Esteban Ocon and George Russell remain as Mercedes’ priority in their F1 junior programme rather than hiring fresh talents.
Mercedes signed Esteban Ocon as its junior ahead of his title-winning 2015 GP3 season and got him a DTM race seat in 2016 alongside a Renault reserve role. His F1 debut was then fast-tracked when he replaced Rio Haryanto at Manor for the nine races in 2016.
He drove for Force India (now Racing Point) in 2017 and 2018 seasons but a change of ownership meant, he was left with no drive in 2019 – which forced Mercedes to give him a test and reserve driver role with their own outfit.
The whole saga certainly put a dent to Mercedes’ junior programme aspirations as Toto Wolff said that the manufacturer will have to re-evaluate their situation as Esteban Ocon was left with no seat due to politics rather than selection on talent.
The year also saw its longtime junior Pascal Wehrlein end terms with the manufacturer as he moved on to Formula E with Mahindra Racing rather than HWA Racelab – which had offered him a race seat due to its close links with Mercedes in DTM.
While the two juniors had their share of disappointments, Mercedes had something to cheer about as the 2018 F2 champion Russell managed to get a race seat with Williams for the 2019 F1 season alongside Robert Kubica.
Even though there were suggestions of Mercedes maybe shutting down the programme, it seems like the junior programme is to continue on but the ‘priority’ and ‘focus’ will be on getting Ocon a race seat, while keeping Russell in F1 for long.
The source added that there isn’t any ‘quota’ for Mercedes to fill in their programme which suggests that they are not actively seeking any fresh talents. They already support a young Italian karter, Andrea Kimi Antonelli, on a ‘low profile basis’.
The 11-year-old looks like a real deal, having won the 2018 WSK Champions Cup in 60 Mini category along with winning the 2018 23° South Garda Winter Cup in Mini ROK class. It certainly looks like a ‘status quo’ situation for the manufacturer.
This came true as with Mercedes not looking to hire new talents, it pretty much cleared for Mick Schumacher to join the Ferrari Driver Academy. His dad’s relations with both the manufacturers put him in contention with both the teams where Ferrari won.