Esteban Ocon, Mercedes, Shanghai International Circuit, 2019

Only one Mercedes driver could be unhappy about their start to 2019

2019 F1 season

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The championship standings make painful reading for anyone who doesn’t wear silver.

Four races into the 2019 F1 season, Mercedes’ race results literally couldn’t be better. Their cars have come home first and second in every race.

The only imperfection in their season so far is they’ve only scored the point for fastest lap once in the first four races. Still, 173 points from a possible 176 is not too shabby.

But one Mercedes team member will surely be feeling less fully overjoyed than his colleagues.

When Lawrence Stroll’s consortium bought Force India last year it immediately became apparent there would be no room for Mercedes junior driver Esteban Ocon.

He may have conclusively out-qualified his team mate Sergio Perez and contributed a respectable share of the teams’ points in his second full season of F1, but Perez had played his role in triggering Stroll’s takeover, and that made it a foregone conclusion which of the team’s drivers would be retained when the new boss’s son Lance inevitably arrived to take the other seat (contrary to what the recent Netflix F1 documentary Drive to Survive would have you believe).

With both Mercedes seats occupied, the only other Mercedes-powered berth available was at Williams. Ocon turned that down because he didn’t want to be locked into a multi-year deal.

George Russell, Williams, Baku City Circuit, 2019
Ocon turned down a chance to join Williams
Given that team’s appalling start to the season, this looks like a wise move. Instead Ocon opted for a year behind the scenes at Mercedes, plugging away on its simulator programme, and hoping for an opportunity to open up.

Valtteri Bottas ended last year firmly under the cosh from Lewis Hamilton, who waltzed to his fifth world championship. With Bottas on a one-year deal, Ocon understandably figured his best chance of getting into a Mercedes was to play the waiting game for a year, and be ready to step up if an opportunity arose for the 2020 F1 season.

But Bottas’s start to 2019 surely makes another contract extension for him a foregone conclusion. As Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said when asked by RaceFans in China, there’s little reason to consider changing a driver line-up when they’re started the season with three one-twos. And they’ve scored another since then.

It might be a different case if Hamilton had dominantly won all four races. But he and Bottas are 2-2 on wins and 2-2 in qualifying. None of this will make happy reading for Ocon.

At present the customer-powered Mercedes options are no different to last year. So what will he be driving next year?

“One thing I can guarantee is that he’s going to be in a good car in 2020 because there’s many teams out there that have an interest in Esteban.” said Wolff last season. But where?

Perhaps “a good car” will not necessarily mean “a good Formula 1 car”. Wolff has two Formula E seats to fill later this year…

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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...

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71 comments on “Only one Mercedes driver could be unhappy about their start to 2019”

  1. Instead Bottas opted for a year behind the scenes at Mercedes, plugging away on its simulator programme, and hoping for an opportunity to open up.

    Typo – Ocon.

    1. Instead Bottas opted for a year behind the scenes at Mercedes

      For a moment I thought Keith was referencing 2018…

    2. Blame it on autocorrection.

      Not a typo, a mistake.

  2. He will be discarded, as was Wehrlein.

    Mercedes’ only worry now will be who for the future? Leclerc and Verstappen solve that problem for their closest competitors but they need one to prepare for post-Lewis era.

    Mick Schumacher, George Russell or Lando Norris, which one would it be? Or someone else altogether?

    1. @Sumedh they are first with Bottas. Even without a super-talented driver, a car as good as Mercedes during the last years can easily win championships. I don’t think they are concerned at all about drivers. For instance, Ferrari was close to win a championship with Massa or even Irvine. Brawn won with Jenson.

      1. Without Lewis it would have been difficult for them to win the last years championship. So, if lewis leaves they better have one ready. Considering he won’t leave Mercedes as long as they remain competitive, so they still are going to need someone feisty, Max being a perfect candidate.

        1. Without Lewis it would have been literally impossible for the team to win the Constructors Championship, and it would have been highly unlikely that a different driver would have pulled out the Drivers Championship…

    2. I’m gonna agree with you. I think Ocon was a good driver, comparable to the likes of Perez, but he was nothing great. He’s definitely not the type of driver you would bank on for delivering world titles. Verstappen and Leclerc look like really bankable options.

