After 12 months on the F1 side-lines, it’s been confirmed that Esteban Ocon will return to Formula 1 in 2020, with the Frenchman set to drive for the Renault team that he was reserve driver for in 2016, in place of Nico Hulkenberg.
Having spent 2019 as Mercedes’ third and reserve driver after losing his drive at Racing Point at the end of 2018, 22-year-old Ocon will make his racing return with Renault alongside Daniel Ricciardo on a multi-year deal with the Anglo-French team.
“First and foremost, I am very proud to become a Renault driver,” said Ocon. “I have grown up at Enstone, starting with Lotus in 2010 and then with Renault. I am very attached to this team and everyone who works there; they are the ones who opened the doors of top level motorsport for me.
“Secondly, I am pleased that a team with big ambitions has entrusted me with the opportunity to once again demonstrate my skills at the highest level of F1. It is a responsibility I take very seriously. The confidence they have in me to help the progression of the team is a very positive pressure and I look forward to giving the best of myself.”
“We are very happy to work with Esteban for the next two seasons,” said Renault Team Principal Cyril Abiteboul. “Over his F1 career Esteban has experienced the highs and lows of the sport, and fully understood the need to seize every possible chance. In addition to lending his natural talent, Esteban’s aim will be to focus his natural energy and drive, both of which have been intensified by a year away from racing. It is then up to us to infuse them into the next phase of the team’s progress.
“He has shown his ability to score points, has great professionalism on and off the track, plus his recent experience as reserve driver to the current world champions will be a valuable asset to the development of our entire team.”
Ocon’s confirmation for 2020 means Hulkenberg, who joined the team in 2017, now finds himself without a drive in place for next year.
It remains unclear where he will end up, though Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner is said to be interested in the German’s services if the team decide not to retain Romain Grosjean for 2020.
Ahead of their parting of ways, Abiteboul paid tribute to Hulkenberg’s efforts at Renault.
“I wish to thank Nico for his phenomenal involvement and massive contribution to our progress over the past three seasons,” he said. “When Nico decided to join us, the team was ninth. He brought us to fourth place last year, and was classified seventh in the drivers’ championship.
“The imminent end of his contract made this decision a difficult one as Nico has been a pillar of this progress. The first part of this season has been more challenging, but I know we can count on him and deliver together throughout the second half of the year.”
Renault’s confirmation of Ocon follows hot on the heels of Mercedes’ announcement that they would retain Valtteri Bottas’s services for 2020, with Ocon having previously been understood to be in the running for the drive alongside Lewis Hamilton.