Wolff: Ocon with Hamilton would’ve been career risk

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff resisted from putting Esteban Ocon alongside Lewis Hamilton for 2020, fearing the impact it could have had on his career.

After losing his seat with the team formerly known as Force India after the 2018 season, Mercedes junior Ocon sat out the 2019 season with a possible view to stepping up into a Silver Arrows seat the following year.

But, Wolff would choose to retain Valtteri Bottas as Hamilton’s team-mate for 2020, while Ocon joined Renault to partner Daniel Ricciardo.

Wolff thinks he made the right choice though, believing it wouldn’t have been “good” for Ocon’s career to put him up against six-time World Champion Hamilton who is at his peak.

“The swinging argument for me was, putting Ocon against Hamilton, who has been with Mercedes for seven years and is at the peak of his game, is not good for him, especially after sitting out one year,” he is quoted by GPFans.com.

“We might find the story exciting and probably he would have done well but there is only one guy who ever did well against a superstar and that was Lewis Hamilton himself [against Fernando Alonso at McLaren in 2007].

“So I don’t want to risk his career and I don’t want to risk him trying to do something to win against Lewis. That was the tipping point.”

Bottas has become a valuable No.2 driver at Mercedes, and Wolff was also not prepared to break that dynamic, knowing Ocon would be out to win the title for himself at all costs.

“Whilst managing drivers you have to embrace the fact that they will pursue their dreams and their main target is going to be to win the Drivers’ Championship,” he explained.

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Ocon: I knew Leclerc would beat Vettel

Esteban Ocon claims he knew that Charles Leclerc would get the better of his team-mate in 2019 and is not surprised by the Monegasque’s success.

Leclerc ended up comfortably out-performing fellow Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel in 2019, scoring more points, winning more races, getting more pole positions and possessing a winning head to head record on both Saturdays and Sundays.

“Charles deserves what happens to him and it’s not a surprise to me,” Ocon is quoted as saying by F1i.com in France’s NextGen Auto.

“I said if he had the car to win races and poles, he would. I also said he would finish ahead of Sebastian Vettel.”

Ocon, who will be returning to the grid with Renault in 2020 after being chosen to replace Nico Hulkenberg, raced alongside Leclerc and various others throughout the junior categories, and the Frenchman believes they all made each other better.

“We fought our whole careers together – with him, Max Verstappen, Pierre Gasly – to get there,” he added.

“It is also what allowed us to raise our level, and which motivated us to always do better.”

Ocon lost his seat on the grid to Lance Stroll when Force India was rebranded as Racing Point at the end of 2018 and is aiming for a podium in his comeback season.

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Ocon 'not surprised' by Leclerc's success in F1

Esteban Ocon says he’s not at all surprised by the rapid rise of Charles Leclerc to the top of F1 in just two seasons.

After winning the GP3 title in 2016 and the Formula 2 championship the following year, Leclerc made his F1 debut with Sauber in 2018 and this year was promoted into a plum seat at Ferrari alongside Sebastian Vettel.

In a breakout season for the Monaco-born driver, Leclerc clinched seven pole positions and two race victories to secure P4 in the championship ahead of Vettel – none of which came as a surprise to Ocon.

“Charles deserves what happens to him and it’s not a surprise to me,” Ocon is reported as telling France’s NextGen Auto this week.

“I said if he had the car to win races and poles, he would. I also said he would finish ahead of Sebastian Vettel.”

Ocon had based his predictions on first hand knowledge, having raced in many of the same championships as Leclerc, alongside other rising F1 stars.

“We fought our whole careers together – with him, Max Verstappen, Pierre Gasly – to get there,” said Ocon. “It is also what allowed us to raise our level, and which motivated us to always do better.

Ocon was himself GP3 champion the season before Leclerc won the title, and skipped F2 to take up a test role with Manor which turned into a full-time race seat in Belgium.

He subsequently spent two years with Force India and racked up a total of 50 Grand Prix race starts, but then lost his spot when the team was bought out and rebranded as Racing Point.

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Renault F1 Team RS19.

After a year working with Mercedes as test and simulation driver, he’ll be back on the grid in 2020 with Renault, having made his debut with the team earlier this month in pre-season testing.

“There is a little bit of adaptation work to be done, but there was a good vibe between us,” Ocon said of his first stint behind the wheel of the R.S.19 in Yas Marina.

“The first two days of testing were really crucial. I could see the differences between Mercedes and Renault, and began to work on it.”

Ocon certainly didn’t appear to regret missing ou on the chance of a race seat with Mercedes, where Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas remain firmly embedded at Brackley.