      Ocon could get in to Mercedes as a #2 driver… but then again… I think Bottas would make a better #2 driver. As you mentioned, Norris and Russell are also drivers yet to show their hand, so that might not work out favourably for Ocon. Personally, I think Norris has already impressed me a whole lot more than Ocon did in his first four races.

      Mercedes should let Ocon go, and let’s see if he’ll get picked up by another midfield team (Maybe Haas or Alfa Romeo) as a driver.

      1. Ocon better than Perez ? What Formula 1 so you watch ?

  3. Bones Gambino
    30th April 2019, 12:50

    How about Perez out of Racing Point next year and Ocon slotted in by Mercedes plus discount on engines and use of wind tunnel etc…?

    1. @Bones Gambino Why should Perez be axed from RP when he’s the driver who’s brought most of its points not only at present but when the team was still FI as well. He not only outscored Ocon in both of the seasons together, and Hulkenberg in two out of the three seasons they were teammates.

      1. You can throw the amount of cash he brings along with him into that mix too. Perez won’t be leaving Racing Point until he decides he wants to…

  4. Ocon and Russel should be at Williams

    1. He is going to be in Williams next year, after the team realizes that KUB is not fit anymore. Otherwise the only chance is to be B team of mercedes. Otherwise they are going down soon.

    2. It was super smart decision from ocon to not go to williams. The car is worse junk than previous years’ honda engines and the team seems to be in total disarray. There is nothing that kills a career faster than a bad car. You can only look at kubica and russell and see how bad the bad car makes them look. 2020 is not going to be any better for williams. Williams needs big changes and those changes will come later than the 2020 car designing starts.

      Going to williams would be massive mistake for ocon. He can wait another year if he has to but if he has no contract come summer 2020 he needs to get rid off his mercedes contract and find a ride somewhere or anywhere.

      1. Unfortunately, the only other thing that can kill a career faster than a bad car is no car at all. You get rusty, no chance to showcase your talents, junior formulae won’t take you back. The only thing that you can do is move to IndyCar, rallying, or Formula E.

      2. @socksolid I agree, but I agree even more with @adamgoh

    3. @johnmilk I think people are forgetting that Haas could very well do with someone like Ocon. He would definitely be an improvement on Grosjean and with Ocon and Magnussen, they can have a long-term partnership as well.

      1. That would need a switch to a Ferrari contract first. That could already have happened, but didn’t. So Mercedes clearly not yet prepared to let go.

        1. Being a Haas driver doesn’t mean you have to be under Ferrari’s wing. Grosjean has no relation to Ferrari at all, but is still driving for Haas. Considering Mercedes was willing to let Ocon drive for Renault or McLaren, I would say that it wouldn’t have a problem with him driving a Ferrari-powered car.

      2. @mashiat good observation. Only setback is that Mercedes needs to let him go. Look what they did to Wherlein

  5. The circumstances that led to him being left without a drive for this season were unfortunate, and I hope that he’d get back to racing in F1 full-time next season, but not at the expense of Bottas. I echo Toto that I don’t see any reason for changes in the driver line-up as long as he can keep up, and at least match Hamilton.

  6. Ocon deserves to be back in F1 next year. It will be unfortunate if he doesn’t get a seat. He is more talented than Bottas in my opinion.

    1. Ocon is error prone and a liability for the team regarding his fights with teammates.
      Bottas has hardly made a mistake so far.

      Easy choice for Wolf and co.

  7. “Ocon turned down because he didn’t want to be locked into a multi-year deal.”

    Are either Williams drivers on more than a one year contract? It seems strange; I can’t see how it benefits any party.

    1. Bottas has said he got used to one year contracts at Williams, so that seems to be the team’s policy with driver contracts.

      1. Agreed, so it’s unclear who was demanding a muliti year deal for Ocon.

        Even though it’s Williams, it’s still better to be in a seat than keeping his manager company on race weekends. As Russell has shown, beating your team mate in a slow car still allows a driver to stand out. Keeping in with the drivers meetings, media etc doesn’t hurt.

    2. Williams have historically placed young drivers (including the likes of Button and Bottas) on long term contracts. They don’t stand in the way of the drivers moving on if someone comes knocking, but someone has to buy out their contracts if they are to release them. It is sound business practice.

