Esteban Ocon, Force India, Singapore, 2018

Angry Wolff says rivals ‘didn’t have the balls’ to commit to Ocon deals

2018 Singapore Grand Prix

Posted on

| Written by

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has criticised rival Formula 1 teams for reneging on deals to sign the teams junior driver Esteban Ocon.

Wolff said Ocon had two offers to drive in the 2019 F1 season but is now in danger of being left without a seat as Lance Stroll is expected to replace him at Force India.

“What’s been going on this year in July and August is just unbelievable,” Wolff told Sky. “There was so much politics in the background, hidden agendas, lies.

“Not all of the good kids are going to end up in cars and probably Esteban is going to be one of them.”

“In July he had two offers on the table with contracts and it was just a matter of choosing which one was the right one,” Wolff explained. “And he ended up not having any anymore because people just simply don’t have the balls to stick to what they stay.”

Wolff insisted Mercedes will “look after” Ocon. “He’s one of the future stars I’m 100% sure of that.”

“He’s a strong guy. He has been through different moments in his career and we’ll fix this one as well,” Wolff added.

However Mercedes will not release Ocon from his contract to take a place with a rival team. “Not in a million years because one day he’s going to be in a Mercedes and win races and championships and show all the others out there that they made a mistake,” said Wolff.

Ocon isn’t the only junior Mercedes driver who may be without a drive next year. Current Formula Two championship leader George Russell is another potential contender for promotion.

“He can’t do any better than what he’s doing at the moment,” said Wolff. “He won GP3 last year and he’s about to compete for F2 against Lando Norris.

“Both of these kids deserve to be in Formula 1 and I have no doubt that he will be in Formula 1, whether it’s with another team that recognises the talent or us, we’ll see.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

2018 F1 season

Browse all 2018 F1 season articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

64 comments on “Angry Wolff says rivals ‘didn’t have the balls’ to commit to Ocon deals”

  1. Well, maybe Wolff should have thought about not yet extending Bottas’ contract if he feels so strongly about both these guys; or will he somehow force Williams to take them (how?).

    1. Just to say: I don’t think Bottas doesn’t deserve a good seat, this season, but for lack of luck, he’d have quite a few more points, and I also do agree that teams not looking at just the best driver in the car is not Wolff’s fault. But, had Mercedes and/or Ferrari worked (harder?) to keep Caterham and especially Manor in the sport, there would be more seats to go around. They didn’t because they thought it too expensive and not in their interest/not their problem, well, now they see maybe they should have.

      I hope that at least Kimi takes Ericsson’s seat (and that Giovenacci isn’t stuck helping Ferrari in their simulator, that would be terrible), but I think both Vandoorne (deserves chance to show he’s not as average as McLaren helped make him look) and Ocon should have a seat in F1 more than Ericsson, Sirotkin or Stroll. Hartley, well I hope he gets at least a few races where he can race a bit.

      1. Giovannacci is stuck at the simulator job because he made a terrible impression at Sauber last year.

    2. If Wolff(‘s boss) is not willing to get in bed with a second team like their rivals, then he should only complain about his own balls and who he puts in their own two seats, @bosyber.
      And a ballsy guy would release any driver who is not ‘fit’ for those 2 seats; guaranteed Ocon would have a drive next year in that case.

      1. @coldfly I think Mercedes is in a perfect situation right now. He has the best driver on the grid, Lewis, performing at an absolute perfect level. Bottas plays the part of the number two driver, happy to get the occasional win, but without any difficulty accepting team orders, as we’ve seen more than once this season.

        This combination is about to get them their 5th WDC and WCC. Why mess with that? It’s only logical he wants to keep that combination for at least 2 more years and not stir it up with a fast, hungry guy like Ocon.

        In my opinion, regarding Ocon, he should stop moaning and pay Williams to take him for next year. That’s what Red Bull and Ferrari are doing, if you have a young drivers program you must be prepared to pay for it, not expect to have other teams develop your driver for you, even if he is as talented as Ocon. Not to mention that he played a part in the Force India administration process, he must have known Perez kept his seat and that Stroll is incoming for quite a while now.

        And finally, he is moaning about who exactly? Renault? They would be crazy to pass on Ricciardo to take Ocon on loan. If the other team is McLaren, and I think it is, they essentially had to risk losing Norris to get Ocon (again, on loan). Knowing that they are unlikely to target podiums next year, why would they lose their young driver to get Mercedes’. Wouldn’t that be unfair to Norris?

