The Formula One driver market is falling in place with news of Romain Grosjean staying at Haas for 2020 alongside Kevin Magnussen on Thursday. This leaves Nico Hulkenberg without a seat, a result of Esteban Ocon moving to replace the former at Renault next year.
Ocon has been backed by Mercedes, which facilitated his F1 debut with Manor and then put him in Force India before he was forced out of a drive this year due to circumstances.
However, the reigning champions opted to stick with Bottas for 2020 and decided to put Ocon, the current Mercedes team third driver, at Renault.
The 23-year-old French driver is widely considered as a potential world champion material and was close to signing for the Renault last year as well before Daniel Ricciardo made a surprise move from Red Bull to the French manufacturer that left Ocon without a drive.
Explaining his decision in a chat with Sportstar during the Italian Grand Prix, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said, “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. We might find the story exciting and probably he(Ocon) would have done well but there is only one guy who ever did well against a superstar and that was Lewis Hamilton himself (in 2007 vs double champion Alonso at McLaren). All the other (drivers) needed time.
“So I don't want to risk his (Ocon) career and I don't want to risk him trying to do something to win against Lewis. That was the tipping point.”
The move to Renault, Wolff felt gave Ocon the perfect place to grow saying, “He can progress and benchmark himself against Daniel Ricciardo in a works team environment. He will be in the French team and it is very positive.”
“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. We might find the story exciting and probably he(Ocon) would have done well but there is only one guy who ever did well against a superstar and that was Lewis Hamilton himself (in 2007 vs double champion Alonso at McLaren). All the other (drivers) needed time.” — Toto Wolff, Mercedes CEO and Team Principal
When asked about Bottas, Wolff felt that the Finn has also improved his game and the harmony he brings to the team. “We have seen great performances from Valtteri and his improvement slope is impressive. And you have to give him that because he is going against the best driver of modern time and he is able to put a fight quite often especially in qualifying.”
“It is a very good mix we have. Both are very good drivers and the dynamic is positive. We are able to develop the team and develop critically while the exchanges between drivers are good.”
Harmony is something Wolff would want especially after the three acrimonious years with Nico Rosberg and Hamilton finding themselves in some controversy or the other from 2014-16.
Talking about those years, Wolff shares the challenge of handling two stars. “The problem was we didn’t understand the dynamics between them. They knew each other longer than we knew them. They were childhood companions. Racing from karting against each other and going through junior formulae together. So there was a lot of baggage from back then.”
“For us, it was very difficult to understand the dynamic. So from a rivalry, it escalated to controversy and that was not a good situation within the team.”
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