French driver Esteban Ocon spent the 2019 season as the Mercedes reserve driver. Some viewed it as a veiled threat to Valtteri Bottas to buck up his performance after a poor 2018 campaign. Whether it was a threat or not, it did the trick as Bottas 2.0 was unleashed and made Lewis Hamilton sweat for a while.
However, it was interesting to note that team boss Toto Wolff was hesitant to pit Esteban Ocon up against a driver of Lewis Hamilton’s talent. Wolff confessed that he seriously thought about drafting Ocon, but decided that it was too much of a risk. So he chose to extend Bottas’ Mercedes contract. Meanwhile, the Frenchman was carted off to Renault to partner Daniel Ricciardo at the expense of Nico Hulkenberg.
Given that Toto Wolff manages the French driver, he has the youngster’s best interests at heart and explained why Ocon was not in a Mercedes.
“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,” Wolff explained.
He confessed that it would have made for a fairytale story. However, whether he could challenge Hamilton or not, was a completely different story. In other words, the Mercedes team boss was not willing to gamble on Ocon’s career. This was especially on the back of so many unknown variables.
Wolff also noted that another problem could be the headache of potentially maneuvering around any budding intra-team rivalry. He cited the feud between Ferrari drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc as proof of the pudding.
The Austrian admitted that Mercedes prided themselves in letting their drivers see the bigger picture and cooperate as a team. That was why Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton was a winning formula for them. They pushed each other without any unnecessary drama like in the Rosberg era.