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Disappointed Ocon sees hopes of a 2019 race seat fading fast

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Disappointed Ocon sees hopes of a 2019 race seat fading fast
FILE PHOTO: Formula One F1 - Belgian Grand Prix - Spa-Francorchamps, Stavelot, Belgium - August 23, 2018 Force India's Esteban Ocon ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo   -   Copyright  Francois Lenoir(Reuters)
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SINGAPORE (Reuters) – French driver Esteban Ocon said on Thursday his hopes of securing a 2019 Formula One race seat were fading but he had not discussed breaking the Mercedes ties that are limiting his immediate options.

The 21-year-old Force India driver is highly rated by reigning world champions Mercedes, who see him as a future winner, but they have no vacancy in their factory team.

Ocon now looks set to lose his seat to Canadian Lance Stroll after the Williams driver’s billionaire father took control of Force India last month.

“There are still hopes, yes, but less and less as you know,” Ocon, who has outqualified his experienced Mexican team mate Sergio Perez regularly this year, told reporters at the Singapore Grand Prix.

“That’s a bit what I’m disappointed (about) at the moment, to see that it’s not only results that come in play, it has to be other things.

“Arriving here not knowing what I will do next year is hard to swallow.”

Ocon’s only other option at a Mercedes-powered team would be Williams, but that is complicated by the fact they are last in the standings and likely to be looking for drivers who bring funding with them.

“There are still talks, probably with them or wherever I could go, but they are less and less,” he said.

Other teams with vacancies, such as Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso, have no interest in helping develop a driver who remains contracted in the longer term to Mercedes.

Ocon said he spoke every day with Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, but they had not discussed ending the contract.

“I was in a fantastic position a couple of months ago. And yeah, it has turned in a way that (I am) without a seat now,” added the Frenchman, who was set to switch to Renault until Australian Daniel Ricciardo took the seat instead.

Ocon was also linked to McLaren but the former champions opted for 18-year-old British reserve Lando Norris.

His main rivals from the junior series all have top drives, with Max Verstappen at Red Bull and soon to be joined by Frenchman Pierre Gasly.

Sauber’s 20-year-old Monegasque rookie Charles Leclerc is meanwhile moving up to Ferrari.

“All my old rivals — Max, Pierre, Charles, people I have been racing with since day one basically — they are in top teams and top cars to fight for podiums and victories,” said Ocon.

“Of course that makes me more hungry than ever… even if I don’t have a seat next year I will push hard to come back.”

(Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Toby Davis)

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