Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff remains optimistic that French driver Esteban Ocon will secure a seat in Formula One next season, but says Renault team manager Cyril Abiteboul must “restore his gentleman image” if Ocon is to line up for the French manufacturer next season.
Mercedes-backed Ocon, who raced for Force India last season, was left without a team when Renault signed Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo from Red Bull for the 2019 season.
“We are looking at all options,” Wolff told reporters at this weekend’s French Grand Prix. “Esteban is a hot topic because he’s clearly one of the most promising young drivers and he deserves to be in Formula One, and we can see that with the interest that he generates.
“I am very optimistic that we will see him in a Formula One car next year,” said Wolff.
Ocon, who made his F1 debut at the 2016 Belgian Grand Prix for Manor Racing, has spent the 2019 season as a reserve driver for Mercedes.
Wolff made clear that he hadn’t forgotten the decision of Abiteboul to go back on the pair’s verbal agreement over Ocon last year, saying, “I like Cyril but in order to become a gentleman with the handshake, he needs to restore his gentleman image,” when asked about the possibility of sending Ocon to Renault.
Renault could be interested in signing Ocon next season with 31-year-old Nico Hulkenberg out of contract and the German’s future uncertain.
Abiteboul said in February that Hulkenberg would be measured against Ricciardo in what could be a make-or-break year.
Hulkenberg holds the Formula One record for most grands prix started without ever stepping on the podium — 164 to date with a best result of fourth.
Nico’s contract, the initial term is coming to an end at the end of this year but there is some mechanism of options,” Abiteboul said at Le Castellet.
“So it’s maybe that we continue our journey with Nico. Frankly, Nico has delivered for the team,” he added.
“But also we need to look at the options, like everyone is doing, like I’m sure Nico is doing…things are open for him and for us, but there is also an option in place so that we can possibly continue our journey together.”
Information from Reuters contributed to this report.