November 23, 2018 / 4:01 PM / 5 months ago

Ocon to take Mercedes F1 reserve role next season

Formula One F1 - Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - November 23, 2018 Force India's Esteban Ocon during practice REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Esteban Ocon will take on a reserve driver role for Formula One champions Mercedes next season, team boss Toto Wolff said on Friday.

The 22-year-old, Mercedes-backed Frenchman is set to be replaced at Force India by Canadian Lance Stroll, whose billionaire father Lawrence led a takeover of the team in August.

Mexican Sergio Perez has also been confirmed at Force India.

Ocon’s last chance of a 2019 race seat was at Mercedes-powered Williams, who filled their remaining vacancy with the announcement on Thursday that Poland’s Robert Kubica will partner Formula Two leader George Russell.

“The plans are pretty clear. He’s going to be very close to the works team, to Mercedes, he’s going to be our reserve driver, our third driver,” Wolff told reporters at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

“We hope to maybe do the odd test with him also. We’re looking at pre-season and in-season, but that is not sorted out yet. He will spend a lot of time in the simulator and be ready for a seat in 2020.”

Mercedes supply engines to three teams on the grid and want to keep Ocon within the fold, seeing him as a potential race winner and title contender for the future.

The Frenchman told reporters on Thursday that he and Mercedes saw “great opportunities” for him to make a race return in 2020, even if there were no guarantees of anything.

Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Mark Heinrich

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