Analysing Esteban Ocon’s pace at Renault and if he could replace Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes

By Oliver Taylor

The championship race, or distinct lack thereof, is a main source of many fans’ frustration with the current state of Formula One.

After the Portuguese Grand Prix, Valtteri Bottas sits 77 points behind his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ championship race.

Bottas can challenge Hamilton on a race weekend. He has secured pole position three times and has finished above the Brit in three races this season.

However, Bottas is not a threat to the championship. He has not been since joining Mercedes in 2017. The epic battles between Hamilton and former teammate Nico Rosberg are a distant memory.

Gap in championship points between Hamilton and Rosberg (2013-2016)Gap in championship points between Hamilton and Bottas (2017-2020)
2013
Hamilton: 189 points
Rosberg: 171 points
Gap: 18
2017
Hamilton: 363 points
Bottas: 305 points
Gap: 58
2014
Hamilton: 384 points
Rosberg: 317 points
Gap: 67
2018
Hamilton: 408 points
Bottas: 247 points
Gap: 161
2015
Hamilton: 381 points
Rosberg: 322 points
Gap: 59
2019
Hamilton: 413 points
Bottas: 326 points
Gap: 87
2016
Hamilton: 380 points
Rosberg: 385 points
Gap: 5
2020* (five races remain)
Hamilton: 230 points
Bottas: 161 points
Gap: 77

The lack of a long-term commitment between Bottas and Mercedes is interesting. Since joining the team, Bottas has only signed a series of one-year contracts.

With the impending regulation changes in 2022, expected to make the grid much more competitive, one has to wonder if Bottas would leave Mercedes to challenge for the drivers’ championship as the number one driver elsewhere.

If Bottas does leave, Esteban Ocon could be a logical replacement.

Ocon is a former member of Mercedes’ junior driver programme and represented by Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff. He was rumoured to replace Bottas prior to this season but ended up signing a two-year deal with Renault.

Ocon has not exactly blossomed with Renault as Wolff might have hoped, but his pace behind teammate Daniel Ricciardo might not be as far off as some realise.

Ricciardo and Ocon have been eliminated in the same qualifying session eight times this year. Across those sessions, minus the Tuscan Grand Prix where Ocon did not set a Q3 time, Ocon is only 0.142 seconds behind Ricciardo on average.

Race weekRicciardo’s timeOcon differential
Styrian Grand Prix (Q3)1:21.192-0.270 seconds
Hungarian Grand Prix (Q2)1:15.661+0.081 seconds
British Grand Prix (Q3)1:26.009+0.200 seconds
Spanish Grand Prix (Q2)1:17.198+0.369 seconds
Belgian Grand Prix (Q3)1:42.061+0.335 seconds
Russian Grand Prix (Q3)1:32.364+0.260 seconds
Eifel Grand Prix (Q3)1:26.223+0.019 seconds

Applying to Ocon’s average +0.142 seconds differential to Hamilton’s final Q3 lap times this season is good enough for P2 – by a very cozy margin – in every race except the Eifel Grand Prix.

Hamilton’s final Q3 timeOcon’s added differential (+0.142)+/- to Bottas
1:02.9511:03.093 (P2)
-0.384 seconds ahead of P3
+0.154 seconds
-1 grid position change (P1)
1:19.2731:19.415 (P2)
-1.256 seconds ahead of P3
-1.286 seconds
+2 grid position change (P4)
1:13.4471:13.589 (P2)
-0.788 seconds ahead of P3
+0.035 seconds
0 grid position change (P2)
1:24.3031:24.445 (P2)
-0.880 seconds ahead of P3
-0.171 seconds
0 grid position change (P2)
1:25.2171:25.359 (P2)
-0.723 seconds ahead of P3
+0.205 seconds
-1 grid position change (P1)
1:15.5841:15.726 (P2)
-0.566 seconds ahead of P3
+0.083 seconds
0 grid position change (P2)
1:41.2521:41.394 (P2)
-0.384 seconds ahead of P3
-0.369 seconds
0 grid position change (P2)
1:18.8871:19.029 (P2)
-0.666 seconds ahead of P3
+0.073 seconds
0 grid position change (P2)
1:15.1441:15.286 (P2)
-0.223 seconds ahead of P3
+0.083 seconds
0 grid position change (P2)
1:31.3041:31.446 (P2)
-0.421 seconds ahead of P3
-0.510 seconds
+1 grid position change (P3)
1:25.5251:25.667 (P3)
+0.105 seconds behind P2
+0.398 seconds
-2 grid position change (P1)
1:16.6521:16.794 (P2)
-0.110 seconds ahead of P2
+0.04 seconds
0 grid position change (P2)

Granted, this is hardly a perfect science. As mentioned before, Ocon and Ricciardo have been eliminated in the same qualifying session eight times. The other four occasions – the Austrian Grand Prix, 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, Italian Grand Prix and Portuguese Grand Prix – Ocon failed to get out of Q2 while Ricciardo advanced.

If Bottas does leave, Mercedes will undoubtably want another second driver who can challenge, but not threaten, Hamilton. Ocon has proved his capability to serve that role with Ricciardo at Renault.

Leave a Comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: