Silly season revving up at Paul Ricard

Sat, 22 June 2019, 10:35

Jun.22 (GMM) F1’s silly season is shifting into another gear in the Paul Ricard paddock.

Firstly, given Valtteri Bottas’ most recent performance dip, there are claims Toto Wolff wants to put Esteban Ocon in the Mercedes for 2020.

But another season for Bottas is also a possibility.

Ocon, the Mercedes reserve this year, told the Belgian broadcaster RTBF: “If I do not find a race seat next year, in the worst case I would go to another category but it’s not at all what I want.

“What I want is to be in F1 next year.”

However, the other Mercedes-powered teams may not be an option for Ocon. Nicholas Latifi is pushing either for a Williams or Racing Point cockpit.

If he graduates from the Williams reserve role, the Canadian rookie – reportedly with $30 million in sponsorship to offer – would replace struggling Robert Kubica. At Racing Point, the victim would be Sergio Perez.

It means Wolff could be looking to loan Frenchman Ocon to Renault instead.

In that case, the axed Renault driver would be Nico Hulkenberg, whose contract runs out at the end of the year.

“There is some mechanism of (contract) options that can kick in (for 2020), so maybe we continue our journey with Nico,” said team boss Cyril Abiteboul.

“Frankly, Nico has delivered for the team and we need to give credit for that. But we also need to look at the options, like I’m sure Nico is doing.”

Another option for both Ocon and Hulkenberg is Alfa Romeo, where Antonio Giovinazzi is struggling.

Hulkenberg has also been linked with Pierre Gasly’s seat at Red Bull.

But Christian Horner, the Red Bull team boss, backed Frenchman Gasly to keep getting up to speed, even though the gap to Max Verstappen at Paul Ricard appears significant.

“We are very actively working with Pierre, as confidence is a very important factor in this sport,” he said. “He is compared with an incredibly fast teammate in Max Verstappen.

“I think in Monaco he performed very well, while Montreal was not easy for him. But he knows Paul Ricard much better and I believe he will continue to make progress.”

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