Ocon’s uncertain F1 future draws sympathy from Hamilton
SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AP) — Not even the highest praise may be enough for Esteban Ocon to keep his Formula One seat.
The 21-year-old Frenchman faces an uncertain future with the re-named Racing Point Force India team, despite being one of the most promising drivers around.
Two days ago, the team came out of administration following a successful takeover by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll.
Stroll’s son, 19-year-old Lance, drives for Williams but could reportedly move to Racing Point Force India.
“My future is not done. At the moment I don’t know where I will race next year or what I will do,” Ocon said at the Belgian Grand Prix. “The only thing I can do is do well on the track.”
He certainly did that on Saturday.
In wet conditions at Spa, Ocon qualified in third place for Sunday’s race behind four-time F1 champions Sebastian Vettel and polesitter Lewis Hamilton.
“We expect to be there. We’ve got the cars, the consistency,” Ferrari driver Vettel said before praising Ocon. “It’s his day.”
Ocon has serious credentials.
He beat Red Bull’s Max Verstappen — the youngest driver to win an F1 race at 18 — to the European F3 title in 2014, winning it with a round to spare and earning a spot on the prestigious Mercedes F1 junior program.
Ocon was once described as a “sponge” by his technical director because of his ability to absorb information and learn quickly .
There are precious few seats up for grabs next year and his teammate Sergio Perez is unlikely to be dropped.
It was legal action by Perez, who was reportedly owed around 3 million pounds ($3.9 million), which initiated the team going into administration and effectively saved it.
Lance Stroll would not commit his future to Williams on Thursday.
“At the moment I’m at Williams, we’ll see what happens with me in the future and I wish (my father) all the best with Force India,” he said. “It’s definitely a very exciting future for him.”
Hamilton says Ocon should not be put in such an uncertain situation.
“I’ve always been a supporter of Esteban’s. How he conducts himself and how he performs on the track is exceptional,” Hamilton said after taking his 78th pole position.
“Unfortunately, we’re in a weird place in Formula One, where you’ve got some teams that, rather than take an up-and-coming kid, they’ll take whoever’s got the money. It means the structure of the sport is probably wrong.
“He needs to be in a great car because he’s one of the top drivers here,” Hamilton added. “You can’t expect someone who’s got more money to leapfrog a better driver. It shouldn’t happen.”
Even if Williams offered Ocon a seat, it would be a step down for him considering the team is last in the constructors’ championship.
But with Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton’s teammate, given a contract for next year , there is no space yet at Mercedes for one of its own prodigies.
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Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire