Ocon not afraid of Alonso partnership: 'I'm not Vandoorne'

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Esteban Ocon insists he is "not afraid" about going up against Fernando Alonso at Alpine next season.

The double world champion returns to the grid at the age of 39, two years after leaving McLaren to compete in other motorsport series.

Despite his absence, the aura around Alonso remains undimmed to the point that it is Ocon getting questions about whether he can handle going head-to-head with the veteran, who has a reputation of leaving teammates worse for wear.

“I’m not [Stoffel] Vandoorne,” the Frenchman claimed, referring to how the highly-rated Belgian struggled to make an impact next to Alonso at McLaren. “I don’t know what happened then.

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“Fernando is a very talented driver, twice World Champion. It will be very difficult to beat him, I am aware of that. But I will push as hard as I can and he will do the same.

“I am not afraid of him. If I had any [fears] I would have to leave Formula 1 right away.”

Instead, Ocon compared the situation to his brief period in DTM in 2016, when he went up against established two-time champion Gary Paffett.

“He impressed me from day one,” he recalled. “He was incredibly fast and reliable, so I think it will be the same with Fernando.

“From the beginning, he will be there with the others. Already now he actively participates in the technical meetings.”

Ahead of his return, Alonso has been conducting several tests in both the 2018 and 2020 car, including being controversially allowed into last week's 'young driver' test in Abu Dhabi.

Yet asked if Fernando's outing gives him an advantage over those changing teams for 2021, Renault executive director Marcin Budkowski suggested otherwise.

“I think you mean how much less of a disadvantage does he have? Because he hasn’t been driving for two years,” he said.

“I understand that for Carlos [Sainz] or Daniel [Ricciardo] changing teams next year and getting accustomed to a different team is tricky.

“There’s lots to learn, different ways of working, different engineer, but in the case of Fernando, he hasn’t been driving for two years at all.

“So, this is why we’re trying to give him some track time and also some track time on the 2018 car just to get him back in the rhythm, get him back in the physical condition, the neck and things like this, which he needs.

“Yes, it’s going to be tricky for Fernando to get used to the car in one and a half days of testing, but I think even more so because he hasn’t driven for so long.”