How Esteban Ocon became the first openly gay F1 driver

On Thursday’s Formula One qualifying sessions in Qatar, Esteban Ocon competed on one of the sport’s biggest stages: a podium inside a cavernous circuit in Doha that has hosted most of the world’s grand prix racing since 1951.

Ocon, who’s from France, had placed fourth in the season-opening race in Melbourne. His principal driver, Daniel Ricciardo, had been eliminated that day after a collision with the Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly.

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On Thursday, Ocon became the first openly gay member of F1’s elite team when he debuted on the podium for Force India. Ocon’s debut helmet also became the first ever made entirely of rainbow-colored adhesive tape.

“I’m very happy with the design because it was exactly the intention. It felt very special, to be honest,” said Ocon, who is 21. “It was something that we discussed a lot on team before I arrived here. In the race, when I walked out on to the track, I saw the first place that I went to, I’m very happy. I felt very good in my own life.”

Ocon revealed his sexuality in April 2018 in a lengthy interview with the Formula 1 talent show Tango With E!, which took place in Monaco – where Ocon hopes to make the jump to the F1 team Ferrari in 2019. It marked a significant step forward for the sport, where the vast majority of drivers and executives are white Anglo-Saxon males.

Ocon sat down with the Guardian at his team’s headquarters in Silverstone for an extended conversation about his high-profile, ultra-competitive life in Formula One, and his path to becoming the first openly gay F1 driver.

Ocon, whose full name is Esteban de Armas Ocon, won the Formula Renault 2.0 championship in 2013. He signed with F1 outfit Force India in 2016 and joined on a one-year loan from Mercedes. He took Ricciardo’s seat for 2018.

“I grew up around art and with music,” said Ocon. “I was always fighting, it’s very normal to me. I did a lot of martial arts as well. I love sports. I played a lot.”

Ocon has enjoyed considerable success this season, including a pole position and a podium at the Australian Grand Prix last month, along with consistent run times. Along with his permanent seat with Ferrari, he’s hoping to earn his place on the French national team and compete at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

“I used to fight at school; I didn’t care where I won, who won,” said Ocon. “Now I’m always on a different stage, I have a different prize: being on the podium. I just want to do my best and do the maximum that I can do. That’s all I’m thinking about.”

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