By Alan Baldwin
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – French Formula One driver Esteban Ocon recognised on Thursday that his only realistic chance of racing in 2019 lay with Williams, and said talks were ongoing.
“It’s not sure I will be on the bench yet,” the 22-year-old Force India racer told reporters at the Russian Grand Prix when asked about his future.
“Of course there’s nothing signed… I don’t have a contract. We will see how things evolve.”
Ocon is backed by Mercedes, engine suppliers to Williams and Force India, who see him as a future winner and title contender and are determined to keep him under contract for the long term.
That situation means rivals without any Mercedes ties are not interested in his services.
Williams, former champions struggling at the bottom of the standings, are likely to have a vacancy since their Canadian driver Lance Stroll is set to take Ocon’s seat at Force India.
Stroll’s billionaire father Lawrence last month led a successful rescue bid for Force India to take them out of administration.
Ocon’s likely ousting has gone down badly with some fans, who feel a talent is being sacrificed to make way for the new owner’s son, but the Frenchman has defended Stroll.
He posted an Instagram story recently showing him and the Canadian together on a plane, and urged the fans to show support and be respectful.
“I did that because Lance is my best mate in the paddock and we have a great relationship since a long time,” said Ocon on Thursday, saying the Canadian did not deserve the abuse he was getting on social media.
“What’s happening is not his fault or anything. He’s working as hard as I do to be in F1…of course we come from a different background but inside we have the same motivation and the same passion for the sport.”
Ocon said that if he was unable to race in Formula One next year he was determined to be back in 2020, stronger and more determined.
He ruled out a move to IndyCar in the United States or the all-electric Formula E series in the meantime.
“I am interested in Formula One and that is the only thing I want to do. That’s my only focus,” he said.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Keith Weir)