One man on the sidelines this season is Mercedes F1 test and reserve driver Esteban Ocon. But a new opportunity has presented itself at the Mercedes-Benz EQ Formula E Team. We make the case for why Ocon should go for the electric division of the German squad rather than waiting another year for an F1 seat to appear.
If you’re out of a drive in Formula 1, it’s distressingly easy for people to forget about you. It doesn’t matter how or why you lost your seat; that’s just the reality of a sport that is relentlessly moving ever forward. When you can’t do your talking out on track, your career ends up being in the hands of your management and agent, who have to make sure that people remember only your best moments rather than your more embarrassing ones.
Last year Esteban Ocon was a Force India/Racing Point driver, a consistent points scorer, a very fast qualifier, and someone who had earned his place in F1 by beating the likes of Max Verstappen and Luca Ghiotto in F3 and GP3 respectively. Today, he is Mercedes’ reserve driver; waiting in the wings for the unlikely scenario that either Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas are unable to drive, and he will be called upon to drive for F1’s top team. And whilst there is currently media focus and sympathy towards Ocon which keeps the 22 year old Frenchman in the news and fuels speculation about his future, this won’t be the case indefinitely.
Ocon insists that his sole focus is on returning to a race seat in Formula One. But realistically, there is unlikely to be one on offer that’s going to be competitive anytime soon, and another year doing test/reserve duties would bring Ocon’s career momentum to a screeching halt.
So perhaps a change of series might be a preferable alternative? With HWA’s Formula E entry becoming the factory Mercedes team, season six could be the perfect opportunity for Ocon to join the all-electric single seater championship.
First off, it would keep Ocon’s name in news; Formula E has some of the best drivers outside of those competing in F1, as well as the largest amount of OEMs and big name manufacturers in any top level motorsport series. If Ocon could succeed in Formula E it would keep his stock high, regardless of whether he would simply do a part-season until he could work out a deal to return to F1, or stay in Formula E for the long haul.
Secondly, Ocon would be working with similar Mercedes staff from the F1 team that he may already be familiar with; that continuity could be important to him, compared to being loaned out to a none-Mercedes team. Leaving the Mercedes stable altogether would potentially be a huge risk for Ocon, as Mercedes has backed him for much of his career.
It is highly likely that Mercedes will sign Stoffel Vandoorne after his excellent performances for HWA last season. But if Ocon turns down a works Mercedes Formula E drive, then the 3-pointed star won’t be struggling to fill the seat, with the likes of Dani Juncadella, Gary Paffett and Maro Engel all likely to be in contention. Formula E is not a consolation championship designed to pick up those who are kicked off of/retire from the F1 ladder; it’s a competitive series in its own right which many drivers aspire to enter.
Finally, there is the unique challenge and appeal of Formula E’s city centre street circuits. In both F3 and F1, Ocon regularly excelled at tight and twisty circuits with no margin for error like Macau and Singapore, and Formula E would definitely play to his strengths in that respect, with the likes of Hong Kong, Rome, New York and London on the calendar. Plus, there is the unique added bonus and prestige of getting to race in front of his home crowd in France’s capital city of Paris.
Whether Ocon takes the seat or not, Mercedes is clearly putting enough investment into Formula E to potentially become very competitive in the next few seasons. They are going to pick the best drivers available to them, and Ocon must be top of the list. From Ocon’s point of view F1 may still be the ultimate dream, but why trawl around at the back of the F1 grid in a Haas or a Williams when you can win races and championships for Mercedes in Formula E?
Either way, it sure beats sitting on the sidelines for another year…