Motorsport

Wolff explains the rationale behind Bottas, Ocon decision

Right choice: Manager Toto Wolff, centre, is fully convinced that sticking with Bottas, right, at Mercedes and having Ocon, right extreme, at Renault for the 2020 season is justified.

Right choice: Manager Toto Wolff, centre, is fully convinced that sticking with Bottas, right, at Mercedes and having Ocon, right extreme, at Renault for the 2020 season is justified.  

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‘The swinging argument for me is that putting the French driver against Hamilton is not good for the former’

The Formula One driver market is falling in place with news of Romain Grosjean staying at Haas for 2020 alongside Kevin Magnussen on Thursday. This leaves Nico Hulkenberg without a drive, a result of Esteban Ocon, the current Mercedes team third driver, moving to replace the former at Renault next year.

Ocon has been backed by Mercedes, which facilitated his F1 debut with Manor and then put him in Force India before he was forced out of a drive this year due to circumstances.

However, the reigning champion opted to stick with Valtteri Bottas for 2020 and decided to put Ocon at Renault.

Potential champion

The 23-year-old French driver is widely considered as a potential world champion material and was close to signing for the Renault last year as well before Daniel Ricciardo made a surprise move from Red Bull to the French manufacturer that left Ocon without a drive.

Explaining his decision in a chat with The Hindu during the Italian Grand Prix, Wolff said, “The swinging argument for me was, putting Ocon against Hamilton, who has been with Mercedes for seven years and is at the peak of his game, is not good for him, especially after sitting out one year. We might find the story exciting and probably he(Ocon) would have done well but there is only one guy who ever did well against a superstar and that was Lewis Hamilton himself (in 2007 vs double champion Fernando Alonso at McLaren). All the other (drivers) needed time.

So I don’t want to risk his (Ocon) career and I don’t want to risk him trying to do something to win against Lewis. That was the tipping point.”

Perfect place to grow

The move to Renault, Wolff felt, gave Ocon the perfect place to grow, saying, “He can progress and benchmark himself against Daniel Ricciardo in a works team environment. He will be in the French team and it is very positive.”

When asked about Bottas, Wolff felt that the Finn had also improved his game and brought harmony to the team. “We have seen great performances from Valtteri and his improvement slope is impressive. And you have to give him that because he is going against the best driver of modern time and he is able to put a fight quite often, especially in qualifying.”

“It is a very good mix we have. Both are very good drivers and the dynamic is positive. We are able to develop the team and develop critically while the exchanges between drivers are good.”

Harmony is something Toto Wolff would want especially after the three acrimonious years with Nico Rosberg and Hamilton finding themselves in some controversy or the other during 2014-16.

Handling two stars

Talking about those years, Wolff shares the challenge of handling two stars. “The problem was we didn’t understand the dynamics between them. They knew each other longer than we knew them. They were childhood companions. Racing from karting against each other and going through junior formulae together. So there was a lot of baggage from back then.”

“For us, it was very difficult to understand the dynamic. So from a rivalry, it escalated to controversy and that was not a good situation within the team.”

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 5:49:17 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/motorsport/wolff-explains-the-rationale-behind-bottas-ocon-decision/article29464044.ece

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