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Esteban Ocon joins Force India F1 for 2017

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Force India has confirmed the signing of Manor driver and GP3 champion Esteban Ocon for the 2017 Formula 1 season.

Ocon made his debut with Manor at the Belgian Grand Prix in August, and has impressed enough to clinch a move up to Force India on a multi-year deal.

Ocon is a member of Mercedes’ junior program, with the German marque supplying engines to Force India.

“I’m very excited to join Sahara Force India. I know the team quite well already because I was a test driver last year and I’m really looking forward to working with everybody at Silverstone once again,” Ocon said.

“I’m still relatively new to Formula One, but spending half a season at Manor Racing has given me some valuable experience and I feel ready for this new opportunity with Sahara Force India.

“The next few months will be very busy as I do all I can to prepare for the challenge ahead of me. It means lots of days at the factory, working on the simulator and building relationships with the engineers and everybody in the team.

“It’s something I’ve been working towards my whole life and I intend to grab this opportunity with both hands so that I can deliver the results the team expects from me.

“I want to say ‘thank you’ to everybody at Manor and especially to Mercedes-Benz for their support and belief in me. I can’t wait for 2017 and my first full season racing in Formula One.”

Vijay Mallya, owner of Force India, added: “It’s a pleasure to welcome Esteban as our new race driver. He’s an exceptional talent, as his status as a Mercedes Junior demonstrates, and I have no doubt he will flourish inside our team.

“We’ve had our eye on Esteban for a number of years and have followed his progress through the junior categories where he delivered outstanding results.

“We ran him in the car last year during testing and his performance convinced us that he is more than capable of racing alongside Sergio.

“Sahara Force India has a tradition of investing in young, talented drivers and the arrival of Esteban will bring some fresh energy and motivation to everyone in the team.”

Mercedes F1 chief Toto Wolff was pleased to confirm Ocon’s move up to Force India, acting as the next step in his development towards a top-line seat in the future.

“Esteban has the most impressive track record in junior formulae and he is an exceptional personality outside of the car,” Wolff said.

“Force India have a strong record of working with young drivers and have again shown courage and vision to take Esteban under their wing.

“Even more, it is a positive development for Formula One that talent wins over money and we will be seeing some of the most impressive youngsters fighting to make it to the top in Formula One over the coming years.”

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
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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. Time just published a brief piece by Wallace saluting Hamilton as a trailblazer.

The idea of Hamilton attending the NASCAR 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 would seem right for 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 — to spend 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).