        1. agree @afonic, Toto should stop moaning and grow some balls ;)

          1. I don’t really agree with the term, but yes, indeed!

  2. Driving in circles
    14th September 2018, 11:37

    So he is angry with himself because he didn’t have the balls and he is projecting that on the other teams oh dear oh dear

  3. He is the one with no balls. Don’t want to upset Ham cause Bott is happy with no 2. Don’t get me wrong Bott Is good just needs a wee bit more and young uns may have that wee bit needeD. Need more teams and less rich daddys

    1. Less rich daddies = no more Force India. Sorry, you can’t have it both ways.

    2. you’ve clearly forgotten the fact toto used to be bottas manager, so they have a close relationship.
      so ofcourse toto wants bottas to succeed.

  4. And you have??
    Prolong the connection of a pilot like Bottas, and you come now with this conversation !!!! Absolutely Ridiculous, once again lending itself to a mediocre figurine ..
    New balls, please ……..

  5. Well, just let him go then. That would increase his options for next season straightaway as STR would then become an option, and so would the chances to get to Haas and Sauber increase as well despite the Ferrari-ties those two teams have.

  6. Why don’t you replace your wingman with Ocon? I am 100% sure Ocon will do a lot better.

  7. Wolff should show some balls and keep Ocon in the Mercedes fold as a reserve driver. He should then replace Bottas with Ocon after Bottas contract expires.
    Frankly Ricciardo was looking for a top car to drive and if Wolff had the balls he should have paired him with Hamilton. Ironically, Riccairdo’s Renault move is the reason why Ocon is in trouble.
    Politics in the background, hidden agendas, lies are nothing new in F1.

  8. “In July he had two offers on the table with contracts and it was just a matter of choosing which one was the right one,” Wolff explained. “And he ended up not having any anymore because people just simply don’t have the balls to stick to what they stay.”

    Sounds like you have no one to blame but yourself Toto. If the contracts were on the table in July this could have been done and dusted before the driver market shenanigans started in August…

    1. that’s what i thought.. he overplayed his hand and waited to long.

      1. As a former boss of mine, who once upon a time had been an investment banker, was fond of saying: “no one ever got poor from cashing in a win. Many got poor from waiting for it to grow bigger“.

  9. Williams is in desperate need of funds. Wolff desperately wants Ocon on the grid to keep him race sharp for when they ditch Bottas/Hamilton retires. Mercedes have a lot of money in the bank. I really don’t know why this is proving so difficult?

    If Mercedes want to be tight, have him as a reserve/test driver for a year and give him a few FP1’s to get acclimatised to the team/car and give them a direct comparison to Bottas.

    1. Williams currently has two contracted drivers. They can’t afford to buy them out either and the team currently isn’t attractive enough to encourage Mercedes to start the ball rolling.

      1. Who is the second driver? Stroll is moving to Force India.

        1. The other contracted driver is Robert Kubica. His contract is includes a clause that says if Stroll or Sirotkin resign or isn’t able to drive for them then he becomes their preferred driver. I don’t see this as a huge problem for Williams because they will have a “performance”, “medical advice” and “buy out” clauses in their contract as well.
          From the way the commentators spoke at Monza it sounds like Ocon is too big to fit into the FW41, in which case he’s automatically without a seat at Williams. Nevertheless, one would have thought the FW42 would have been designed with Ocon in mind, but maybe it wasn’t, and it could be too late to change the design now.
          Really, the question is does Lawrence Stroll want Lance at RPFI? It doesn’t look like he is in a hurry to replace Esteban. His goal at the moment is to score more points in the Constructors’ Championship than McLaren. RPFI currently have 32 points while McLaren have 52, so passing McLaren should be achievable in the next few races, so maybe once that’s been achieved we’ll see Lance at RPFI.

  10. Wolff will compromise Ocon’s development to make a point. Nice one, Toto…

  11. If you’d just convinced the board to buy Manor when you had the chance, all this could have been avoided…

    (not that simple I know, but it still bugs me that they had to shut down…)

  12. Poor Toto. Can’t have your Bottas and your Ocon eh? Too bad. You should have not re-signed Bottas. Of course there are no seats because HAM,VET,ALO,RAI, and whoever I’m forgetting have all been in F1 for 10 seasons or more now. Not enough turnaround to keep up. As others have noted, it would be easier if we still had 12 or 14 teams, but economics won’t allow it and we are lucky to still have Force India. If Kimi just retired, which I would hate, and with Alonso leaving, it would free up 2 more seats.
    Unfortunately, most of these new drivers don’t excite me in the least. You could get rid of Grosjean and Hulkenberg and I would probably not even notice.
    It seems we are coming very slowly to a new driver era now that the Hamilton, Vettle, Alonso era is winding down, but who will step up and make it interesting besides Verstappen?

