Valtteri Bottas or Esteban Ocon? That was the big question facing Mercedes over the summer break, and the reigning constructors champions announced their decision this morning, confirming the Finn will stay as Lewis Hamilton’s teammate for the 2020 season.
Bottas made a strong start to the 2019 campaign, winning two of the first four races of the year, but his form has dipped as the season has progressed, leaving him just a few points ahead of Max Verstappen in the standings.
Bottas, who celebrated his 30th birthday yesterday, said in a statement: “I am very happy and proud to be part of the team for a fourth season and wish to thank every team member and the board of Mercedes for their trust and belief in me. My performances have been getting better and better each year, and this is a great way to kick start the second half of 2019.
— Valtteri Bottas (@ValtteriBottas) August 29, 2019
“My overall target is to become Formula One world champion. I believe that on paper, and from my experience with the team, Mercedes is the best option for me to achieve that goal in 2020. We have nine races to go this season and I am determined to keep improving at every one of them. Now, all my thoughts are on Spa and delivering a strong performance with the team this weekend.”
Team Principal Toto Wolff added: “For 2019, we set Valtteri the challenge of coming back even stronger than we saw him in the first part of 2018 – and he has achieved that, with some really impressive performances in the early races this year. Although it has been his most successful first half of a championship so far, he is hungry for more and determined to keep on improving and raising his level. That’s the mindset we want from all our team members.
“The results we have achieved together with Valtteri are no coincidence: he has been an integral part of our championship success in the past two seasons, his teamwork with Lewis has been exemplary and he has shown real strength of character in how he has responded to setbacks. I’m delighted that he will stay with the team for another season at least – and look forward to seeing him raise the bar even further.”
With Bottas staying with the German constructor, this seems to leave Ocon in no man’s land. The French driver stayed with the team as test and reserve driver this season after losing his seat at Force India/Racing Point, but with a race seat not opening up, rumours are flying that he’s about to move elsewhere. The French media has linked the 22-year-old with a move to Renault as a replacement for Nico Hulkenberg. It’s an option that seems to make a lot of sense, as Ocon was previously involved with the team before joining Mercedes’s young driver programme in 2015.
One option within the Mercedes family for Ocon would be Formula E. The manufacturer is entering the all-electric series from next season, which means they’ll be looking for drivers. However, Ocon has amended his Twitter bio in the last week, describing himself simply as “Formula 1 driver”, suggesting he’s still set on a place in F1.
George Russell’s strong performances for Williams even saw him linked to the Mercedes team as Bottas’s replacement, suggesting Ocon may have missed the window to drive the Silver Arrow. Pascal Wehrlein faced a similar fate after his year on loan with Sauber. No longer required by the Swiss team, there wasn’t a spot for him at Mercedes either, and with Ocon performing well, the German was deemed surplus to requirement. If Mercedes sees Russell as the future, it seems wise for Ocon to seek opportunities as well. With the summer break no well and truly over, it looks like the driver announcements could be coming thick and fast.