As we reported a few days back about the resignation of Nico Hulkenberg from Team Force India to Team Renault, a new development has taken place. To replace Hulkenberg, Force India has signed Esteban Ocon as their second driver along side Sergio Perez, who will continue to be Force India's leading driver. The Frenchman has signed a "multi-year deal" with the Force India team starting 2017 Formula 1 season.
With this contract being accepted, Nico Hulkenberg will complete a switch to Renault. Pascal Wehrlein, Jolyon Palmer and Felipe Nasr were also on Force India's watch list, but Ocon got a nod to drive for the team. Interestingly, Joylon Plamer was retained by Renault, making him the second driver who opted for Renault over Force India - Nico being the first.
"He's an exceptional talent, as his status as a Mercedes junior demonstrates, and I have no doubt he will flourish inside our team," said Force India team principal Vijay Mallya. "We've had our eye on Esteban for a number of years and have followed his progress through the junior categories where he delivered outstanding results. We ran him in the car last year during testing and his performance convinced us that he is more than capable of racing alongside Sergio."
This will be the first big break and proper racing assignment for Ocon, after he represented Force India in last year's in-season tests. Esteban Ocon has also sampled F1 machinery with Mercedes and Renault, making four FP1 appearances with the Renault in the first half of this season. He made his race debut with Manor at the Belgian Grand Prix, replacing Rio Haryanto.
"I'm still relatively new to Formula 1, but spending half a season at Manor Racing has given me some valuable experience and I feel ready for this new opportunity with Force India," Ocon said. "The next few months will be very busy as I do all I can to prepare for the challenge ahead of me. It means lots of days at the factory, working on the simulator and building relationships with the engineers and everybody in the team. I can't wait for 2017 and my first full season racing in Formula 1."
Now that Palmer is retained by Renault and Kevin Magnussen is headed for Haas, Force India's recent announcement for Ocon has left just Sauber and Manor with vacancies for 2017. It is reported that Sauber is set to stick with Nasr and Marcus Ericsson and Wehrlein will join Manor as a possible replacement for Ocon for the second season of the Manor F1 team.
Since Mercedes provides F1 cars to Force India, it makes sense for the German team to assess his talent for the coming seasons. The reigning world champion team will see the contracts of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton expire at the end of the 2018 season and they will be considering future options apart from Mercedes. It will be helpful for Mercedes to eye for an possible candidate for the coming years.
"Force India have a strong record of working with young drivers and have again shown courage and vision to take Esteban under their wing," said Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff. "Even more, it is a positive development for Formula 1 that talent wins over money and we will be seeing some of the most impressive youngsters fighting to make it to the top in Formula 1 over the coming years."