The F1 world is set for a big move — but not the one that was expected — with the first domino of the silly season set to fall.
Mercedes decision on Valtteri Bottas’ seat with the F1 powerhouse was always set to have a trickle-down effect with the Finn and youngster Esteban Ocon in competition for the spot.
But with Aut0bild.de reporting Bottas is expected to hold onto his spot for the 2020 season, reports are Mercedes are willing to loan Ocon out to Renault, alongside Aussie star Daniel Ricciardo.
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Ocon is set to sign a two-year deal with Renault, a huge turn of events after Mercedes boss Toto Wolff didn’t name Renault but slammed “politics, hidden agendas and lies” for the Frenchman to be without a drive in 2019.
Ricciardo was the man to take the spot ahead of Ocon.
Wolff told Sky in 2018: “In July, (Ocon) had two offers on the table with contracts and it was just a case of choosing the right one and he ended up not having any more because people just simply don’t have the balls to stick to what they say.
“But it is no problem, we have to sort it out with Esteban. He is a strong guy, he has been through difficult moments in his career and we will fix this one as well.”
Ocon dropped a huge hint on Instagram and Twitter after he changed his bio from “test driver” to “Formula 1 driver”, with fans quick to inquire if he had a job he’d like to share with the world.
It would mean Nico Hulkenberg would be on his way out of the team, with Haas firming as his most likely destination for the seat of Romain Grosjean.
Williams could also be a possible destination if Robert Kubica doesn’t hold his place.
Hulkenberg holds the record for the most races without a podium in F1 history — currently at 170 races.
The 32-year-old has been in the sport since the 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix and has claimed one pole position but has not tasted the champagne on top of the podium.
French broadcaster RMC Sport reported the deal has not yet been signed as Renault want to make sure Hulkenberg can secure another seat.
The report reads: “The French manufacturer is very interested in the ‘Tricolour’ driver, who has the advantage of being fast, reliable and inexpensive. Indeed, with the very large salary paid to Daniel Ricciardo, Renault would not be against a reduction of its payroll.
“By taking Ocon instead of Hulkenberg, it would be done. When Renault returned to Formula 1, they had made the German driver a priority and therefore overpaid a little.”
Earlier this year, The Mirror reported Ricciardo is the third highest paid driver on the grid, with Hulkenberg equal sixth with Alfa Romeo driver Kimi Raikkonen.
Ocon spoke with the F1 website and admitted losing his seat with Force India (now Racing Point) and not being able to grab the Renault seat was tough to take.
“It was not an easy thing,” he said. “We talked with Toto and my management side in Mercedes and they told me not to worry, I would be having a chance in F1 in the future. Of course there were phases where it is a bit quiet so you doubt things a bit, but discussions started quite some time ago — so I’m pretty confident it’s going to be OK, fingers crossed and touching wood.”
It’s a positive time for Renault, despite not having a great first half of the season.
Ricciardo, who suffered a rare Q1 exit in Hungary, is confident a strong start second half of the season can see the team chasing podiums in 2020, despite falling behind McLaren and Toro Rosso so far this season.
Ricciardo has been honest about how the team is going and before the weekend, he said the team needed improvement in order to be able to compete for podiums in 2020.
“I don’t want to say ‘in line’ because obviously I hoped for more but I knew it was going to happen like this,” Ricciardo said during the Hungarian Grand Prix.
“We’ve bounced around in between everything really, but now, at this halfway point, I think we can say, ‘All right, we need to do better if we want to be on target for podiums in 2020’.
“We need to start making bigger steps for the second half of the year, so up until now, let’s say I’m somewhere in the middle with expectation, but I would now expect the second half of the season to have some more regular top six finishes or something.
“If we stay where we are now ‘til the end of the season, then that’s lower than what we expect.”