Force India driver Esteban Ocon needs to spend “a couple of years” developing further down the Formula 1 grid before he is ready for a seat with Mercedes, according to team chief Toto Wolff.
Ocon, 20, is a member of Mercedes’ junior program, and made his F1 debut with Manor last year in Belgium before moving up to Force India for 2017.
Ocon has impressed through his opening eight races with Force India, scoring points in all but one race and recording a best finish of fifth place at the Spanish Grand Prix.
With Mercedes taking its time to decide upon Valtteri Bottas’ future beyond the end of this season, Ocon had seemed like a potential option to move up and join the world champion team for 2018 alongside Lewis Hamilton.
However, Wolff feels that the Frenchman needs to continue to make mistakes and find his feet in F1 before he will be ready to jump up to a top-line drive.
“He’s very impressive, but he needs a couple of years,” Wolff told NBCSN in Friday’s edition of Paddock Pass.
“He’s very young, 20 years old. We can’t afford to have a learning ground in a Mercedes.”
Wolff made reference to Ocon’s recent clashes with Force India teammate Sergio Perez, with the pair coming together in Baku two weeks ago in an incident that cost the team a possible podium finish.
“You need to have done it all, lost a couple of front wings at the starts and touched your teammate,” Wolff said.
“He has a bright future, but as it stands, experience is a very important factor for us.”
Wolff confirmed to NBCSN on Friday that Bottas had “done enough” to secure himself a seat with Mercedes for 2018, but that a final decision would not be taken until the summer.