It’s silly season again and the F1 world is in turmoil as the first domino is set to fall.
Mercedes’ decision on Valtteri Bottas’ seat was always set to have a trickle-down effect, with the Finn and French youngster Esteban Ocon in competition for the spot.
But Germany’s Aut0bild.de site reports Bottas is likely to hold his place for the 2020 season, with Mercedes willing to loan Ocon to Renault, alongside Daniel Ricciardo.
Ocon is set to sign a two-year deal with Renault, which means the long-serving Nico Hulkenberg would lose his place, with Haas his most likely destination (where he might replace the erratic Romain Grosjean).
Williams could also be a possible destination if Robert Kubica doesn’t hold his place.
Despite his undisputed talent, Hulkenberg holds the record for the most races without a podium in F1 history — currently at 170 races.
The 32-year-old German has been in the sport since the 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix and has claimed one pole position, but has never made it to the top of the podium.
French broadcaster RMC Sport reported the deal has not yet been signed as Renault wants to make sure Hulkenberg can secure another seat.
The report reads: “The French manufacturer is very interested in the Tricolor driver (Ocon), who has the advantage of being fast, reliable and inexpensive. Indeed, with the very large salary paid to Daniel Ricciardo, Renault would not be against a reduction of its payroll.
“By taking Ocon instead of Hulkenberg, it would be done.
“When Renault returned to Formula 1, they had made the German driver a priority and therefore overpaid a little.”
According to The Mirror, Ricciardo is the third highest paid driver on the grid, with Hulkenberg equal sixth with Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen.
Ocon, who had a fractious partnership with Sergio Perez in Force India, lost his seat to Canadian Lance Stroll after Force India was sold to a consortium headed by Stroll’s father — and changed its name to Racing Point.
Ocon said losing his seat with Racing Point and not being able to get the Renault seat was tough to take.
“It was not an easy thing,” he said.
“We talked with Toto (Mercedes boss Toto Wolff) and my management side in Mercedes and they told me not to worry, I would be having a chance in F1 in the future. So I’m pretty confident it’s going to be okay — fingers crossed and touching wood.”
It’s a positive time for Renault, despite not having a great first half of the season.
Ricciardo, who suffered a rare Q1 exit in Hungary, is confident a strong start in the second half of the season can see the team chasing podiums in 2020, despite falling behind McLaren and Toro Rosso so far this season.
Ricciardo has been honest about the team’s performance and said it needed improvement to be able to compete for podiums in 2020.
“We’ve bounced around in between everything really, but now, at this halfway point, I think we can say, ‘All right, we need to do better if we want to be on target for podiums in 2020’ he said.
“We need to start making bigger steps for the second half of the year, so up until now, let’s say I’m somewhere in the middle with expectation, but I would now expect the second half of the season to have some more regular top six finishes or something.
“If we stay where we are now ‘till the end of the season, then that’s lower than what we expect.”
Next grand prix is the Belgian one at Spa Francorchamps on September 1 and all eyes will be on Renault to see if any improvements have been made during the mid-season break.