    1. Leclerc seems to be fine along with verstappen for one.

  13. This comes off rather petulant, to say the least.

  14. And that’s how I learned from Google about the “pot calling the kettle black” phrase.

  15. This guy talks with a forked tongue. And to think Merc got rid of Brawn for this jerk.

  16. Then let him go!? If you’re that interested in keeping Ocon in F1 and genuinely believe he’s a future ‘star’ or whatever why are you demanding to hold on to him so hard? If he was a free agent I’m sure Sauber, Toro Rosso and Williams would be possible destinations for him – possibly Haas too. Clinging on to him and refusing to relax your contracts on him is about 50% of why he’s about to get bounced out of F1. I mean there’s literally nothing stopping Mercedes picking him up to replace Bottas/Hamilton in about 2 years time if they’re that dedicated to him. If Mercedes had a ‘second team’ or at least one they were closely tied to then they’d have somewhere to put these drivers but at the moment both Ocon and Russell look like they’ll just end up like Wehrlein.

  17. Other than Stroll to Force India, I can’t think of any other move where a team took money or something else instead of talent. Let’s check.

    Mercedes signed Lewis (obvious choice) and Bottas who had a great season so far.
    Ferrari had Vettel and went for a strong future star in LeClerc
    Red Bull had Max and just kept their driver development programme alive promoting Gasly
    Renault made the dream hiring with Daniel and already had Nico
    McLaren was left with Sainz who’s a good driver and promoted Norris
    Sauber even hired Kimi!!
    Force India looks likely to keep Sergio Perez. And for obvious reasons will also get Stroll.

    So far so good. I can’t complain about that field besides Stroll. Haas is yet to confirm their drivers, but I think KMag should stay. RoGro is a mistery so far. And Toro Rosso needs young drivers from their own programme.

    Who is Wolff angry at? Renault for choosing a Grand Prix winner over Esteban?

    Driver development programmes should have a clear destination. Mercedes doesn’t, they can’t force other teams to chose their drivers… And you could say that next year’s will be the best grid we’ve ever had, even without poor Esteban.

    As much as I like the guy I think either his management was too slow to pick on deals or he was just left aside for the way the silly season developed. Specially everything that surrounded Danny Ric’s move. That was serious unexpected by everyone and it must’ve surprised the whole teams.

    1. Is it possible that, while Ocon apparently seemed to have a contract just waiting to be signed at Renault, Renault was negotiating with RIC… Seems likely, to me… In which case maybe it was Renault who were procrastinating with Ocon – and who wouldn’t.
      To my mind it wasn’t RIC’s sudden signing for Renault that upset the applecart but the $troll acquisition of FI…

      1. @BlackJackFan That’s how I’ve been envisioning it too. When they came off the summer break and they asked TW if he had a chance to relax at all, he implied not very much because of the Stroll/FI thing, at least as I recall him saying. Looking at the timing of articles on this site, DR’s move was confirmed right at the start of the summer break and the FI announcement was about a week later. Perhaps DR’s signing took a potential seat away from Ocon at Renault, but it was the Stroll deal that literally will take the seat right out from under Ocon.

      2. What messed Ocon up was his sponsors not ready to stomp up the cash for him to drive really.

        Say what you may of Stroll, but he kept Force India afloat whilst Mercedes was ready to sue to get their money, they could have bid for Force India and taken a stake in it like DM did with TR before buying Redbull.

        1. I have no idea who ‘sponsors’ Ocon – i.e. the BIG money – but it seems to just be Merc… and they don’t seem to be offering much.
          Maybe Toto should “put his money where his mouth is”… rather than “his foot in it!”
          I don’t know where the comment about Williams not wanting to take a Merc. driver came from – I’ve not seen this reported from Claire – but ‘why’ exactly… unless non-Merc drivers come with money, and Ocon doesn’t.
          If Toto/Merc want to ‘invest’ in Ocon for ‘their’ future then they need to INVEST (i.e. PAY…!)…!

  18. My Dear Esteban,
    Don’t be naïve, kid. Toto had the power to give engine-driver package to other team but never done that. Remember Pascal. And Horner was right, why he should accept you if you’re part of their enemy? Cut Mercedes ties and join ToroRosso ASAP! Best of luck.

