Esteban Ocon will be back on next year’s Formula 1 grid, with the Frenchman replacing Nico Hülkenberg at the factory Renault team.
Having been signed to Mercedes’ driver programme in 2016, Ocon made his Grand Prix debut midway through the season with the Mercedes-powered Manor Racing team. His Mercedes connections helped him then secure a fulltime drive with Force India the following year.
He remained with the Silverstone team in 2018, but lost out on a 2019 drive under its new Racing Point guise when the team signed Lance Stroll from Williams. A mooted switch to Renault, with whom he had previously had a test outing, also fell through when the Enstone squad signed Daniel Ricciardo.
He was instead kept on as Mercedes’ reserve driver and was a contender to join its racing line-up in 2020 should the team opt not to re-sign Valtteri Bottas. The Brackley squad has since confirmed it will retain Bottas’ services, and in turn allowed Ocon to explore other opportunities.
Ocon will now slot in alongside Ricciardo at Renault on an initial two-year contract.
“Over his F1 career Esteban has experienced the highs and lows of the sport, and fully understood the need to seize every possible chance,” Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul explained.
“In addition to lending his natural talent, Esteban’s aim will be to focus his natural energy and drive, both of which have been intensified by a year away from racing. It is then up to us to infuse them into the next phase of the team’s progress.”
It is unclear whether Ocon’s move to Renault severs his ties with Mercedes.
“First and foremost, I am very proud to become a Renault driver,” Ocon said. “I have grown up at Enstone, starting with Lotus in 2010 and then with Renault. I am very attached to this team and everyone who works there; they are the ones who opened the doors of top level motorsport for me.
“Secondly, I am pleased that a team with big ambitions has entrusted me with the opportunity to once again demonstrate my skills at the highest level of F1.”
Ocon’s appointment marks the end of Hülkenberg’s three-year stint as a Renault driver. The German had been the team’s leading points-scorer in 2017 and 2018, but has generally been shaded by his new teammate Ricciardo in what is proving to be an underwhelming season for the former championship-winning team which sits a lowly sixth in the Constructors’ Championship standings.
“I wish to thank Nico for his phenomenal involvement and massive contribution to our progress over the past three seasons,” Abiteboul added.
“When Nico decided to join us, the team was ninth. He brought us to fourth place last year, and was classified seventh in the drivers’ championship.
“The imminent end of his contract made this decision a difficult one as Nico has been a pillar of this progress.”
Now a free agent, Hülkenberg is being openly courted by the Haas F1 Team, with team principal Günther Steiner naming the German as a potential candidate to be Kevin Magnussen’s teammate next year should the outfit opt not to retain Romain Grosjean’s services.
Images via Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport and Renault Sport