      1. @geemac it’s exactly what happened with Bottas and Stroll, they were bought by Mercedes and RP… that probably got Williams going for 2 years

  8. I feel very sorry for Esteban Ocon, but very happy for Valtteri Bottas. Most people (including me) had totally written him off at the end of last year and it was incredibly hard to see him reigning in the gap. He’s done a brilliant job so far this season. The fightback against Hamilton in the first corners at Baku is a great indication at how his attitude has changed; I’m sure that a year ago, he would have conceded that to Hamilton.

    How good is Ocon? There’s no denying that he’s better than Stroll, who is unlikely to be displaced for obvious reasons. Is he better than Hamilton? Almost certainly not. Is he better than Bottas? Who knows… Bottas is keeping pace with Hamilton so is making himself irreplaceable. Russell? Kubica? He doesn’t fit at Mercedes, he doesn’t fit at Racing Point. He probably fits in at Williams, but won’t want to be there.

    Are there any non-Merc teams who would want him? Verstappen would surely veto him as a potential replacement for Gasly at Red Bull/Toro Rosso. Renault have a great line-up. McLaren seem happy. Maybe Haas?

    Frankly, Ocon doesn’t logically fit in anywhere at the moment. He may well regret turning Williams down.

    1. You hit all the points and agree with all of them. Ocon is in a bind at the moment. I would be surprised if Kubica got a second year. There is absolutely no way Williams can be worst than they are now next year.

      1. I don’t see how williams can’t possibly get worse, there’s the 107% rule, what if in 2020 they can’t qualify at all? They could end like tyrrell, caterham, manor, arrows etc.

    2. Agreed 100%, especially about Bottas, haters be damned.

    3. Magnus Rubensson (@)
      2nd May 2019, 16:21

      Haas or Alfa seem logical if the contracts can be sorted.

  9. I’ll ask this again

    And I am a Kubica fan, but how long before they ask Mercedes for a look at Ocon.

    1. Before the Williams team asks

      1. @reverendfyt – I think they have far larger problems than drivers at the moment.

        Russell is the best “rookie” on offer (if we take F2 performance as a base) and is nowhere near the pace of any other car on the grid. I’d suggest that putting Hamilton, Verstappen or Vettel in the car would still lead to the back row of the grid at the moment.

        I don’t argue that Ocon would do a better job than Kubica at the moment and I imagine Ocon might sign up if given the chance, but at this point it’d be like remodelling your kitchen while your house is on fire…

      2. @reverendfyt @ben-n In my opinion, they hired Kubica to help develop the car because of his very strong technical feedback, not because he would light up the race track with blindingly fast laps. If that is the case, he may be secure for another season. Maybe.

      3. I agree with both of you.
        Just think the Williams team needs something bright and shiny in lap times.

  10. I don’t feel sorry for Ocon in the slightest – he had offers from other teams and turned them down to chase Bottas’s seat. If he’s left without a drive then he can only blame himself. There’s no question that he’s a good driver, but I get the impression he thinks he’s a lot better than he is. I’m almost certain one of the people Bottas’s Australia ‘f-you’ message was directed at was Ocon.

  11. Ocon is quickly learning that there is no value in being a reserve driver, regardless of the team, in modern F1. Memories are short and new bright young things come along thick and fast looking for seats. The best way to ensure you have a long career is to get a seat and cling to it for dear life. If he had an option to go to Williams and didn’t take it, that was a mistake. It’s better to be an F1 driver than an unemployed F1 driver looking for a drive.

    1. That’s what I thought when this was brought up last year: a seat, even one in the slowest F1 car on the grid, is better than no seat.

  12. They will see if Bottas is ready to bow to the team if there’s a conflict with Lewis, if there’s a slight misbalance in the team then they will drop Bottas. They are not going to tolerate a case like ROS. He was exception as he’d been with the team longer than Lewis but, who are they kidding, if there’s a conflict, BOT is flying out of the team like Scrat from Ice Age

    1. I disagree completely. TW is expecting ‘conflict’ as it goes hand in hand with having two drivers continually finishing 1-2 and both going for the WDC. Remember that even with all the ‘strife’ between LH and NR, they had re-signed Nico for two more years of it and Bottas shouldn’t have even been at Mercedes but for Nico retiring. They wanted more of what they had with Nico and Lewis.

