As a consequence of the financial turmoil that Force India have recently been through, a promising and proven young talent in Esteban Ocon may end up losing his seat in the team, through no fault of his own. With seats rapidly filling up in the driver market, where does Ocon go now? Read more to find out who he might lose his seat to, where he can still go and the potential solutions to this big problem.
Born in 1996, Esteban Ocon is arguably one of the hottest young prospects in the world of motorsport. A former European F3 and GP3 Champion, Ocon’s tie-ups with Mercedes and his immense potential saw him rise up the ranks and debut in Formula One midway through the 2016 season for the struggling Team Manor after previous driver Rio Haryanto was unable to pay for his seat anymore. Ocon impressed many in the paddock and at the start of the following season, the young Frenchman was dressed up in pink Force India overalls, ready for his first full season in Formula One.
In 2017, Ocon showed signs of a top driver, with his aggression, eye for an overtake, defending skills and most notably, his consistency taking him to a remarkable 8th position in the World Drivers’ Championship, merely thirteen points behind veteran teammate Sergio Perez. His performances were critically acclaimed and impressed many in the motorsport universe, including myself and his solid performances have made me an admirer of the young Frenchman.
He stayed at Force India for another year, intent on proving his talents on an even greater level and halfway through the 2018 season, regardless of his superb driving, the financial crisis in the team seems to have put his position in jeopardy.
So, what exactly is happening at Force India and where does Esteban Ocon go next season?
Firstly, Force India were in big financial trouble recently, with two of their majority shareholders in Vijay Mallaya and Subrato Roy being chased by Indian banks over unpaid debts. This left the team in a poor economic condition with funding becoming a major issue; debts piled up and the team’s participation in Formula One became increasingly doubtful as days passed by.
With the team inches away from being liquidated, their driver and Ocon’s teammate, Sergio Perez, one of the major debtors of the team pushed Force India into administration and effectively saved the jobs of all those working for the team. Finally after a long struggle, a consortium led by Lawrence Stroll, the billionaire father of Williams’ driver Lance Stroll bought the team out and guaranteed continuous funding at the very last minute.
The consortium bought all of Force India’s assets and debts but not their F1 entry and consequently, ‘Racing Point Force India’ contested at the Belgian GP as a brand new entry. Getting into the nitty gritties of the entire purchase will make up for an another article but significantly for Ocon, this saved his position in Formula One. Or did it?
Lawrence Stroll has largely helped in getting his son, Lance to where he is today and he paid for his seat at Williams back in 2017. With Stroll senior’s consortium now owning most of Force India, it is certain that he will have a say in the team’s driver choice for 2019 and one doesn’t need to have the brightest of minds to interpret why Stroll senior bought the team and who is going to drive for Force India next year.
Although not official, it is understood that Lance Stroll will be racing for Force India come 2019 and with Sergio Perez bringing the money to the team, it is unlikely that he will move anywhere else. With that, both the seats at Force India have been filled and that leaves the talented Ocon with nowhere to go.
His stunning 6th place finishes in Belgium and Italy could not have been more well timed, with the team taking its first steps towards its financial recovery, these results were a big reason to celebrate for the team, yet it seems that he may well be left without a drive for next season.
The seats at McLaren are full with Lando Norris partnering Carlos Sainz and a move to the Ferrari-powered Sauber or Haas seems off the books. He was heavily linked with Renault to partner Nico Hulkenberg and with a rising French driver in a constantly improving French manufacturer, it would have been the dream for French fans. Sadly though, Ocon’s Mercedes connections took him out of contention despite him once being Renault’s reserve driver. In the end, Renault got the bigger fish in Daniel Ricciardo and Ocon has been left looking at other options. Williams are in somewhat of a crisis situation on the track and with SMP Racing rumoured to be paying for Artem Markelov and Sergey Sirotkin’s seat at Williams’, Ocon doesn’t seem to have a chance at the team that once dominated Formula One and is now a shadow of its glorious past.
That left Toro Rosso as a potential option for him with both seats currently empty there but unfortunately, the team have ruled out any possibility of signing Ocon, with his Mercedes connections playing a key role in the same. In my opinion, Mercedes should try and find any possible drive for him in Formula One, potentially as a loan deal to another team in a format similar to that of Carlos Sainz’ move to Renault since anything bar Formula One will be a big step down for him.
I am highly impressed by what Ocon can do on the track and I have no doubts regarding his capabilities but unfortunately, he may not have an appropriate platform in the form of Formula One to showcase his varied skillset. Should Mercedes be unable to secure a seat for him in 2019, I feel that they should get him on board as their test and reserve driver. This will make sure that he does not fall out of touch with this generation of Formula One cars and he is able to make a strong comeback in 2020.
Ocon’s case can be compared with that of another talented Mercedes academy driver in Pascal Wehrlein, with the German impressing many, yet his talent not getting the right stage due to the cruel nature of Formula One and motorsport as a whole.
The question now remains to be answered: “Will Ocon break the shackles of the driver market and get a deserving seat in Formula One or will his story resemble that of fellow Mercedes Academy Driver Pascal Wehrlein?”
One can only hope that he will be able to light Formula One up in 2019 and the years that follow. All’s well that ends well and Ocon securing a competitive drive for 2019 will be a rather happy ending to this scrappy turn of events. For Formula One, losing Ocon could very well mean losing a big potential star who can be a very valuable asset to them in the not-so distant future and keeping him in the series can definitely be a decision that they will not regret a few years down the line.
Note: None of the media used in this article belongs to soumilarora.com. Credits to the rightful owners.