Date published: August 12 2019
The summer break in Formula 1 is usually considered silly season, but there will be nothing silly about Mercedes’ decision if they opt to drop Valtteri Bottas in favour of Esteban Ocon.
In fact, it would be one of the most sensible moves ahead of the 2020 campaign as the Brackley-based squad starts building towards the future.
The numbers don’t make for pretty reading for Bottas after two-and-a-half years at the Silver Arrows as since the start of the 2017 season he has won just five races compared to the 28 from team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
But for Mercedes it is more a case of nervously looking over their shoulders as their rivals’ young guns start to dazzle.
Ferrari and Red Bull appear to have their long-term futures secured in Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen, both 21, they have drivers who are ready to challenge for race wins and titles for years to come.
Over in the Merc garage Hamilton is 34 and Bottas will turn 30 at the end of August.
While Hamilton is in the form of his life and “driving better than ever” it is the opposite for Bottas as he is in a slump and one that Mercedes simply can’t afford in the long run, not with the likes of Leclerc and Verstappen breathing down their necks.
Hamilton might well continue for a few more years, but Mercedes need to start pondering life after Hamilton and can anyone seriously see Bottas taking it to Leclerc and Verstappen in a couple of years?
“If we take a decision in favour of Valtteri, then that means we would lose our hand for two years or more on Esteban,” Merc boss Toto Wolff said a few weeks back.
That’s why the sensible option would be to put Ocon in the car next year and bed him in for the 2021 season when the new regulations come into effect.
At the age of 22 Ocon already has 50 F1 starts to his name, but going up against Hamilton as a team-mate and renewing his rivalries with Verstappen and Leclerc will have F1 fans salivating.
“There’s been history with Max since 2010. We race close. There’s always been stuff going on. But it’s never left the track,” the Frenchman said during an interview with Top Gear.
“There’s always been [battles] with me, Max and Charles [Leclerc], fighting in karting. Most of the time we used to race together, we didn’t all finish the race!”
Some sink when thrown in at the deep end and others swim, but Ocon has shown that he has the pedigree to step up as he started his F1 career with 27 consecutive races without a DNF.
In his first season with Force India, he often took the fight to his much more experienced team-mate Sergio Perez and suffered just one retirement as he finished eighth in the Drivers’ standings – one place and 13 points behind Perez.
Last year was a little more difficult with all the drama surrounding Force India, but he still finished 12th in the standings.
Of course going wheel-to-wheel with someone like Hamilton is a different kettle of fish and at the front of the pack you can’t afford too much on-track drama involving team-mates.
But that’s a risk that Mercedes need to take in order to build for the future and Ocon should be happy to learn from Hamilton in the first few years and then take over the battle once the Brit decides to pack it in.