ocon the confidence boost he needed, and he looked refreshed and rejuvenated as he spoke to the press at the launch of Alpine’s first F1 car on Tuesday.