      1. Nico retired because he knew that was going to be the only time he could beat Lewis in equal cars.

        1. He retired because he fullfilled his dream – to be WDC.

          1. Either way, Ocon should be rooting for VB. Maybe he does a Nico after winning WDC.

        2. @reverendfyt
          Is there an interview of Rosberg saying or insinuating something like this?

          If yes, you should provide the link.
          If no, you should have started your sentence by saying: “I think” or “I believe” or “I feel” etc., all of which indicate your personal belief.

          The way you put it, I guess we are supposed to take as granted, an established fact.

          Pretty hilarious.

          1. oooh, you are so right.
            People try to emphasize their point bij stating an opinion as a fact.
            Thats happens so often, I think it weakens their statement completely

          2. Kurik is right… Nico talks about why he retired all the time on his podcast. Check out the episodes with Felipe Massa and Matthew Syed, pretty sure he discusses it in both.

  13. Cristiano Ferreira
    30th April 2019, 17:11

    “One thing I can guarantee is that he’s going to be in a good car in 2020 because there’s many teams out there that have an interest in Esteban.” said Wolff last season. But where?

    For sure not in the Mercedes team, because they are the greatest underdogs F1 has ever seen, and their cars aren’t good.

    Maybe he is pointing out that Ocon should move to Williams, who has a better car than Merc.

  14. Hamilton should be happy with his Merc, but worried about his performance.

    Bottas is unlikely to beat Hamilton over the season. Bottas performance hasn’t changed much in the last two seasons, just 2018 seemed worse because of bad luck at Baku and team orders. So unless he does much better, or Hamilton does much worse, Hamilton will continue to be the better driver over the season.

    However, Rosberg demonstrated you don’t have to be clearly better, just close. Rosberg kept it within the reach of random luck. Hamilton got a weak start in 2016 and couldn’t overcome the loss from his DNF.

    I don’t see Bottas just beating Hamilton outright, but he is keeping it close. Hamilton needs to worry, one crash, one DNF, and it could be 2016 all over again.

    1. You hit the nail on the head there. That’s exactly the situation with Bottas. If he can keep the pressure on Ham then he can actually beat him (not that i want him to as i want ham to get teh 7 titles first and then i don’t care what happens after). You can’t take anything from bottas as well – he isn’t a slouch in qually. I think the last two years he has the smallest delta between teammates on qualifying times of all the paired team drivers. That is impressive.

    2. @slotopen Hamilton didn’t have a “weak start” in 2016. He had a load of technical issues during the first half of that season. Plus then he had to sacrifice the race at Spa to start at the back to take the penalties to get the broken engine parts replace. Yet another race lost. etc.

      1. @f1osaurus

        Hamilton didn’t win until Monaco in 2016. Rosberg won 4 in a row, part of his 7 race winning streak extending from 2015. It put Hamilton at a deficit he didn’t overcome until mid season.

        It highlights another problem for Hamilton in 2016: it takes luck (something beyond your control) to gain more than 7 points on your teammate when the car is dominate.

        Regardless, Hamilton is way better off now than 4 races into 2016. He is even with his teammate rather than down 28 points.

        1. He is again one point down ;)

        2. @slotopen Yes, like I said. He had a load of technical issues during the first half of that season. Plus then he had to sacrifice the race at Spa to start at the back to take the penalties to get the broken engine parts replace. Yet another race lost. etc.

  15. Why do people think Ocon is a future “great”? Sure he is someone who has beaten Max Verstappen (although in a better F3 car than Max had) but he didn’t destroy or even beat Perez… So he’s about the same level as Perez. Is that really much better than Stroll? Is than better than Russell? Does he come close to Bottas?… I’d like someone that thinks Ocon is a real future champion to provide evidence that supports that idea.

    1. w0o0dy, I am curious about your claim that Ocon had “a better F3 car than Max had” given both drivers were using derivatives of the Dallara F312.

      The chassis that Ocon was using in Formula 3 was two years older than Max’s – Ocon’s chassis was F312/015, which was produced in 2012 and been used by Michael Lewis and Eddie Cheever III in 2012 and 2013 before being given to Ocon in 2014.

      Verstappen’s chassis, which was F314/009, was a brand new chassis – if anything, given Ocon’s chassis had already been used for two seasons, and I believe that it had been involved in a few minor accidents in that time, you would have thought that Ocon’s chassis might have seen a slight degradation in terms of torsional stiffness compared to Verstappen’s chassis.

