Mercedes AMG Motorsport boss Toto Wolff has said that the team’s reserve driver Esteban Ocon “deserves to be in Formula 1”, even if it means he leaves the Mercedes programme.
Ocon lost his Racing Point F1 Team seat at the end of the 2018 season to Lance Stroll, a move that was widely expected after Lawrence Stroll‘s takeover of the team saved the team from disappearing off the F1 grid.
The 22-year-old reportedly had contract offers on the table from the Renault F1 Team – with whom he was a Friday driver in the first half of 2016 – and the McLaren F1 Team, but options deserted him when Daniel Ricciardo made a shock move from Red Bull Racing to Renault.
The more concrete offer came from Renault, with Wolff revealing that a deal between the two parties had been made verbally, but team boss Cyril Abiteboul did not hold his word.
“I like Cyril but in order to become a gentleman with the handshake, he needs to restore his gentleman image,” Wolff told Reuters at last month’s French Grand Prix.
“We are looking at all options.
“Esteban is a hot topic because he’s clearly one of the most promising young drivers and he deserves to be in Formula 1, and we can see that with the interest that he generates.
“I am very optimistic that we will see him in a Formula 1 car next year.”
A seat at the French marque could open up at the end of 2019 with the expiry of Nico Hülkenberg‘s contract and uncertainty growing over his performances against Ricciardo.
Abiteboul said at the launch of the R.S.19 in February that ’19 would be a key year in Hülkenberg’s F1 career, but the German has yet to assert himself as a lead driver.
Ricciardo has outqualified Hülkenberg 7-2, but the pair have been closely matched in races that they have both finished.
Both drivers are on 16 points, but Ricciardo has retired in one more race in comparison to Hülkenberg.
Abiteboul failed to rule out Renault resigning Hülkenberg, as he has played a key part in Renault’s progression from a disastrous return in 2016.
“The initial term [of Hülkenberg’s contract] is coming to an end at the end of this year but there is some mechanism of options,” said Abiteboul the French race.
“So it’s maybe that we continue our journey with Nico. Frankly, Nico has delivered for the team.
“But also we need to look at the options, like everyone is doing, like I’m sure Nico is doing.
“Things are open for him and for us, but there is also an option in place so that we can possibly continue our journey together.”