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Ocon surprised to get F1 debut so early in career

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Esteban Ocon has admitted he did not expect to get his Formula 1 debut so early in his career ahead of his maiden outing for Manor in next weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Ocon, 19, was given the call-up by Manor after Rio Haryanto was unable to meet his contractual obligations due to a shortfall in funding, causing him to lose his seat.

Ocon has enjoyed run-outs in four practice sessions so far this season with Renault, having been loaned to the French manufacturer from Mercedes at the start of the year.

With his F1 debut just over one week away, Ocon admitted he did not expect to be making his first grand prix start this early.

“No, not at all. But thanks to all the tests and my preparation this year, I feel ready for it,” Ocon said.

“It’s helped me a lot. But I never thought that I would be offered this opportunity quite so soon.

“At the same time, I’m very happy about it and I’m looking forward immensely to my first Formula 1 race weekend in Belgium.”

Ocon has spent 2016 racing for Mercedes in DTM, Germany’s premier touring car series, and admitted that he was disappointed he could not finish the season.

“Yes, I’m a bit sad that I cannot complete the DTM adventure. I’ve kept raising my level of performance in the course of the season and gained a lot of experience,” Ocon said.

“My pace has been steadily improving. So from that perspective, it’s a pity that I’m unable to finish the season with the team.

“But it’s not possible to compete simultaneously in both championships.

“Consequently, I had to decide, and the decision went in favour of Formula 1.”

The Belgian Grand Prix is live across NBC Sports Group next weekend.

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).