Mercedes AMG Motorsport CEO and Team Principal Toto Wolff says the team could loan out Esteban Ocon to a Formula 1 team, if they agree to keep Valtteri Bottas on for the 2020 Formula 1 Season.
Ocon is currently Mercedes’ reserve driver for 2019, but lost out on a drive for the year when his expected move to Renault F1 Team was blocked after Daniel Ricciardo announced his move to the team, snatching the seat away from Frenchman.
The former Force India driver lost his seat at the Silverstone based team when the team was saved from administration by Lawrence Stroll and his consortium group.
The purchase meant Lance Stroll was handed a seat, leaving Ocon with no drive. A last minute deal attempt to drive for Williams Racing alongside fellow Mercedes junior George Russell failed when the team confirmed Robert Kubica for 2019.
Ocon currently runs simulator duties and works behind the scenes with the current champions, but Wolff believes that the Frenchman should be on the grid and was unfortunate to fall ‘between the chairs’.
“We’re very happy with the development of Esteban and equally George,” said Wolff in the FIA teams’ press conference in a reply to a question from Crash.net. “They are our most senior junior drivers and the aim is to make them ready for a seat in a Mercedes.
“And as we all know, it was an unfortunate situation last year that Esteban fell between the chairs. He could have chosen between two seats and in the end nothing came out so from our perspective everybody knows about his driving capabilities.”
Leading into the German Grand Prix, Ocon was linked to a potential move to Haas F1 Team as a replacement to Romain Grosjean for the rest of the season, but speculation was denied.
However, Wolff says he may send Ocon out on loan for a year or two to an F1 team in order to continue his development if Mercedes choose to keep Bottas on for 2020.
“For Mercedes, for ourselves, Valtteri is showing some very strong performances and merits the seat but equally Esteban has shown that in the past and is a great addition to the team. He contributes a lot behind closed doors. He drives the sim overnight on race weekends, comes in here on Saturday and gives us input and he’s a great kid overall. Putting a Mercedes young driver in the car would be interesting as well.
“Having said that, there is interest for Esteban among other teams and we need to carefully make a decision for ourselves and with the other interested parties, not only for our own benefit but also for Esteban’s benefit.
“And if it would mean that we are taking a decision in favour of Valtteri, it clearly also means that somebody else would continue to develop him and would mean that we would lose our hand for a year or two or more on Esteban and these are the consequences of that decision.”
Mercedes currently leads both drivers and constructors’ championship with Lewis Hamilton on top ahead of team-mate Bottas. The Finnish driver joined the team in 2017 after Nico Rosberg announced his retirement at the end of 2016.
Hamilton currently holds a contract until the end of 2020 whilst Bottas’ deal ends at the end of this year, with a 2020 option still available if Mercedes choose to operate it. Bottas has enjoyed a strong 2019 season with two wins and four pole positions, sitting second overall in the championship.
Wolff says he will review their driver line-up during the summer break and decide whether to keep Bottas on for next year and beyond.
“We want to end the season before the shutdown in a good place and put in two solid performances in Hockenheim and Budapest and then spend some time thinking about driver line-up for 2020 and beyond.”