Bottas Stays At Mercedes, Ocon Moves To Renault, And A Record 22 Races Next Year, In A Busy Day Of F1 News
It was a busy day as the Formula 1 fraternity reconvened at the famous Spa-Francorchamps track in Belgium after its four-week summer break. Two major moves in the ‘who goes where?’ F1 driver market for 2020 were confirmed, as Mercedes is retaining Valtteri Bottas as Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate, while shortly afterwards Esteban Ocon—the Mercedes junior who had been linked with replacing Bottas—was confirmed as officially joining Renault for 2020 to replace Nico Hulkenberg and pair with Daniel Ricciardo. At the same time, F1 also confirmed its long-awaited 22-race calendar for next year.
Mercedes announced it has exercised its option to keep Bottas for one more season, in 2020. He has been with Mercedes since the start of 2017, winning five races and claiming 10 poles in that time. He struggled towards the end of last season, sliding to fifth in the drivers’ championship table, however this year he sits second in the standings—albeit 62 points behind Hamilton—and won two of the first four races in 2019.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said “We set Valtteri the challenge of coming back even stronger than we saw him in the first part of 2018—and he has achieved that, with some really impressive performances in the early races this year. I’m delighted that he will stay with the team for another season at least–and look forward to seeing him raise the bar even further.”
Ocon meanwhile has inked a two-year deal at Renault. He was expected to join the team 12 months ago only for Ricciardo’s surprise switch from Red Bull to leave no room for him. The Ocon move also means that the French Renault squad has a French driver.
The replaced Hulkenberg shortly after the news was announced posted cryptically on Twitter that “it is well known that the choice of drivers is not only about performance, it is a whole bundle of factors. But that’s the way it is. Surely we would all have liked to see it differently.” Hulkenberg’s future is now unclear, though he has been linked with the Haas squad, perhaps to replace Romain Grosjean. It’s also not yet clear if Ocon will retain links with Mercedes.
And F1 has published its race schedule for next year, with as expected a record 22 rounds included, up one from this year. As was also anticipated Vietnam becomes the 34th country to stage an F1 world championship round, as a street race in capital Hanoi is added on April 5. The other addition is a Max Verstappen-inspired return of the Dutch Grand Prix at the historic Zandvoort track, which is on May 3. The at-risk Italian Grand Prix—whose Monza venue has been on the F1 calendar every year bar one since the world championship’s inception in 1950—is also retained, though subject to a contract being signed.
Another piece of news to emerge was Formula 1 teams agreeing to a significant reduction in testing next as part of a trade-off for the extended calendar. There will be six days of pre-season testing rather than the current eight, with two three-day sessions four days apart. Also the usual duo of two-day in-season tests has been dropped with instead one day added to the post-season Abu Dhabi tyre test.