      Do you have any evidence of there being any difference in terms of the actual chassis itself when comparing Verstappen’s car to Ocon’s car? There does not appear to be any external difference in bodywork between the cars, whilst most of the remaining components are standardised elements (standard electronics units, standard brakes, standard transmissions and so forth) – where is that difference supposed to be coming from?

      1. Nice try Anon… trying to compare the wealthy Prema team with VAR…
        Ocon just 2 DNF’s, while Max suffered from 9 and took a couple of gridpenalties as well.
        Like Mercedes does in F1 it was Prema that took the farce majority of pole positions.

        Instead of comparing cars it would be better to compare drivers… during their time on track that is.
        Ocon was hardly able to win any direct dual, resulting in Max taking most wins of the 2014 season… the fact he also took the most DNF’s explain perfectly ho Ocon beat Max on points.

        Ocon’s rather useless attack in Brasil came with reasons…

      2. @Anon .. you forget to mention that it was Ocon’s third season in single seaters whereas 2014 was Verstappen’s first season in single seaters .. so he had a lot more experience .. that is a big difference right there!
        Also Prema is a much better team .. look at where the teammates of Ocon ended up in the end classification 5th and 10th while Verstappen teammates only ended up 11th and 20th in the end classification that year!
        Also Max had the most race wins that year and had 8 DNF’s and 1 DNS whereas Ocon only had 3 DNF’s .. so effectively he had the chance to score points in 6 more races then Max .. this is the ONLY reason he won the championship instead of Max! except for one race all the DNF’s were from engine or gear related problems!

    2. Right. This is kind of how people still think Hulk deserves a top drive. He has done nothing in the decade he has been in F1 yet people still refer to his junior formula career as some reason he should get a good drive.

  16. He had his chance. Next!

  17. Keith is assuming in advance that Ocon is better than Perez, …impossible, Checo has shown many times to be above his weight, his car and his teammate, Checo does not need to put a partner on the wall to overcome it, and neither to a rival, … before Ocon remind me of a time when Pérez did it.
    Keith is assuming that “Perez had played his part in activating the Stroll acquisition”, and Checo has no talent as a F1 driver other than having helped save his own team from bankruptcy. I think a comment out of place and with bad intention, Keith, you’re not being objective, … wrong.
    Ocon is a spoiled pilot of this publishing house, but please remind me Keith, a pilot who in recent years has destroyed as many cars as Ocon in the past years, to that pilot that you mention, with that you could compare Ocon. Checo is not on that list.
    Pérez never had problems with any of his teammates before, never destroyed a car to benefit from his teammate, Esteban made it against Sergio.
    Checo had very hard fights against Jenson, the cars were touched in many races, but never hurt a race of Mclaren, and the fights with Jenson were very strong.
    I also see comments up here suggesting that Checo is only worth the money it puts on the table, …if it were not for that money Pérez would not have a place in RP, … it’s unacceptable.
    I think your comment about Pérez is very unfair.
    I think Checo has his place in RP for his performances, and talent, not because he helped Mr. Stroll buy his own Team, …unfortunate comment.
    Greetings Keith.

    1. @luis

      Keith is assuming in advance that Ocon is better than Perez

      No I’m not. (You might want to read last year’s driver rankings).

      Keith is assuming that “Perez had played his part in activating the Stroll acquisition”

      I’m not assuming anything, we reported that last year:
      https://www.racefans.net/2018/07/27/perez-behind-legal-proceedings-force-india-administration-over-4m-debt/
      https://www.racefans.net/2018/08/01/what-perezs-shock-decision-reveals-about-force-indias-uncertain-future/

  18. Well I think Ocon is a very good driver and it would be a shame to see him drop out of the sport. Things change and Ocon could end up in another team.
    I think he would be a good fit into RB, he would definitely be quicker than Gasly. :)

  19. All the points mentioned i generally agree with. My “hunch” is that if TW is confident he can get Ocon in a good car for 2020, is either going to be…

    Hamilton decides to leave/retire
    Bottas nose dives sharply to the point it gives TW no choice
    Mercedes elect to work “closer” with Williams and operate a Redbull/Torro Rosso style relationship.
    Mercedes elect to work with a completely new team with another body joining F1

    Otherwise he’ll be forever hogging the simulator…

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