  19. Red Bull have 2 drivers next year younger than 24 and Ferrari have just promoted a 20 year old. Ricciardo is moving to a team that hasn’t scored a podium in 3 years and Raikkonen signed for backmarker Sauber.

    Pretty ballsy moves. Sorry Toto, the one without balls is you.

    Hindsight is twenty twenty but still. Mercedes missed a huge trick with Manor. The 2017 Manor was already designed and close to getting build. They only needed some money to start the season. Get through the first season like they survived in 2016 with minimal funds, then find investors (some Canadians would be interested) and adopt the Haas model of buying as many parts as you can. It’s proven succesful for Haas in 2016 as a starting team and look where they are now.

    They could have a Ferrari Sauber relationship with Manor now and a place to stall Ocon or Russell. But are either in the future plans of Mercedes when they think such short notice? Verstappen is no stranger to them and if success at Red Bull Honda doesn’t happen he will force a move. Will you then take a guy with experience in a top team like Max or bet that midfielders Ocon and Russel come good?

  20. So all actions have a reaction – later if bot immediate? When they were finding replacement for Rosberg, it was more logical choice to bring in Wehrlein into Merc atleast to tey him out for a season or two whereas Bottas could partner up Stroll. Due to what actually happened, two young Merc drivers lost Merc drives. And you dont have anyone else to blame for that. Also why not buy Manor when you could had done that?

    These crocodile tears wont get you any sympathy.

  21. Who had the opportunity to put Ocon in a Mercedes but chose to keep mr nr2 driver? Tot Wolff.

    Why should other manufacturers give a merc driver a seat if they can get RIC?

    Just arrange it with Claire Williams. They need money so give them a good engine deal.

  22. Don’t bring K-Mag into this

  23. Wolff has nobody but himself to blame. The only one who didn’t have “balls” to sign his young driver was himself.

    What did this guy expect? That McLaren, or Red Bull, or Renault were going to train his driver, polish him, endure all the ups and downs of a rookie driver (crashes, lost points, etc.) and then hand him back to win the championship with Mercedes? Why would anyone do that for a Mercedes driver when they are all doing that for their own drivers?

    Red Bull signed Verstappen with a single full season of experience. And has now done the same with Pierre Gasly. Ferrari signed LeClerc without even completing a single full season. McLaren signed Lando Norris, with NO F1 experience. Williams had Sirotkin with no prior F1 experience, and will likely sign Markelov, again with no F1 experience.

    And what did Toto Wolff do? He screwed Pascal Wehrlein, and then screwed Ocon by giving the seat to a mediocre Bottas. Worse, with George Russell flying in F2, he will have nowhere to go in F1 either.

    F1 as a whole would benefit from Mercedes having someone else at the helm. He has successfully blocked or sabotaged all major Liberty Media initiatives, including changes to the engine formula, and budget caps. Now he has put F1 in a really embarrassing position of losing a talented driver, one who was hyped as “the heir to Lewis’ kingdom”.

  24. Money>balls. If Mercedes Benz wanted Ocon to have a seat, they could have just bought FI, or made a lesser but sufficient financial commitment elsewhere.

  25. And i was thinking the Red Bull program was harsh… at least some of them got a top drive.
    Signing for MERC is a guarantee for disaster. Poor Wehrlein, Poor Ocon, poor Rusell, poor….

  26. Every word out of his mouth is just sickening.

    He had a spot to bring Wehrlein, chose Bottas.
    Then, he could’ve signed Ocon, who, by the way, proved himself worthy of a shot. Chose to extend Wingman’s deal.

    That guy annoys me so much. He’s so cynical it’s disgusting.

  27. Good job everyone, I think the race fans commentariat has fairly successfully blown Wolff’s argument out of the water. Other teams have been busy while Mercedes have been complacent about their drivers’ futures. Anger and being caught out napping are a common enough mix.

  28. No, “kids” do NOT belong in Formula 1.
    Maybe there should be a minimum age of 21 and not just certain racing achievements (super license points).

    In recent years, there have been so many drivers brought in too young. I don’t care about having one young superstar if half a dozen others burn out and lose their drives before they’re 25 years old.

    1. I agree with you on that. I started watching F1 in 2007 and even youngsters such as Lewis and Seb had a lot of experience. Nowadays there is placed too much responsibility to young drivers.

  29. “There was so much politics in the background, hidden agendas, lies.”

    A perfect description of F1. As far as the “lies” part goes, Wolff is at the top.