“Not at all!” he said firmly. “I am with a French team that has great ambitions for the future, ambitions to return to the top level in a few years.

“Here I am part of this project, this improvement, this renewal. Clearly this is not a disappointment at all. It is rather a relief.”

With 50 Grand prix races under his belt, but with the hunger of a rookie after a year on the sidelines, Ocon hopes that 2020 will put him back on track in more ways than one.

He still hopes to follow in the footsteps and tyre marks of his all-time idol, seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, whom he cited as an inspiration for his racing career.

“Schumacher has been my role model. He has changed the sport in terms of application and the way teams see drivers,” Ocon explained.

“He has set the bar to the highest level. I still have his helmet design on mine, and we will return to red next year.”

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Ocon says ‘page has been turned’ on Max feud

Back on the grid for the 2020 season, Esteban Ocon will renew his rivalry with Max Verstappen but is adamant there are no lingering hard feelings.

Last season, racing for Racing Point, Ocon attempted to unlap himself off race leader Max Verstappen during the Brazilian Grand Prix

Instead the two made contact, both cars spinning.

The incident handed Lewis Hamilton the victory with Verstappen confronting Ocon after the race.

Declaring that Ocon’s “smile” made him do it, Verstappen shoved the Frenchman in a physical altercation.

Next season the duo, long-time rivals, will renew their battle with Ocon returning to the Formula 1 grid with Renault.

The 23-year-old is confident there won’t be any issues between himself and Verstappen.

Ocon told Le Figaro newspaper: “I’m happy to race all the drivers again.

“It is true that I fought my entire career with Max, but what happened in Brazil last year was a big, big thing on the outside but not so big on the inside.

“Despite what happened, we have respect for each other.

“The page has been turned.

“We will fight again on the track.”

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Ocon to join Renault for Abu Dhabi post-season test

Esteban Ocon will officially join Renault at next month’s post-season Abu Dhabi test after Mercedes agreed to an early release of its reserve driver from his 2019 contractual obligations.

Earlier this year, Ocon signed a two-year deal with Renault, the 23-year-old replacing Nico Hulkenberg and racing alongside Daniel Ricciardo at the French outfit from 2020.

After a year on the sidelines, during which he conducted simulator and development work for Mercedes, Ocon – who started his career with Manor in 2016 before racing for Force India for two seasons – is impatient to return to F1 on a full-time basis.

Subsequent to his early release by Mercedes, Ocon will get back to the grind on December 3 at Yas Marina, the Frenchman driving on both days of the Abu Dhabi test.

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Renault prepping for fierce Ricciardo/Ocon rivalry in 2020

Renault F1 Team boss Cyril Abiteboul is bracing for a challenging 2020 when it comes to managing the relationship between Daniel Ricciardo and new recruit Esteban Ocon.

After a year on the sidelines as Mercedes’ reserve driver, Ocon will return to the fray next season, the 23-year-old former Force India driver resuming his career in F1 with Renault, replacing Nico Hulkenberg.

Ricciardo’s skill and experience coupled with Ocon’s still maturing talent will provide the French outfit with an interesting line-up, but one that also holds the potential to deliver some fiery intra-team fireworks according to Abiteboul

“[Esteban] will want to beat Daniel,” the Renault F1 boss told Formula1.com.

“And I know that we will have some challenges from a driver management perspective on the pit wall to manage that. But that’s also a nice problem to have.”

Abiteboul expanded on the reasons why Renault chose to sign up Ocon for 2020 rather than retain the experienced Hulkenberg for a fourth season, insisting the choice was first and foremost about improving the team’s “dynamic”.

“The one thing that I want is to have a team of people who are ‘starving’,” said Abiteboul. “We really are desperate for [people] happy to be in the sport and are desperate for success.

“The problem sometimes in Formula 1 is you have people doing very long careers, and at the end, they are just a bit [there] to be in Formula 1 and almost to win becomes secondary.

“I don’t want that at any point in the company.

“Don’t get me wrong, when I’m saying that, I’m not talking about Nico, because he’s desperate for reaching that podium and those wins…

“But I do feel that when you are 22, in your early days of your career – a career for which you had to fight a lot, what he [Esteban] had to prove, for me it’s a different dynamic.

“It’s the sort of dynamic that I feel is the right dynamic for our team.

“So, if you ask me whether we’ve taken Esteban because Esteban is simply a better driver than Nico, I am absolutely unable to tell you…

“But do I believe that it’s better in the dynamic of our team? Yes, I feel so.”

