The worst kept secret in F1 was finally confirmed this morning when Force India confirmed that Esteban Ocon had signed a multi year deal to driver the team. Ocon, 20, is contracted long-term to Mercedes, Force India’s engine provider, and has been racing for Manor in the second half of this season. He replaces German Nico Hulkenberg, who has moved to Renault, and will be alongside Mexican Sergio Perez.
Ocon has had a mixed time of it since replacing Rio Haryanto at the Belgium Grand Prix and has been out qualified and raced by his fellow Mercedes Junior driver Pascal Wehrlein. The 2014 FIA European Formula 3 champion and the 2015 GP3 title winner, has finished every F1 race he has started since his making his debut at Spa His best finish came in the Belgian race, where he finished 16th, although he equalled that result in Malaysia. The team have been quick to point out mechanical issues and Ocon’s tall frame being an issue given the car was designed for the petite Rio Haryanto. This apparently will not be an issue for Force India as there current driver Nico Hulkenburg is the tallest driver on the grid and will design around his height.
Given that it is widely acknowledge that Wehrlein as had a solid debut season in F1 and has beat Ocon it will come as a surprise to some that it is Ocon who got the nod for promotion by Mercedes. A poor test and an alleged inability to integrate with Force India’s test team may have been the deciding factor is sealing Wehrlein’s fate. Force India and Mercedes have the data on both drivers and it clearly indicates something that the rest of us can’t see.
We congratulate and send Esteban on with out best wishes. Let’s hope he doesn’t let his performance drop and helps the team stave off a last minute charge from Sauber to steal 10th position in the Constructors Championship.
The news comes shortly after the confirmation of Jolyon Palmer for one more year with Renault and it is anticipated that Kevin Magnussen will be named as the second Haas driver any day now. This leaves 4 drives left for 2017 but it widely expected that the ever improving and well connected Marcus Ericsson will be staying with Sauber.
It leaves Manor with quite a handy choice of proven F1 drivers who also comes with cash. We fully expect Pascal Wehrlein to remain with the team but that may change if the team do not hold onto 10th and have $30 dollars missing from their prize money at the end of the year. Esteban Guiterrez and Felipe Nasr are also well backed and both may consider a one year stop gap at Manor who should make yet another step up in performance in 2017. According to Joe Saward, Nasr who is hoping top replace Bottas at Williams in 2017 is the current favorite.