  30. Just like people who don’t want to be Tank but force another one to role as a Tank in MOBA game.

  31. I’m sure if Ocon wanted out of his Mercedes contract it could have been done but how could he have seen this coming? I say for the good of F1 Toto should let him loose because surely he could find a team outside of Mercedes to race for. Politics absolutely kill F1 sometimes. I will absolutely be cheering next year every time Lance under performs.

  32. petebaldwin (@)
    14th September 2018, 17:54

    Dieter’s post from a couple of weeks ago said the following

    When Sahara Force India (hereinafter referred to SFI) went into administration during the Hungarian Grand Prix, it was clear that the preferred buyer was a consortium headed by Lawrence Stroll, with (unconfirmed) reports having it that Mercedes, a substantial creditor due to unpaid engine bills, would refuse to supply power units to other purchasers – and possibly even waive any accrued debts dependent upon final purchaser.

    https://www.racefans.net/2018/08/29/why-force-india-f1-rescue-deal-could-still-unravel/

    Now if that’s true, how can Mercedes complain that Ocon no longer has a seat!? Toto says that Ocon had two offers on the table in July but that begs the question, why didn’t he sign one!? If someone offers you £200k for your house and you decide to think about it for a month, there is always the chance that they’ll find something better and retract their offer. It’s not got anything to do with them having “the balls” to stick to their offer!?

    I doubt a team with engines supplied by Mercedes would want to rock the boat by pulling out of deals so that’d leave Renault, McLaren and Sauber as realistic options. If that’s the case, he’s saying that they should have gone with Ocon instead of Ricciardo, Kimi and Sainz….

    Toto’s last comment is very strange:

    “Both of these kids deserve to be in Formula 1 and I have no doubt that he will be in Formula 1, whether it’s with another team that recognises the talent or us, we’ll see.”

    Surely you’ve already recognised someone’s talent if you’re able to say that someone deserves to be in F1? Toto is Team Principal and CEO of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport so you’d assume that he’d have quite a significant say in what the team does… I don’t get it.

  33. Damn this comment section has obliterated the Wolff, and worse yet is that everyone is right except him

  34. Teams have been signing drivers to long-term contracts to prevent anyone else from getting that driver just as much as to keep the driver for themselves.

  35. Peppermint-Lemon (@)
    14th September 2018, 19:42

    Kubica and Ocon for next year at Williams

  36. Or if you prefer: “Mercedes didn’t have the balls to release Ocon so he could race at rival teams without a conflict of interest”

  37. I’ll speculate that Wolff is referring to Stroll FI retaining Perez, lacking the ‘attachments’ to choose Ocon over him him because of concerns that he would sue, or that Ocon would destroy Lance’s career, despite an agreement in place.

    I am amused at the outrage at Toto, and the idea that he lacks courage for not putting in a more challenging driver to Hamilton. I love the idea of RIC in the other silver car, but I get it.

    He’s put a team together that is winning the WCC AGAIN, people. That is worth tens of millions of dollars. Nothing else matters.

    I hope to see Ocon win WDC at Mercedes in the next 4 to 5 years.

    1. The destruction argument doesn’t really make sense tho. Both perez and ocon will totally dominate stroll.

  38. Ok Toto, sign him up, keep Valteri as his wingman (he’s pretty good at that) and sack the useless other guy

  39. When someone wanted to buy mercedes engines toto was not interested because his team would have to fight against that other team on race track. No engines for you. But he throws a tantrum when the same other teams don’t take his drivers on a loan. No race seat for my driver, how dare you?

    What do the other teams have to gain from this? If ocon does badly they get to keep him. If ocon does well mercedes will take him away from you along with all your car secrets. It is no risk, high reward for mercedes and the other way around for any team who takes him.

    This is 100% on toto. Not only has he done bad job managing his driver and caused ocon to not be in f1 in 2019 but he was also one of the main players creating the political circumstances that have led to this situation. He is probably also at fault for wehrlein not having a seat. Maybe toto doesn’t understand that if you have monopoly on something you can play as tough as you want but when others have something you want you need to change your approach. Throwing a tantrum after a deal has gone bad won’t improve your situation either.

  40. Imagine what he’d be saying if he had the balls to sign Merc PUs to Red Bull….

  41. If Toto had any balls he should’ve put Ocon in Bottas’ seat. Valtteri has honestly been disappointing lately.

  42. Yes, absolutely disagree with wolff, he should release ocon while he still can, if you get out of f1 you seriously risk to not get back any more, no matter how talented!

    Would he prefer ocon to leave f1 forever or to lose him to another team? It’s not like he has a spot for him atm and he seems to do fine with titles.

Comments are closed.