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Toto Wolff: ‘Early days’ in deciding 2017 F1 plans for Wehrlein, Ocon

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Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff says it is “early days” in deciding the racing programs for junior drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon in 2017 as both look to move up the grid.

Wehrlein moved into F1 for 2016 after winning the DTM title with Mercedes last year, joining backmarker team Manor.

The German driver scored just its second top-10 finish in seven seasons at the Austrian Grand Prix in July, finishing 10th.

Ocon was drafted into the second seat at Manor after Rio Haryanto’s backing fell through, the Frenchman having also tested and completed practice runs with Renault earlier in the season.

Following Nico Hulkenberg’s move to Renault for 2017, a seat at the Mercedes-powered Force India team has now opened up, with both Wehrlein and Ocon being linked with a move up the field.

However, Wolff said that no firm decisions have yet been taken as options continue for both drivers to be explored.

“It’s still pretty much in coming together,” Wolff said.

“It’s a very interesting competition they are having within Manor and we are still evaluating the future and talking with a couple of teams, and working together for next year.

“But it’s still very early days.”

Ocon has been linked with a full-time race seat at Renault for 2017 alongside Hulkenberg, but would need to be released from his Mercedes contract should such a move take place.

Manor is likely to be the last team to decide on its driver line-up for 2017, with the likes of Haryanto and Jordan King also in contention for a seat should Wehrlein or Ocon move and free up a position.

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).