Mercedes is open to parting ways with its current junior driver Esteban Ocon if it meant he was able to stay on the Formula 1 grid for 2018. The Frenchman currently races for Force India, but is likely to be replaced by Lance Stroll before the end of the season.
Ocon was set to join Renault before it took on Daniel Ricciardo for 2019. Since then, McLaren and Red Bull have admitted that his Mercedes links make him an unattractive option. There is still a seat available at Williams, but Mercedes boss Wolff admits that having Ocon as a Mercedes junior isn't aiding his career at the moment.
"Fundamentally why we do this is we take great enjoyment in helping young talented drivers who lack finances," said Wolff. "When we took Esteban from Gravity [management team], we felt that he needed support. But if our support only works until Formula 1, but is then detrimental to these guys to get the right seats, you need to consider these things [releasing Ocon].
"And then think what does it mean to be a Mercedes driver? At the moment you're driving for another team, Esteban is not going to take any s*** from me if he was driving for a McLaren or a Williams. The whole system needs to be scrutinised in my opinion."
Ocon's fellow Mercedes junior Pascal Wehrlein spent two years on the grid with Manor and Sauber, before being dropped from the grid for the 2018 season. However, Ocon is not worried about his future, claiming he has been in trickier situations.
“It’s not a distraction because I manage to switch off quite well,” he told RaceFans.net. “And I’ve been in more difficult situations than I am in now. “I’m still doing a strong job I think the last few races. Of course it hasn’t been an easy situation. I’m trying to do the best I can on track and I don’t think I’m doing too bad.”
Bahrain International Circuit - Winter testing