Esteban Ocon joins Renault: Mercedes reserve driver to replace Nico Hulkenberg for 2020 and partner Daniel Ricciardo

Twenty-two-year-old returns to the F1 grid after a year in exile as Hulkenberg’s three-year spell with Renault comes to an end

Formula One: 1000 races in numbers

Renault have announced that current Mercedes reserve driver Esteban Ocon will replace Nico Hulkenberg in their driver line-up for 2020, partnering current star Daniel Ricciardo after signing a “multi-year contract”.

Ocon makes a swift return to Formula One, with the 22-year-old losing his seat at Force India last winter as part of their Racing Point-takeover and sitting out the 2019 campaign.

The Frenchman has been in contention to partner Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes last season, but the reigning constructors’ champions confirmed on Thursday that Valtteri Bottas will remain with the team for a third consecutive season in 2020 and prompted Renault’s announcement.

"First and foremost, I am very proud to become a Renault driver," Ocon said. "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."

Ocon emerged from the Lotus junior programme to become Renault’s reserve driver for their first season back in the sport in 2016, before making his breakthrough with Manor Racing that year that was followed by two seasons with Force India.

He clinched the 2015 GP3 title that resulted in a swift promotion to F1, but his development was curtailed by the Force India takeover and subsequent signing of Lance Stroll, which left Ocon without a drive this year.

"We are very happy to work with Esteban for the next two seasons,” added 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.”

The announcement will bring an end to Hulkenberg’s three seasons with the French manufacturer come the conclusion of the current season, with the German in contention for one of the seats at Haas next year. Guenter Steiner, Haas’ team boss, revealed ahead of this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix that the exiled Renault star is an option for the United States-based team, and the removal of Ocon from that picture leaves Hulkenberg in a straight fight with current driver Romain Grosjean to partner Kevin Magnussen next season.

"We're almost there. It's not a long time until we decide what to do,” said Steiner. "I will spend some time with Gene [Haas, team owner] this and next week, and that was always our time, Spa-Monza, when we spend quite a bit of time together too and then the team decides what to do.

"There's not many drivers. We always said that our dream was always to have a driver with experience, so for sure there's interest [in Hulkenberg]. There's interest in Ocon, I always said that they are the two. And there's interest for Romain as well. So we just need to decide who we go with. They're the three with experience. Otherwise I couldn't see anybody else who has got the experience which is on the market.”

Esteban Ocon will join Renault from 2020 to replace Nico Hulkenberg

Renault paid tribute to Hulkenberg’s efforts in his time with team, during which he finished a career-best of seventh in the drivers’ championship last season that helped Renault to fourth place in the constructors’ standings. "I wish to thank Nico for his phenomenal involvement and massive contribution to our progress over the past three seasons,” Abiteboul added.

“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."

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