While it remains unclear where Esteban Ocon will be racing next season – if anywhere at all – his fellow Formula 1 drivers have heaped praise on the Force India man, with Lewis Hamilton hailing him as ‘exceptional’.
The latest rumours suggest the Silverstone-based team – who recently came out of administration and are now racing under new identity Racing Point Force India for the remainder of the season – could replace Ocon with Williams driver Lance Stroll, whose father Lawrence led the takeover.
That potential change has raised question marks over Ocon’s future next year, after the Frenchman saw a 2019 move to Renault fall through – and with teams beginning to confirm their line-ups, he’s seemingly running out of options.
McLaren were another team linked with a move for the Mercedes-affiliated driver, but the Woking squad have now confirmed their line-up, while Williams remain an option should Stroll leave Grove. Sauber, Haas and Toro Rosso are the other three teams yet to announce their 2019 partnerships.
But at 21 years old, Ocon is among the most talented young drivers on the grid and his performances in the last two races, which have marked Force India’s new era, have made clear his undoubted talent – and championship leader Lewis Hamilton hopes he has a race seat next year.
“I’ve always been a supporter of Esteban,” said Lewis Hamilton. “I think how he conducts himself and how he performs on track is exceptional.
“I also know, once I’d signed, once Sebastian (Vettel) had signed, things start to fall into place, and you’ve got to be super, super quick, and make sure you’ve got good management, so they’re sharp and make sure they do their diligence and they’re ready to quick-fire in the right direction.
“I’ve not read of who’s signed where and what seats are available, but he needs to be in a great car because he’s one of the top drivers here, so I hope that opportunity is there for him.”
Ocon got Force India’s new era off to a dream start when he went third fastest in Belgian Grand Prix qualifying, before ultimately coming home sixth.
And it was that performance that leaves Sebastian Vettel – speaking after Ocon’s Saturday Spa exploits – with no doubt that the Frenchman deserves to be racing in F1 next season.
“Yeah, I think it was his day and obviously for us, you sort-of expect to be there. We’ve got the cars and the consistency but, as I said, whatever the car is called he’s driving now, it doesn’t belong in P3 and he managed to do so, so well done, that should also be considered for someone signing him next year.”
Ocon currently sits tenth in the drivers’ standings, one point behind Force India team mate Sergio Perez.