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Renault predict fiery Ricciardo/Ocon relationship

Renault principal Cyril Abiteboul is prepared for a few problems on the pit wall with Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon in 2020.

Ocon will replace Nico Hulkenberg next season, returning to Formula 1 after a year on the sidelines to partner Ricciardo who at that time will be entering his second season with the team.

When it comes to relations with his team-mate Ocon hasn’t always been a joy to manage – his relationship with Sergio Perez at Force India was very frosty to say the least as the pair collided on multiple occasions in pursuit of a 2019 seat.

The Frenchman also had a famous bust up with Max Verstappen in Brazil last year, so Abiteboul is well aware that Renault may have a few explosive situations to diffuse between Ricciardo and Ocon in 2020.

“[Esteban] will want to beat Daniel,”Abiteboul told the F1 website bluntly.

“And I know that we will have some challenges from a driver management perspective on the pit wall to manage that. But that’s also a nice problem to have.”

Abiteboul insists that Ocon’s arrival will give the team a different “dynamic” to what they have now with Hulkenberg.

“The problem sometimes in Formula 1 is you have people doing very long careers, and at the end, they are a bit [there] to be in Formula 1 and almost [winning] becomes secondary. I don’t want that at any point in the company,” he explained.

“Don’t get me wrong, when I’m saying that, I’m not talking about Nico… But I do feel that when you are 22, [in the] early days of your career – a career for which you had to fight a lot… it’s a different dynamic. It’s the sort of dynamic that I feel is the right dynamic for our team.

“So if you ask me whether we’ve taken Esteban because Esteban is simply a better driver than Nico, I am absolutely unable to tell you… But do I believe that it’s better in the dynamic of our team? Yes, I feel so.”

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Ocon vows to bring 'a new perspective' to Renault

Esteban Ocon will tap into his diverse past motorsport experiences to help bring “a new perspective and fresh advice” to the Renault F1 team in 2020.

After a year on the sidelines dedicated to simulator work with Mercedes, Ocon will return to the F1 fray next season with the ambition of helping his new team move up the grid and into the tight space currently occupied by the sport’s unassailable front-runners.

The 22-year-old will obviously rely on his talent to move the needle for Renault, but also on the precious knowledge he’s accumulated with Mercedes this season and the expertise he previously acquired in the sport.

“I’m currently working with the world champion team which has dominated Formula 1 for a few years. I learned a lot from Mercedes this year,” Ocon said in an interview with Auto Motor und Sport.

“I will also contribute my experiences with Force India. You must not forget my time in other racing series, like the DTM for example.

“I see certain things from a different angle and bring in a new perspective. They expect that from me.

“They want fresh air, advice and a different way of thinking. I hope I can help move the team forward.”

Ocon says the knowledge he’s gained this year during his forced sabbatical with Mercedes goes beyond the technical insight acquired from his countless hours in the Silver Arrows simulator or sitting in on debriefs.

The future Renault charger insists that standing on the other side of the fence has taught him a lot about how things work outside of the cockpit.

“What the team expects from a driver, how the team reacts to difficult situations, how to deal with their drivers, these are aspects that you usually do not notice,” he said.

©Renault

“The driver in the cockpit doesn’t hear everything. I was able to look at it for a year from the outside.

“This will help me to make the right decisions and respond correctly to different scenarios, to make the team happy.

“I was in the middle of ‘silly season’, so I now know the politics around it. The work on the other hand is very complex. I prefer racing.”

Ocon’s basic contract with Renault is a two-year deal, which provides him in advance with a clear mind for 2021.

“Long-term contracts give you security in this sport,” he said.

“Sometimes a drive will quickly slip through your fingers. I learned that in 2018.

“It’s good that I do not have to worry about the next two years. I can concentrate on racing and I am not distracted from the outside. That whole thing is a job in its own right in Formula 1.

“This year I had the time to take care of it because I wasn’t driving. But you cannot combine both. I’m in the fortunate situation where I have people in my environment who help me.”

Speaking of those who are helping him, but from a driver’s perspective, Ocon underscored the precious support and counsel that he’s receiving from Renault advisor and four-time F1 world champion Alain Prost.

“I’ve been in contact with him a lot lately,” said Ocon. “He will be a great help to me.

“He’s become a mentor, a teacher, and he’ll give me good advice. When I talk to him, I never want it to stop. I am absorbing his words and we talk for hours.”

Prost never delivered a world title to Renault during the three seasons he raced for the French outfit. Can Ocon succeed where his illustrious countryman failed?

