Mercedes’ F1 team and boss Toto Wolff makes a rather big admission of Esteban Ocon’s departure – As third Mercedes driver last season, Esteban Ocon has now signed with Renault for 2020 where he will team up with Daniel Ricciardo. Toto Wolff justified this choice.
In spite of the mixed results, Valtteri Bottas was confirmed for 2020 at Mercedes alongside Lewis Hamilton. And yet the German team had another driver at its disposal: Esteban Ocon.
Third Mercedes driver last season, the Frenchman, whose interests are managed by Toto Wolff, who is also the boss of the world champion team, finally joined Renault where he will team up with Daniel Ricciardo this season. Asked about this choice, Toto Wolff explained that he didn’t want to risk either Lewis Hamilton’s career, or Esteban Ocon’s.
“The argument that tipped the scales for me was that putting Ocon against Hamilton, who has been with Mercedes for seven years and is at the peak of his career, was not good for him, especially after a year without driving.
“It could have been a thrilling story and it probably would have been good, but there’s only one guy who did as well against a superstar and that was Lewis Hamilton himself.
“All the other drivers needed time. I didn’t want to risk his career and I don’t want him to risk everything to win against Lewis. That’s where the decision was made,”
Perhap’s something Wolff doesn’t mention here was that Hamilton drove a current McLaren F1 car for a long time prior to joining the race team in 2007 alongside Fernando Alonso. This was an era of in-season testing and far less restrictions on running cars on track away from the Grand Prix weekends. This, of course, enabled Lewis to have a significant amount of seat time ahead of racing. Something Ocon has not got.
Perhaps reading between the lines, Wolff didn’t want to upset his British driver who would be targetting a record matching 7th world title with the German team in 2020. Ocon would surely challenge harder than the known number 2 quantity that is Bottas. Perhaps what has happened over at Ferrari with Leclerc and Vettel served as a warning to Wolff.
Ocon insists that he is “not at all” disappointed to miss out on a drive with the reigning world champions.
“I’m with a French team that has big ambitions to return to the top level in a few years, so clearly it is not at all a disappointment, rather it’s a relief”
I thought the first time Hamilton got into a “current McLaren” was at the Silverstone test in September 2006? I’m not sure what other testing Hamilton did in an actual car (private tests?), but Ocon’s race experience at Force India and 12 months in the simulator can’t be ignored.
I think your comment about upsetting Hamilton / destabilising a winning formula is more on point and remember Toto could also pry Russell out of Williams should he need a top line driver in 2021! He has been in both the Williams and the Merc during the in-season test days twice this year, and topped the timesheets on both occasions.