“I don’t know, we have to be realistic. That dream is far away,” he concedes.

“It is impossible in the current situation, but in Formula 1, many things can change quickly.

“The 2021 rules could upset everything. You never know who will build the best car. But right now, it looks too far away.”

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Midweek Wrap: Driver Market Heats Up, Seb v Charles, RIP Anthoine

A week that provided plenty of interesting stories in the F1 world, all of it was overshadowed by the tragic death of Anthoine Hubert.

Bottas Re-Signs with Mercedes, Ocon Confirmed at Renault: It was assumed as much in last week’s wrap, but on Thursday it became official, with Valtteri Bottas back at the Mercedes for 2020, with Esteban Ocon moving to Renault. Honestly I don’t feel there’s much I haven’t already said – it’s the safe option for the Silver Arrows, and as far as fallbacks go, things could’ve gone worse for Ocon.

That said, now the silly season rumours shift to Nico Hulkenberg, and where he might land. Will it be Red Bull, Haas, or somewhere else? I guess we’ll see…

First Cracks in Renault-McLaren Relationship? A customer team looking to Renault for answers after an engine failure costs them a result – hmm, for some reason I feel like we’ve been here before…

Out on the opening lap while his teammate lost a promising P5 due to failed power units, I don’t think anyone can blame Carlos Sainz for taking a little shot at the French manufacturer. Such happenings are never acceptable, but particularly considering this is year six of the V6-turbo era, and Renault are still having double-DNFs happen due to engine failures, it’s just embarrassing.

On a related note, it would certainly be remarkable if that Marca report turned out to be true, and the team opted for a return to Mercedes power. How different would the last five years had been had they never parted?

Ericsson to replace Giovinazzi? Suffice to say, Antonio Giovinazzi has not exactly set the world alight in his first full season in F1, and now the rumours have started that he could see it end prematurely should he not deliver a strong performance in Monza, with Marcus Ericsson set to replace him.

As disappointing as that would be for the young Italian, it would also make a lot of sense for Alfa Romeo. Ericsson is a known quantity who brings with him a decent chunk of cash, and while he’s not going to push Kimi Raikkonen, he’s also more likely to keep it out of the wall. Giovinazzi simply hasn’t contributed anything of significance in his 13 races so far – how likely is that to change with another eight?

Vettel the Number Two at Ferrari? A reaction that I think we all saw coming in the wake of Charles Leclerc’s victory in Belgium, the whole “is Seb Vettel still Ferrari’s number one driver?” discussion has been really kicked into overdrive. I’ll admit, I’ve done my part in the past to further that narrative, and yet while I’m certainly glad Vettel is being provided some competition, I still think it’s a tad premature.

The thing is, with the absolute disaster 2019 has been for the Scuderia in the championship standings, it’s also given them a fantastic opportunity post-summer break to let their drivers have a straight fight without the need for politicking. Right now, Leclerc is winning that battle, but there’s eight races still to go. Let’s see how Seb responds.

RIP Anthoine Hubert: There’s really nothing I want to add to what I said on Monday about this terrible tragedy, but as this is undoubtedly the story of the week, it would be remiss if I didn’t include it here. Our thoughts continue to be with the Hubert family, as well as Juan-Manuel Correa, who we wish a speedy recovery as he continues his recuperation in the UK.


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Ocon reportedly set to sign for Renault

Esteban Ocon is edging ever closer to signing for Renault for the 2020 season, replacing Nico Hulkenberg, reports claim.

The Frenchman was in contention to join Mercedes, with the German team considering choosing him to replace Valtteri Bottas, but Aut0bild.de say that they have opted to retain the Finn, pathing the way for Ocon to join Renault.

The German site report that Ocon will sign a two-year deal with the French manufacturer, replacing Nico Hulkenberg, who is out of contract at the end of the season.

Toto Wolff was left furious at Renault last year after the French manufacturer changed their mind at the last minute on signing Ocon, opting to give Daniel Ricciardo a seat instead, but the Austrian looks ready to forgive them.

French broadcaster RMC Sport,  however, claims that no deal has yet been signed as Renault are keen to ensure Hulkenberg can secure another seat on the grid first.

RMC say that Renault are keen on Ocon for his speed and reliability, but also because they are eager to cut costs after giving Ricciardo such a high-paying contract, and Ocon, being a loan from Mercedes, would cost considerably less than Hulkenberg.

The German meanwhile could well join Haas, who have refused to rule out the possibility, thus leaving Romain Grosjean without a seat.

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